This is a guest post by my good friend and remote entrepreneur Austin Evarts of FullFoundation.com. Austin has traveled the world while building Twepto , creating an online course on passive revenue generation called The Remote Entrepreneur, all while getting featured on Tim Ferriss’s blog The Four Hour Work Week.
In the early stages of a startup you often need to pay people in equity rather than salary. Not only is it cheaper while “bootstrapping”, but you want to be working with people who see the most value in being paid with equity. These people truly believe in the project and are willing to sacrifice payment to see it succeed.
So the problem then becomes: how do you keep people motivated? As “CEO”, “Chief Motivator”, “Lead Cheerleader” – whatever you want to call it – how do you keep people pushing when they are basically working for free?
I’ve learned (usually the hard way) a few tricks that I would like to share with you here. Please note that I am not a programmer (although I’ve been learning). My experience comes from building and motivating teams around concepts that came from my head. In more cases than not, I am the “non-technical founder”. So how can you motivate the masses without paying them cash?
1. Be a Cheerleader
• Remind people why this project is a “game changer”.
• Remind people that when this works out, it will be far better than their day job (i.e. you can be making millions and working for yourself). Be very clear with people upfront that if this project is to succeed, they will at some point be expected to quit their day job.
• Share good news. If you come across an interesting article on Mashable that shows a trend toward what you will be offering, share it with the team. Articles like this are great kindling to fuel the fire.
• Know the numbers and get good with statistics. Send out regular (but not too regular that it is annoying) emails about the potential of the company: market size, potential revenues, etc. These help to remind people what they are working toward.
As CEO/founder of a startup, motivation and guidance is your job. Make it a point to cheer lead regularly.
2. Know What you are Talking About
As the non-technical founder, you are in a unique and often difficult position. Great programmers usually want to spend most of their time coding, meaning you should be spending your time on the business side of things – finding users, testing business models, etc. You are essentially, “the business guy”. The problem that many non-technical founders face is that a lot of programmers (at least the good ones) don’t want to the job of implementing the vision of a business guy.
The solution that I’ve found is to really know what you are talking about. First off, you should definitely have a deep understanding of the problem that your startup is trying to solve. The best startups begin by trying to solve a problem that the founders have. Second, you should be able to “talk the talk”. Not knowing what your programmers are talking about creates an unhealthy distance between you and the people you are trying to motivate. If you are constantly asking, “what does that mean?”, you slow progress down drastically. If you want a general understanding of what your programmers might be talking about, W3 Schools is a good place to start.
A general desire to learn about the environment around you is an extremely valuable characteristic of an entrepreneur. If your programmers are coding in PHP, you should probably know what an array is. That doesn’t mean you need to know how to use one. Just know enough to talk the talk.
3. Make things Public
The last thing you need in a startup is a lack of communication. If someone is slacking and missing deadlines, talk to them about it, find out what is up, and make sure it doesn’t happen again. It is hard to to keep people accountable when you are not paying them. Making their ineptitude public, however, is another story. People are more motivated by the prospect of public failure than they are by the prospect of making millions. Y Combinator actually uses this as a technique for motivating their startups.
Make sure that everyone on your team knows everyone else’s deadlines. When missing a deadline means letting your friends down, it’s less likely to happen.
Photo credit: *Kicki*
What non-monetary techniques have you used for motivating your team members?