41 Startups Share How They Motivate Their Teams

April 30, 2015

8:26 pm

What is the best way to motivate your employees? According to a recent survey conducted by TechnologyAdvice, more than 30 percent of those surveyed consider flexible schedules and the option for remote work as the top perk that people desire from employers. In the same survey, nearly 60 percent of respondents conveyed a preference for employee perks over pay raises.

At the core of the survey is this idea of motivation: what things will motivate a team? Is the traditional idea of increased wages as a source of motivation still relevant today? Especially when it comes to startups (where revenue isn’t necessarily a thing that even exists in early stages), is a stake of equity enough to motivate team members? Are unique perks, like designate nap spaces, actually effective in motivating employees? Well, we wanted to find out, so Tech.Co reached out to entrepreneurs and startup founders to learn about the ways through which they motivate their own teams.

“What motivates you?” It’s a simple question, but oftentimes a question for which many of us have an arduous time providing a response. And, once we do somehow arrive at the factors or incentives that motivate us, those things won’t necessarily apply to everyone else; indeed, every individual is unique – with his or her specific wants and needs – and something that may motivate one person may do naught or even demotivate another. When running a startup, it’s important to keep these differences in mind: recognizing that each team member is motivated through different incentives will help your company survive and thrive in the long-run.

From the responses we received, we discovered some prominent common strategies that startups utilize to motivate their employees. For instance, providing startup employees with equity and an actual stake in a company serves as a huge motivator for many. We also discovered some unique ways through which companies motivate team members, including things like company trips to theme parks and engaging in group yoga classes.

Read how these 41 companies motivate their teams, and see if any of their strategies could be attempted at your own startup.

Accessibility Partners: Eat Out Together

Dana Marlowe, Principal Partner: “One way to motivate my employees is to try new restaurants. My colleagues and I are [always] trying out eateries that have opened up in our area that we maybe haven’t had a chance to experience. It’s great because it gives us a chance to have working lunches while expanding our pallets. Today was Middle Eastern salads, and who knows, tomorrow could be Ethiopian or Indian! Next week we’re trying out a new Mexican place for Cinco de Mayo. It’s a great way to support local business as well as motivate our own. Either way, it’s always a fun adventure.”

AdBoom Group: Share the Profits

“Our big thing is to do away with greed and follow the golden rule. Employers who choose to retain all the profits and restrict their people’s freedom will deeply suffer in this new wave of Millennials entering the workforce.”

Beau Hale, Founder: “We decided to implement unique benefits because we wanted to treat our employees like they were an owner of AdBoom. Sure, everyone says that – but we actually did it. We created flex hours and an unlimited vacation policy, doing away with confining and restricting people’s freedom through set hours and limited vacation time. We knew that if we started to give them more freedom, not only would their creativity start to take off, but they would be given the liberty […] to act like business owners themselves. On top of this, we also implemented a profit-sharing plan because we believed [that] if Boomers had a stake in the company’s overall performance, it would [create] a paradigm shift in their mindset toward the company and how it should be treated.”

Adcade: Focus on Values

“The most factual thing I could say is that happiness and motivation don’t just come from cliché startup perks…In fact, nowadays, a lot of these types of perks are almost expected as necessities, instead of differentiators…”

Rob Prentice, Cofounder and COO: “In my opinion, a better work environment translates to having more motivated employees, for which there is no real formula…Having motivated employees really boils down to providing a vision they can latch on to and a purpose they can work towards. If they have a clear understanding of how they can grow both personally and professionally and what they need to do to accomplish their goals, then the time they spend at work (230+ days a year) will be fulfilling, ultimately creating a better workplace for everyone.

Taking this thought one step further, the derivative of this is actually having clearly defined company values and organizational structure, which is sort of ironic since many job seekers think of startups as loosely structured and fun – a departure from the corporate norm – and correlate that with being a better working environment.”

Billy: Treat Each Employee as an “A Player”

“I’ve found when you treat people like this, they rise to the occasion and outperform your expectations – and their own expectations, too.”

