How to Ensure Your Startup Employees Are Happy

This guest column is by Anjli Jain, Managing Partner at EVC Ventures.

Many of us know the story of David Choe, a graffiti artist who took stocks instead of cash for painting Facebook’s first HQ seven years ago to make $200 million in stock market float.

The graffiti are still there, Facebook is currently worth over 309 billion dollars and the story has turned into urban legend prompting many gold seekers to flock into the hyped startup promised land in search of quick riches

For most the legend doesn’t turn out well.

Startups are not always the Promised Land on the other side of the rainbow. In fact it rarely is. Months put into excessive work leaving everything else aside including things they have always cherished leave them exhausted and wandering why they even tried in the first place.

Being a founder is challenge. Being one that will fulfill his own dreams and makes. those around him rich as well is a matter of true success and leadership.

I am not going to speak on whether people should join a startup or not, plenty has been said on that already.

As a founder, you should be aware of the following reasons for why startup employees are usually unhappy, and as a job seeker, you should be vary of these signs

Misguided Founders

The number one reason why many startup employees end up unhappy, lies with the founders themselves. An early stage startup is literally a reflection of the founder’s personality. His flaws and insecurities become embedded into what soon grows into a corporate culture.

What happens often is that founders mistake entrepreneurship for delegation. They build a team only to delegate duties from their own back while they flag themselves around visiting events and trying to attract headlines. Naturally no vision is great enough when the bank balance goes down and salaries are due


Stories like Facebook and Google have forced the myth of overnight success .

Six months to a year later, employees may feel that not much has happened, the vision doesn’t take them a straightforward path to a success. The ESOPs do not look as attractive as they used to at the beginning.

Founders should communicate that taking a startup company to the pinnacle of success can be a long journey. As a jobseeker, you should not venture it unless you are in for the time it may take to do so.

Bad HR

Scaling a company is a tricky thing and nailing it right the first time is tough. Many founders even those backed by experienced VCs make the mistake of scaling too early. They take scaling as hiring mid-lever executives from established corporations.

The problem here is that these people often come with their own set of expectations. They look for the manual and the guidelines. They look for documented processes. They look for people to lead and do things for them.  

Things become hazardous when they find out that they didn’t come to the place of their imagination. Not everyone can manage chaos and maneuver around it. Many people are just happy doing one thing over and over again. They look for stability and predictability and don’t go well with pressure and unstructured environments. If you are such you should seriously think before joining a startup.

It is extremely important to have a proper HR department in place when these people join. An experience HR manager can help new joins adjust, get comfortable, find work-life balance and manage expectations. Lousy HR is the main reason why your employees leave you angry and frustrated.

No Vision

There are amazing, skillful and capable people out there ready to follow worthy leaders. These people are gems for every startup founder. People who have been coding or designing or writing all by themselves for years, just enough to sustain themselves as freelancers until they find a vision they can finally surrender to.

Sometimes they do and they selflessly deploy themselves to the vision of the charismatic founder only to find out that the vision wasn’t share with them at all.

I’ve known few founders like that. They’ve let brilliant minds escape their team just because they looked at them as mere assets. Brilliant people need vision and self-actualization just like you do. It takes not strong a narcissistic but humble and patient leaders to make them feel equal part of the vision.

If you are a person with niche talents be careful when you chose a startup to work with. Observe how comfortable the founder feels around smart people.

Image Credit: SAP Success Factors

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