Why individual motivation is a vital ingredient to start-up success (and how to nurture it)

Why individual motivation is a vital ingredient to start-up success (and how to nurture it)

Highly-motivated people are a key ingredient in any business, but in start-ups, it can be the difference between success and failure. Driven individuals are known to be more productive, engaged and fulfilled than those simply going through the motions. They propel a company forward through innovation, hard work and infectious enthusiasm. Their determination and ideas directly correlate with business achievement. They are, in essence, an essential fuel for growth which start-ups must work out how to harness, without dangling Google-sized financial carrots. Here’s how.

It’s not about the money

Money. We all need it to live. We all think about it when applying for a job. We all work for it at some level. But, working for money alone is not enough to make you feel productive, engaged and happy; the main levers of high performance.

Although remuneration is a major lever for extrinsic motivation, studies of high performers at work show that the real magic happens when people are intrinsically motivated. When their drive comes from within and their pockets play second fiddle to their heart and their gut. Intrinsically motivated people are the prize catch for early stage start-ups; it is possible to attract and retain them even when bootstrapped.

What must individuals and companies do?

At The Talent Stack, we know that highly-motivated, high-performing teams are created when there is a strong alliance between the company and the individual. When companies consider ‘what they can do for the individual’ in equal measure to ‘what the individual can do for them’.

This connection happens when both sides articulate, understand and appreciate what matters most to each party and only then approach the subject of rewards in order to find the perfect balance. If done correctly, you’ll hit that sweet spot in the middle of the Venn diagram that LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman calls mission alignment.


On the one hand, motivation is personal: each person is motivated by a unique combination of factors that evolve and shift over time. As such, individuals must not only work out their key drivers, but also articulate these to the company, on a regular basis. Here’s a tip: it’s always more than one thing. People join a company for more than one reason, they stay for more than one reason and they leave – always – for more than one reason. It’s never just about the money, even if they say it is.


On the other hand, companies must create an environment for their people to thrive. An environment that gives power to the individual while also instilling an element of scalable structure (otherwise building any sort of sustainable ‘talent system’ becomes impossible). A good starting-point is building in optionality from the outset. For example, a small pick list of pay and perk options – especially if you include options for learning – for people to choose from will keep more people happy and empowered than just focusing on their base salary.

Co-creation is the key

In short, companies and individuals must co-create this alliance framework in a way that is both agile and dynamic, but also takes into account what matters most to both sides. Our talent toolkit enables this to happen fast, with regular feedback and dialogue built in to keep things on track. The result in something both start-ups and individuals crave in equal measure: growth.