I’m starting dirty and cheap

Esther is a confused human being
3 min readMay 30, 2024


Good news: I found an opportunity to work with my friends.

Bad news: It’s only three months and it’s very low paid.

How low is it? It’s probably half of the money my average classmates are making. How high risk is it? I still might get kicked out of the US after three months. But I’m so happy. I find myself in the exact place where I want to be.

I start dirty and cheap

My friend’s company is very early, but I do want to see how complicated it is to be at the earliest stage of the company. The pay is so low, but I have a very non heriachacal and non patriachical relationship with him. He is a decent mentor. Since I already know I’m capable of working in a misaligned but well-paid job, I know that I need to compromise a lot for my great work.

I don’t even get health insurance, but I’m in one of my favorite incubators in San Francisco. The founders there are so young. Some of them are even just 19. Being exposed to a network of young founders and seeing how people build and build with them? It feels like a dream.

In fact, I start even dirtier and cheaper than this.

Actually dirtier and cheaper

I’m also working with another founder. Do you know how much I get paid?


Yes, 0. I know you might think I’m a complete idiot. I might be. But I know that the founder is in the best incubator in SF, and he has immense experience in founding successful companies. I might be stupid free labor, but the potential learning and network I’m tapping into might also be unpredictably big in the future.

I remember when I started my first internship, I was paid $70 from an Indian company. $70 a month, not an hour. What's worse, I worked hectically till almost 12 am every day. My Indian schoolmate laughed, “Esther, You are worth so much more!”

However, after that intense learning experience, all the work, from Taiwan startup to Meta, has been very easy and chill.

I’ll probably be poor in the next few years

I learn that I need to take lots of shit for my vision. Being poor in the next few years is probably the first one. However, based on all the coffee chats with founders who I admired, they all started dirty and cheap. They have no arrogance. They asked for nothing but to achieve their vision.

One friend in his 40s, and already out of his IPO company told me, “You should live even cheaper. Even now, I don’t have a wife. I don’t have children. I don’t buy things. I only buy books and work on my problem.”

Compared to him, I don’t have money, I don’t have a network, and I don’t have experience. So I need to start even humbler than they do. And that’s will be how this story begins. Dirty and cheap.

SF can be magical when meeting influential tech people. This is Esther meeting Chip Huyen in a hackathon. Everyone is cheap 😉