There’s been a great discussion in startup leadership/venture circles about a NYTimes article. Beyond bringing to light a company that made (in hindsight) a series of poor decisions, terrible fundraising terms, and a lack of transparency with employees, it also brought forth a key point for startup employees. The equity in the company, often times dangled as a reason to join a risky venture or as compensation for lower pay, often does not amount to much. That should cause the rank-and-file to ask “what’s in it for me?”
Early on, we knew that equity could not be used as a north star for our team’s tenure, loyalty, and motivation. If we’re a blowout success, awesome for everyone. If we’re a solid win, then we’ll more than likely have many thousand-aires. We’ve been transparent with the team about this, played down too much talk about “what are my options worth now?” and, in place, guided the team on what we believe the real value we can provide them:
- The Basics: What one might imagine. They do their best work. We pay them appropriately (above market, and we track this closely), provide solid benefits, fun work environment, caffeine, etc. I don’t want to dwell too much on this, as a lot of the other fringe benefits we provide I’ve seen used to paper over larger issues at other companies.
- Purpose: This is where having a strong mission that people can get behind becomes valuable. We’re not reducing carbon emissions or eradicating hunger, but our vision of “The most successful businesses in the world will be built upon personal, authentic relationships with their clients and partners” does resonate with many.
- Mastery: We don’t want you to just do your job – we want you to learn and master a craft. We provide the time, mentorship, and resources to do so. We strive to provide the best stepping stone for whatever’s next – as well as the space and flexibility for you to discover what else might interest you.
- Brand: Having Contactually on their resume should open doors for the rest of their careers. We spend time building our brands – not just for marketing, not just for recruiting, but for retention and employee value.
- The Best Business Education: Having a transparent organization allows someone to see how the sausage is really made. How do you go from an idea to $12M in funding? How do you build a great product? How do you comp salespeople? How do you build culture? You can’t learn this through blog posts and textbooks – we believe that a startup can be the best startup school money can(‘t) buy.
- Fun & Satisfaction: We want their time here to be some of the best and most fulfilling years of their lives. Part of that is culture. Part of that is demanding the absolute best out of everyone (and pushing themselves further than anyone else has). Part of that is being surrounded by similar people.
None of these are necessarily unique to any one company (e.g. Contactually). Additionally, one last point we’ve had to come to terms with is that motivations are not homogenous across the team. Some people walk through the doors every day, passionate about our mission of helping people build fruitful and long-lasting business relationships. Others admit that they’re not motivated by our mission – rather, they are here to crush it at their role. Some are here because they’re rising stars, and Contactually is their proving ground.
We’re fine with all of that.