What Motivates An Early Employee To Work In A Startup?

It all comes down to purpose and the natural transparency you get from working in an early-stage startup. Meaningful work that can make an impact quickly. Who wouldn’t love that? Okay, some people don’t love that. But those are the kind of steady Eddy types that you wouldn’t want working for your startup in the first place.

start up curve

Image source: Bartosz Mozyrko, CEO@ UsabilityTools.com

It’s no secret that working for a startup comes with significant challenges. In the very early days, expect long hours and superhuman schedules. Sometimes it can feel like a lot of work for very little immediate output, but patience is most definitely a virtue in the startup game. It is the motivation to indulge in this intense cycle of work that employees totally thrive under and what some employees crave when moving into a startup environment. Isn’t it true that the challenge can almost be just as addictive as the end result? People don’t always hold a preference for something that’s offered on a plate, and maybe it is people like this who flourish the most where the startup is concerned. I came across a Quora thread recently about employees in startups and one answer that particularly stood out was one of an ex-Quora engineer, Edmond Lau. Edmond offered a completely different and interesting perspective on what motivates candidates to make what can, at times, be a risky move into a startup environment:


“Humans aren’t the only ones with a preference for meaningful work. Animal psychology studies have shown that parrots, rats, and other animals may look for meaning as well and actually prefer to press on a bar for food than to eat freely available food. This phenomenon, known as “contrafreeloading,” contradicts the traditional notion that animals strive to maximize output while minimizing effort and suggests that the additional effort may actually make the food more worthwhile.”


So perhaps it is the challenge that makes the work more meaningful and a whole lot more satisfying in the end. In your experience, what do you think motivates people to work for a startup in its infancy? If you made the move, why did you do it?

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