Early-stage startups are great early adopters. They don’t have deep pockets, and they desperately need help.
It doesn’t mean they are strange to fear. If you are providing a service, the question would be: have you done this before? If you are providing a product, they would ask: how many users do you have?
So the chicken and egg problem arises: even if you give your product/service for free, there is always a cost for the customer to try it out.
The answer to “have you done this before?” is “yes, I’ve done it for you right now.” The answer to “how many users do you have?” is “only one, you, and you can use my product right now.“
Show results first, then you can ask for something in return.