Toke Kruse, Founder and CEO: “Our primary strategy for keeping everyone motivated and engaged involves treating each team member as an ‘A Player’ (a term Steve Jobs popularized). We make each person fully responsible for his or her “hat,” and let them get on it with it. We make sure each one knows we believe in their smarts and skills, and trust that they’ll act responsibly and be effective. There isn’t a lot of rigid structure, supervision, hand-holding, rules and mandatory this or that. There’s an extraordinary degree of freedom. There are plenty of experts who would say it’s too much freedom to be practical.

On top of this overall approach, we also like to do special things to boost motivation, reward achievements and keep everyone fresh and enthused. Informal team outings have become the big favorite with our crew – especially when there are super-duper burgers involved. [Additionally], to motivate our American teammates, we like to bring them over to visit the Danish office and team. Of course a trip to Europe is a treat in itself, but it also connects them up very strongly with our Danish company heritage and culture.”

Blue Corona: Treat Business Like a Game

Ben Landers, President: “My approach to motivating our team is simple: Treat business like a game or sport and give everyone a stake in the outcome. Beyond that, communicate, communicate, communicate. Build a strong culture that connects to profitability and growth and hang on for a wild ride!”

Buddytruk: Make Team Decisions on Metrics

Brian Foley, Founder and CEO: “I would say as a startup, it’s tricky to motivate with monetary perks. Plus, most people are only slightly motivated by money. It really comes down to understanding the individual – their motivations and goals – and how to creatively find ways to synthesize your goals with theirs. [A]ll of our employees have vested stock option agreements, that trigger at certain dates and at certain milestones. Additionally, each month, we as a team will set a goal for how many transactions we want to do that month. If we hit it, all of us will get a bonus. The beauty of this is, the team decided on the metrics, not me, so they’re much more accountable.”

CB Insights: Let Members Explore Their Ideas

“We have really smart, creative people on the team and Pitch & Demo is a great way to ensure that we’re experimenting and also gives the team ways to try out new ideas they’re interested in.”

Anand Sanwal, Cofounder and CEO: “[We have] quarterly Pitch & Demo days where we take three days off every quarter to experiment on new projects or ideas the team has. Anyone (developers or not) can propose an idea and run with it. We [also] provide an [education] stipend so people can take classes or attend conferences that they believe will make them better at their craft. The team has taken classes on data science to front-end web development, [as well as] attend[ed] industry conferences of interest.

Our business is all about tracking the next great company or technology and so we think it’s important to be close to that technology. As a result, we have an office drone and 3D printer which allows the team to mess around with these technologies. We also provide equity and cash bonuses for great performance, a daily lunch stipend, and we have a gong to celebrate individual or team accomplishments.”

if(we): Offer Health and Wellness Perks

“By keeping our staff relaxed and refreshed, we are giving them an outlet to be their best selves which translates into hard work and motivation for our company – a win/win for both parties.”

Steve Sarner, VP of Marketing: “At if(we), we believe that providing employees with special office perks allows them to be their most productive selves. Some of our employee perks include a Zen room featuring yoga classes twice a week, meditation classes, chair massage therapy sessions every three weeks, and special areas in the office to promote well-being, such as nap rooms and areas. We also provide employees the choice of free gym membership or wellness reimbursements to help our team thrive. Additionally, we’re one of the rare buildings in San Francisco lucky enough to have a roof deck that offers a nice place to eat and take a break while enjoying views of the Embarcadero, Bay Bridge, Transamerica building and Coit Tower.”

Flow: Allow Input on Company/Product Improvement

Andrew Wilkinson, Founder and CEO: “We were seeing a lot of other companies doing ‘hack days’. I liked the idea of them, but usually, the outcome is a bunch of stuff that works in theory, and not in practice. Beyond that, they usually don’t include everyone, so a lot of great ideas and perspectives get left out. We wanted to do something that was great for everyone (including our customers), so we came up with Delight Day: a single day where people could improve Flow in whichever small way they wanted. They could get a team together, or they could work alone – but their project had to be done on that day, and it had to be something that made Flow more fun to use. Some people redesigned small parts of the app; some people worked on copy to make it better reflect our personality. By the end of the day, we had a bunch of ready-to-implement improvements. I like to think that’s where my team really gets their satisfaction: from starting and completing projects quickly, and never getting caught up in annoying management red tape.”

