Don’t Work For a Startup Founder

I accidentally asked someone to work for me last week. Terrible choice of words. People don’t want to work for people. People want to work for themselves.

At my last job I wasn’t working for my manager, even though he told me what to do. I was working for my paycheck. The paycheck was a paper promise to myself that later I would be able to buy nice things.

Sometimes it’s not about money, but in-kind compensation. A PhD student ostensibly works for a thesis advisor. The exchange of labor is for the advisor’s knowledge, experience, and reputation (A lot of graduate advisors forget that this is how the transaction is supposed to work).

In the startup world, we can’t hire people to work for paychecks. Our paychecks would be dwarfed by offers from Google or Facebook. We can’t promise knowledge-based compensation either, because the people we bring on the team are smarter than us.

And so we can’t ask anyone to work for us. We can only ask people to work with us. And then they’re really working for themselves, and we’re working for ourselves together to build something really cool.

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