Working for a startup

A few days ago I commented on a post by Nikos  Moraitakis about why people should, of all things, want to work for a (greek) startup.  Today,  I read a post by Mike Greenfield, titled “Why Developers Aren’t Interested In Your Startup” which kind of reinforced my point of view.

First, here  is what I wrote in my comment, mildly edited.

Nikos, I think we should make understood, as emphatically as possible, that startups are VERY risky endeavors. They are not for the light hearted. And you do not want to lure the wrong people in them, as they will most probably quit on the first few obstacles. But attracting the wrong people  is a very probable turn of events in a crisis as the one we are undergoing in our country: you WILL lure them just because they have nothing else to do.

So, if the picture is as bleak as I am drawing it, how startups can ever find the right people to work for them?
There is a simple guiding principle here: economic behavior is about motives and the motive of a startup job is a reward substantially big to balance the high risk undertaken.
Having said that, I do not imply a financial reward necessarily, although this would be a strong motivator.
Since, by definition, startups do not have enough cash to pay big salaries, any kind of financial reward must have a variable element that relates to startup performance. Stock options is the most common such reward. This is the reason I had tried to open the discussion about stock options earlier this year.
Apart from the financial rewards, there are two other equally strong rewards:

  • do the things that you really really really like and are passionate about, and
  • learn a prodigiously lot of stuff in a very short time.

The first is not obvious. It concerns people with special skills that want to put them into work. If, for instance, someone has made studies in a very specialized area, it is not likely that he can put these studies to work anywhere else than in a startup. So if he really loves his field, he will be willing to undertake the hardships and the possibly less remuneration just to able to work on the thing he loves.

The second has to do with the multifaceted role that each employee plays in a startup. Actually, to be completely honest, there is no role. Not an exactly defined, at least. Especially in the very beginning.
It is, more or less, a broad direction that one gets, than a job description. Which means that he has to have the motive and the guts to pave his own way.

Greenfield’s findings support the view that financial rewards are one of the main motivators, although they appear fourth in the post. The other three are:

  • Industry
  • Founders’ reputation
  • Investors’ reputation

I relate also ‘industry’ to what I refer as ‘specialization’ for obvious reasons, and i tend to agree with Greenfield on his guess that working for a startup that potentially has the power to do social good or change the world in some aspect is also a big factor.

But apart from my beliefs and guesses it would be interesting to hear from others what would attract them to a startup despite the fact that they could possibly get a higher salary in a more mature company. What can counterbalance the financial rewards?