FoundersCard: Treat Them Like Your Customers

Eric Kuhn, CEO: “It’s all about experiencing luxury – the same luxury FoundersCard members have access to. I motivate my staff by letting them sample the benefits FoundersCard members enjoy. That means traveling around the world to any of FoundersCard’s events (Sydney, Paris, London, New York or Chicago). They get to live, breathe and experience luxury, stay at top-notch hotels, [and] attend exclusive gatherings with rising entrepreneurs. The experience makes them even more passionate and they become even better ambassadors for the company.”

FourMine: Explore Your City Together

Slisha Kankariya, Cofounder: “We’re lucky enough to be based in one of the most exciting cities in the world – NYC. So, we make it a point to make a bimonthly outing after work to explore something interesting with the entire team. Whether it’s an interesting new restaurant, a trip to Governors Island, or a gelato making class – we want to ensure that the team at Four Mine really feels like a team and in the process enjoys the perks of being located in NYC.

[Additionally], we’ve created a snack stipend that each employee is allowed to manage on a rotating monthly basis. We [also] strive to offer transparency and connectivity so that employees can work from anywhere – whether they are at the office or not. This allows employees to set their own hours, and be efficient in how they allocate their time to accomplishing tasks. In turn, this allows us to get more done in a shorter amount of time.”

FullContact: Offer $7,500 to Take a Vacation

FullContact offers its employees $7,500 per year to go on vacation (on top of a traditional paid vacation policy). The only requirements: 1) employees have to go on an actual vacation, 2) they must disconnect, and 3) they can’t work.

Bart Lorang, CEO: “We had a very traditional policy in the past, with (I believe) ten vacation days each year. We found that people were afraid of using days because they didn’t want to run out, or to feel like they were using too many. So when you stop counting the days, people tend more toward accomplishing the goal of relaxing and refreshing versus worrying about some arbitrary number.”

Fundrise: Give Them a Stake in the Company

“People’s decision making is much different if they view themselves as an owner of the company and its long-term success versus as a replaceable employee.”

Ben Miller, Cofounder & CEO: “Opportunity for true ownership in the company from day 1. Many of the most talented/top performing individuals value knowing that the work they do is contributing to a larger whole and that the benefit of that is passed onto them through their ownership stake in the company. This also allows for people to obtain greater freedom in the work environment.

Create flexibility and work/life balance. Some people like to come in early, some like to work late, some need breaks, some like solitude. Just giving people the option to work in the environment that makes them most productive. Valuing quality of output over amount of time sitting at a desk. [Allow for] Autonomy / being able to do the right thing. Trust your team. Give them a chance to create opportunities for themselves and maintain real control over projects. The more empowered a person feels, the more real value they’ll be able to add – and the more they’ll go the extra mile for your company.”

Geofeedia: Treat the Team as Family

“We believe culture is critical to our success. I describe our culture as a family – our family of customers, employees and investors. And it’s a fast-paced, demanding startup culture that we consciously work on to ensure that family is successful, and motivated.”

Phil Harris, Cofounder and CEO:  “Geofeedia offers competitive salaries, benefits and everyone in the company has equity. In addition, we have a transparent work environment — I send company updates regularly via email or on our ’30/30 meetings (30/30: 30-minute updates every 30 days) where various department share successes, learnings and upcoming events or programs. These meetings are done across our teams using High Five or other web conferencing to make sure everyone feels like they’re in the same space – this is hugely motivating to our team.

Some of the best motivators, [though], are ‘free’ and grew organically within Geofeedia, like the way everyone on the team chimes in via email to welcome any new employee – this means 47 welcome emails hit a new employee’s inbox on day 1. This is a huge motivator. And when a new customer contract gets signed, or a renewal comes in, everyone in the company is notified via email, which prompts dozens of reply-all ‘congratulations’ emails and an onslaught of congratulatory animated GIFs. These types of organic motivators almost seem as valuable as the organized perks.”

