What Incentivizes Your Startup Staff (it’s not really free beer and ping pong)

July 10, 2017

written by Daniel Coyle  AngelList | LinkedIn | Email | Twitter

It’s easy to get caught up in the (by now cliche?) norms of startup life. The standing desks and open-office layout abound in a variety of snacks, catered lunches, breakout spaces, beer, cold brew on tap, and the list goes on.


I would never promote getting rid of these perks; I think they’re important. What I would say is, don’t overlook the true meaning behind why your staff comes to work at a startup, because it’s despite all of these cool-kid bonuses; not because of them.


These are some of the things that really drive your staff to work hard, long hours, to solve unforgivingly difficult problems and challenges.


  • There are far more challenges than solutions.

    • Startup staff is chock-full of overachievers who want to tackle disruption and innovation in antiquated or non-existent industries. Be transparent and communicative about the obstacles ahead. Your crew will be energized coming up with, and being a part of, solutions.

    • Don’t forget about the victories along the way. Sometimes they’re small, but always acknowledge (or celebrate) them!

  • You take chances on people and allow them to prove themselves.

    • Granted, this may not be fully startup-centric, but there is a distinct bend toward bringing on visionaries with great drive and less experience, over lengthy resumes and decades of industry entrenchment.

    • Grow your people (this is wildly important; probably the most important). People who join startups want to experience and learn. Provide them with leaders that can keep them motivated through variety, development, and exposure to new and challenging experiences. Yes, this is hard and time consuming, but your business will flourish on the sweat, creativity, and acumen of those you’ve cultivated, and who want to be a part of building something great.

  • You value individualism while promoting collaboration.

    • Archaic, often meaningless protocol is abandoned for freedom of dress and expression. In startups (by and large) gone are the days of suits and ties, pant suits and blouses; and that’s awesome. Hoodies vs suits is a real thing and, in my experience, it helps bridge the gap between these seemingly disparate factions (i.e., it promotes collaboration in an easy-to-do way).

    • Use of space, stock option grants, and more grey areas than black and white lines in job descriptions, promotes a feeling of ownership and valued opinion. This is important to startup staff, as it provides opportunity for ample mobility and buy-in within your growing organization; both future and real-time.


Remember, you employ and lead inspired, entrepreneurial, inquisitive, creators. Tap into that and you’ll truly have something special. The beer and cold brew will tap itself.


These are a few short points engulfed in endless possibilities for truly engaging your staff. If you want to discuss your startup, organization, or department in more specific detail, feel free to email me. I’m happy to see if I can help!