Good Look Ink: Follow the Golden Rule

Kevin Knoop, COO: “No special secrets from me. Follow the Golden Rule. Involve your staff in the decision-making process as much as possible. Hire people who are promotable, and promote from within. Be genuinely invested in their career growth at your company. Structure employee compensation to grow as sales and profits grow at your company. Have fun, work hard, and CELEBRATE success!”

GreenPal: Focus on the ‘Why’

“My best leadership advice to entrepreneurs is rally everyone on the term around the central ‘Why'[…]Why does our company exist?”

Bryan Clayton, Cofounder and CEO: “Our company created prosperity for our people and that’s why we did what we did. Much of our operating core was comprised of Guatemalan immigrants and these were the finest people I have ever known. Typically, they would come to the United States for several consecutive lawn mowing seasons, saving as much money as they could to improve the lives of their families back home by building homes, ranches, and setting up farms stocked with cattle.

This became our company’s purpose, our ‘Why.’ In weekly meetings, we would get progress reports from our men on how projects ‘back home’ were coming along. In the halls of our office and in the shop we displayed picture collages of all the homes, farms, and business that had been established by our people in Guatemala. Celebrating these victories gave us fuel to get through the tough times, particularly when economic recession that began in 2009.”

Heatworks: Hire People Who Believe in the Mission

Jerry Callahan, Founder: “Motivation starts with hiring employees that are strong believers in the company’s mission, and have a high level of self-motivation. I find that the most effective to way to keep people motivated is by over-communicating about the company’s progress and goals, share good and bad news, and build a sense of community so that the leadership is not solely responsible for motivation. Empowering, trusting, and helping employees grow into their roles is also important because winning is infectious, success breeds more success, and helps build on to the momentum these bring to the company.”

HiveWyre: Offer Commission and Spending Accounts

Crystal Chavez, Marketing Manager: “Every sales colleague on our team gets a $50 per month spending account and can use the money for anything they want. Some use it for lunch, others for software to make their life easier, and even more use it for books…We’ve [also] set up our commission structure so that it scales upwards the more a sales colleague brings into the company. In other words, the more you bring in, the more you’re paid – [this] is a key motivator and makes sure that we’re paying more money to our top talent.

Once a month, we do a call blitz that has objective goals (a certain number of demos set and dials completed). When those goals are met,
everyone gets a half-day on Friday and/or additional perks (pizza, breakfast burritos, etc.). We [also] have a voluntary EAC (Events and Activities Committee) that finds interesting, fun and motivating things to do. This not only keeps our company culture alive and well, it gives people a chance to relax and enjoy themselves with their colleagues. A few examples? Cookoffs, laser tag, scavenger hunts, and company picnics.”

HourlyNerd: Recognize Great Work

Pat Petitti, Cofounder: “Motivating with money is great, but oftentimes other means of motivation are even more powerful. At HourlyNerd, we take a few different approaches to motivation. First, we’re quick to very publicly recognize team members who have gone above and beyond. For example, our technology team has an ‘Animal of the Month’ Award for the engineer who has worked the hardest and made the biggest contribution that month (the award is literally a bobble head of the muppet character Animal). Second, every employee at HourlyNerd is in actuality an owner, and that motivates them to behave that way, treating the company as if it’s their own (because in some ways it truly is).”

IASA: Find Out What’s Important to Them

“The key is to get to the root of what’s important to THEM. Everyone isn’t motivated by money.”

Kendra Y. Hill, President: “When I started IASA Consulting Group almost five years ago, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to motivate the people around me. When you start a business, you’re completely sold on the idea and have a great understanding of the amount of work it takes to make your business successful. It can be difficult to find put people on your team who are willing to work harder than you do.

I figured out that I should find out what’s important to the people on the team. If you have an employee is a globe trotter, then offer free hotel stays or airline vouchers. If you have a team member who is a huge sports fan, purchase tickets for the next basketball game. If your employee is a fashionista, get her a gift card to her favorite retail store.”

ilos Videos: Play Video Games

Sean Higgins, Cofounder: “We have seven [full-time employees] and we have a designated break time in the middle of the afternoon where we play Wii U. It’s a great way to get everyone engaged and is a surefire way to get a second wind late in the afternoon. Smash 4 is definitely a favorite in the office!”

Insightly: Provide a Sense of Purpose

Anthony Smith, Founder and CEO: “At Insightly, employees get more than free donuts. They have the opportunity to help others. Insightly gives its software away to more than 600 non-profits and charities for free, and we instill in ours employees that they are doing important work creating a software that helps make a difference in the world. I respect my staff and try to look after their well-being with balanced work-life schedules. Additionally, we offer employees a generous referral bonus. We also provide employees with: 1) clear, frequent communication on company happenings; 2) direction at the individual and department level; and 3) big-picture company direction, and the opportunity to directly help guide the course of the company.”

Jebbit: Let Employees Set Their Goals

Tom Coburn, Cofounder and CEO: “In my opinion, in order for employees to be empowered to the highest level possible, they have to feel coming into work every day that they have the power and responsibility to make a difference, and that the more they put in, the more they (both individually and as a company) will get out.”

At Jebbit, high value is placed on early employees, and Coburn allows team members to set their own quarterly goals, flexible goal-based work hours, and if they hit their goals they can determine how to spend the company’s “fun budget.”

KeyInsite Inc: Create a Clear Set of Goals

“Upon reaching these goals, their satisfaction and their motivation will be high to get started on the next goal. All startups must offer their employees with clear goals and then let them manage the best way to achieve them.”

Pratibha Vuppuluri, Founder and Principal: “One of the most effective strategies that all startups must implement is to set clear goals to motivate their employees. Set clear goals that employees can work to attain. Provide reward for employees after diligently reaching the goals set…According a survey done by Forbes ‘38% would rather do unpleasant activities — like opt for more work on their plates, sit next to someone who eats noisily, or take on a longer commute — than sit next to their boss.’ A startup company should be used to build on working together. A Chief Executive Officer, CEO, or boss should not micromanage every insignificant detail, rather let their employees think of various solutions on completing the project.”

Klick Push: Make Things Fun

Ben Jorgensen, Founder: “What I do at Klick Push is that I try to make things fun. My team has taken pay cuts to come work on something that is extremely risky. We try to make things entertaining by doing offsite trips that don’t revolve around work. Additionally, I make it a point to get to know everyone I am working with. It is crucial to offer emotional support and empathy to your team as a startup as things can be up and down. The only way to be empathetic is to know your team and understand their lives.

We also make it a point to emphasize learning and getting involved in your community. Whether that community is your industry or it is your neighborhood, it is important to create new dialogues in the event of always learning.

Finally, I share my business strategy with everyone so that everyone understands why they are working on the task at hand. It is extremely important to create an open workplace where everyone’s opinion is heard. This not only allows for everyone to learn more, but it makes people feel like their is a higher purpose and what they do at work matters.”

MakeSpace: Create a Culture That Promotes Hard Work

David Lapter, CFO and SVP of Business Development: “I believe the most motivational aspect of a startup is the culture/working environment. Creating a company culture that promotes and rewards hard work, problem solving, innovation, teamwork and collaboration is both immensely and mutually beneficial for the employees and the company at large. Having regular all-hands meetings and instilling a sense of transparency as a core value in the company is also a huge part of employee motivation in startups. At MakeSpace we host biweekly Show and Tell/Happy Hours where each department can show off all their hard work.

In addition, having team outings/events, occasional catered lunches and snacks/goodies readily available to employees daily helps maintain high moral and motivation.

Lastly, perhaps the most valued perk of working at a startup is offering all employees the opportunity to participate in stock option plans.
Employees greatly appreciate the opportunity to receive a piece of the upside, a piece that is disproportionately larger than they would ever receive at a larger, more established company.”

Majestyk Apps: Create a Playful Environment

Sean O’Shea, Founder: “As a tech start up, we make sure the team has access to ‘the latest and greatest”‘ technology at the office for inspiration. I.E., we have multiple video game consoles in the office for employees to play with ranging from 64 Dreamcaster to a PlayStation 4. The team also has access to whatever technology they need to get the job done whether that’s a tablet, wearable, or software. We also created CogniToys, the first-of-its-kind smart toy powered by IBM Watson. Needless to say, there’s no shortage of toys around the office to play with when the team needs to let off steam. [Lastly,] we encourage team members with pets to bring them to the office whenever they can! It’s just more fun to come to work if you know a dog will be there waiting for you.”

Mapbox: Be Open

“Being an open source company is core to our culture. This isn’t just a perk, it’s the center of what we do. It’s how we started building the future of the geolocation technology, it’s why we work so hard on it today, and it’s why so many talented people join our team to work on this together.”

CEO, Eric Gundersen: “We build our mapping products with open source parts. A lot of our collaboration with our community of developers happens in the open on Github, and we release as much code as possible…For our employees, working in the open feels amazing. Knowing that your code – your work – can be used by so many people around the world, rather than just internally, is a huge motivation for us to work even harder. This makes our work rewarding and makes it better. It forces us to communicate effectively throughout our projects. And it exposes our code to scrutiny and feedback. The result is tighter operations and better technology. The open source components we build are core building blocks for our business. And it’s working, both by helping our team see the larger play to our business and by making our tech even better.”

MyCorporation: Engage in Team-Building

Deborah Sweeney, CEO: “We have a team of 30 and we work on keeping our team members happy – we believe that happy employees leads to happy customers. We try to do team-building events frequently. We bring in food regularly, we do fun events throughout the week (massages, contests, we have theme days, etc.). We also set goals and when we achieve them, we do fun parties and giveaways. The other day, we hit an all-time sales goal and we put $50 bills inside the bathroom for each employee…you should have seen their faces when they went into the restroom! We are constantly trying to spice things up and make our office a happy, enjoyable place to work.”

OrionCKB: Show Genuine Respect for Team Members

“We hire people we respect, and we respect people we can trust to do good work. Trust is a HUGE motivator.”

Carlos Cashman, CEO: “Step 1 is about wanting to ensure that our employees know they are family; cheesy I know, but people think culture comes from Nerf battles and kegs on Friday. Such BS. It’s about feeling like you’re part of a family and doing everything you can to foster that. That comes from how we’ve hired from the start, and it comes from having respect for all your people.

We’re working to follow the Netflix model – better compensation as an incentive from Day 1. If you come work with us, you’ll make more than you could anywhere else, and we’re more generous with equity than any company I’ve heard of. You have to get creative with your initial offer if you want to get good talent in the door and THEN worry about keeping them. So that’s step 2.

We set stretch goals as a company, and then if we hit them as a group, we take the whole team on a trip somewhere fun. People have individual goals set for themselves too which come with monetary incentives, but it’s the combination of both personal and team rewards that have helped us grow quickly due to the great work people are producing. People like working toward a goal together, and again plays into the culture of being a part of something bigger.”

OutboundEngine: Give Constant Feedback and Encouragement

“Motivating your employees to do their best work is about making them feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves, which is why we try to instill a special and infectious energy in our culture.”

Branndon Stewart, CEO: [One] way we keep morale high and employees motivated is through recognizing their commitment and hard work on a frequent basis. For example, the top sales person for the month gets a decked out throne to sit in and there are leaderboards set up across the office to recognize other top sales people and customer support staff as well.

Helping people be productive also keeps them motivated. Receiving tons of ‘reply all’ emails drains productivity and can be frustrating, so we named our conference rooms after productivity killing practices as a reminder of what not to do. On the flip side, if employees need to relax, take a break and recharge, there is ample space in our lounges, which we frequently encourage people to use.”

PhotoShelter: Look at Each Member’s Talents and Values

“We look at our talent ‘type’ and structure our organization and culture to keep them happy. When giving advice to other startups, I recommend taking a look at the company’s current staff. Why do they choose your environment? What are the elements they love about working for you, and how can you excel in these key areas?”

Andrew Fingerman, CEO: “We look at offering our employees intrinsic benefits – those that are designed to give employees a greater sense of ownership, autonomy, and impact in the organization. For example, we group our staff into small, cross functional teams with broad direction and goals. Then, each small team collaborates to decide the specific tactics they’ll employ to achieve those goals. In this structure, each employee feels valued and that they’ve had a chance to contribute to both strategy and the execution. In a larger company, this isn’t always possible. Management also pushes hard for transparency in decision making and performance, so everyone feels connected and aware of how we’re doing.

We also like to target and pitch the right kind of talent, and place a priority on making our organization’s culture unique enough to attract that type of talent. For example, we have a partnership with a local developer school which serves as a funnel for talent. When we present there, we talk about the type of candidates who most often thrive in our environment – entrepreneurs who want to have impact in a small organization, who want a tight-knit feeling with coworkers, and the ability to learn and grow alongside our experienced senior developer talent, plus people who like craft beer, backyard BBQ’s at the CEO’s house, and photography. From here, the right candidates tend to self-select.

We’ve built a culture that values being together, both at work and after work. For example, we have a company sponsored home brew team (Brewshelter) who crafts new flavors of beer for the full team to enjoy at a monthly “Photos & Beer” night, where our team comes together with invited users who show off their work. It’s not all booze though, we also have Runshelter, and Knitshelter (self-explanatory).”

PernixData: Give Access to the Latest Innovations

Poojan Kumar, Cofounder and CEO: “The single biggest motivator for any startup is to enable employees to work on innovative and groundbreaking technology that can change the world. At PernixData, for example, our employees are working on products that are completely modifying the storage landscape with the potential to impact hundreds of thousands of companies the world over. To help our employees realize how possible it is to build something special, we routinely expose them to industry luminaries involved with the best tech companies. For example, we recently brought in Steve Herrod (former CTO of VMware) and John Thompson (chairman of Microsoft) to talk to the entire company about their experiences.”

Plexuss: Create a Community

JP Novin, Cofounder: ​As a company that started just last year, most of the Plexuss.com staff are Millennials. The way to motivate them is to understand who they are. Millennials are not always driven by higher pay or other ‘perks’ which other generations look for. Instead, they want to be part of a community; and really care about the people they work with. In addition, they also want a voice as part of that community, a voice that is valued. So, I focus on giving them the freedom to contribute without the ‘formal layers’ of a company. It allows them to care for the company, our products and each other. And, ultimately, they see they are making a difference. ​”

QuickFlics: Offer Equity (Again)

Michael Ludlum, President and COO: “We motivate our employees a number of ways, but the biggest is their stake in the long-term vision of the company. As a start-up, it’s not about huge salaries or immediate perks. It’s much more to do with being a part of casting a vision for long-term success. Yes, there will be financial rewards, but there’s also great value in seizing every opportunity now – even if doesn’t have a huge payoff, yet…”

SchooLinks: Create Loyal Relationships

Katie Fang, Founder and CEO: “To work for a startup, the employees need to be very aware of the amount of work/stress they need to face. As a startup founder, I find that if your team members are motivated just for the sake of money, then you have hired the wrong people, and you are doomed to fail. Startups are all about people. You need to bond with them, and treat them like your family. At my startup, the quality I value the most is loyalty. I tend to motivate them through personal talks and engage the entire team in team building activities/sports. It is very important that your team functions well together in a professional setting and they like each other in a social setting. That’s when they want to work ‘longer’ hours because of they share the vision and they just like being with each other.

We adopted Agile methodology, and our sprints are typically 2 weeks long. So after each sprint ends, we will definitely go celebrate and share the results over drinks.”

Shakr Media: Provide Channels for Responsibility and Freedom

David Lee, Founder and CEO: “We motivate our employees by giving them the responsibility and freedom that they want. Startups inherently have flatter organization structures and I think that attracts a certain kind of people, the ones that are tired of stiff hierarchies and company structures and micromanaging middle managers. It’s up to us as a company to give these people what they want to motivate them. Startup salaries won’t always match big corporations so we have to compete with more intrinsic values (and of course equity) like flexible work schedules and vacation time, free lunch and a relaxed (but high energy) atmosphere.”

Smartling: Offer a Unique Workspace

Andrey Akselrod, Cofounder and CTO: “Being part of a fast-growing global startup that is truly making a difference in customers’ lives is thrilling, but it can also be overwhelming and exhausting at times. To keep our employees motivated, we’ve made a concerted effort to provide them with a unique office space designed to serve as their ‘home-away-from-home.’ From our green room (think lots of sunlight, plants and Adirondack chairs) and beach room, to our golf and living rooms, our office aesthetic is designed to provoke creativity, productivity, and relaxation within our employees. We also keep them motivated with great benefits, such as our unlimited vacation policy. Additionally, we make it a best practice to award employees ownership of new products and projects they’ve invented. Tie it all together, and we feel that we’ve got a winning formula to keep our employees happy.”

Social Media Age: Offer Flexible Hours

Apryl DeLancey, President and CEO: “I motivate my team by allowing them the freedom to schedule their time on their terms. Of course, I assure that I have smart and focused team members that don’t need micromanagement. I give them deadlines and they can work on it when, how and where they choose as long as the end product meets the requirements. Not everyone can handle this freedom and they are weeded out of the team quickly. However, for those that can handle it they do a fantastic job.”

Thread: Don’t Equate Cash Value with Experiential Value

“The key thing for a startup to be competitive is not to equate cash value with experiential value; most of our treats/socials are quite low budget, but we really focus on making the experience reflect our company. In the end, employees won’t necessarily remember a bonus but they will definitely remember that time when their CEO sang the intro to the Fresh Prince of Bel Air in the back of a cab.”

Alinna Chung, Marketing Director: “Give employees loads of trust and flexibility (unlimited holidays, work from home, no standard office hours). [Offer] weekly goals system that ties team achievements to [the] wider company: each team sets stretch goals for the week. If all the team goals are achieved, the company gets a fun Friday treat. Usually the whole company votes on a theme for the treats so we’ve ended up with quirky themes like spherical treats, childhood nostalgia, cocktail shake-off, and the occasional pinata. [And, lastly, provide] company socials that are actually fun! Enjoying the journey together is one of our core values, so we have regular socials that are interactive, original, and reflective of our personality as a group. People in the company volunteer to run them, so we get a great variety of activities. We’ve done a murder mystery, a treasure hunt, various types of food/drink tastings, and most recently a Thread-themed photo competition.”

Zignal Labs: Celebrate

Josh Ginsberg, CEO of Zignal Labs: “At Zignal Labs, we foster a celebratory environment in order to motivate our employees. The DoF (Department of Fun) makes it a priority to organize regular events for the office, including happy hours, lunch adventures and team outings to reward employees for work well done. Additionally, the company celebrates wins by ringing bells and banging gongs throughout the office! By celebrating every day and creating a technology that solves difficult problems, everyone stays motivated to accomplish our common and individual goals-to delight our customers, continuously produce a powerful product and be happy doing it.”

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Ronald Barba is the managing editor of Tech.Co. His primary story interests include industry trends, consumer-facing apps/products, the startup lifestyle, business ethics, diversity in tech, and what-is-this-bullsh*t things. Aside from writing about startups and entrepreneurship, Ronald is interested in 'Doctor Who', Murakami, 'The Mindy Project', and fried chicken. He is currently based in New York because he mistakenly studied philosophy in college and is now a "writer". He also likes to cook things; you can check out all the noms on his Instagram. Email Ronald ([email protected]) or tweet @RonaldPBarba. You can also subscribe to him on Facebook or find him on Google.

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