Let’s say my best friend from college and I are the founders of a start-up. We have shared goals. We respect each other. Do we always get along perfectly? – well of course not all the time. What two friends do? But we really want to build this company together.
Then let’s add in someone my friend knows from a previous job, Mark. Mark and my friend worked well together and had complementary skills. Mark has a family. His wife didn’t want him to take a job with our start-up, believing it was less stable than his job at a consulting firm. But Mark felt underappreciated and underutilized at the consulting firm. Now he owns equity. He feels like he’s a part of something, but he does concede his wife has a good point and there’s a part of him that worries about stability.
Jeannie was the fourth addition to the company. She just graduated from college and isn’t completely sure what kind of career she wants to build for herself, but she prioritizes getting along with her colleagues and working someplace that seems fun. This start-up seems fun. Jeannie’s parents are worried about her working for a start-up. No matter how many times she explains it, they can’t seem to remember what the start-up does. She’s determined to prove she hasn’t made a mess of her life.
Henry is the fifth hire. He was out of work for over a year and is thankful that he finally found a company that didn’t judge his long time unemployed as a black mark. Henry has a lot of discipline and taught himself to program two programming languages when he was unemployed. He isn’t so sure that a start-up is going to offer all of the stability he feels like he needs and is a bit nervous of losing his job but decided he couldn’t pass up the opportunity. If it’s true that it’s always easier to find a job when you have a job then working for this start-up will, if nothing else, position him to better find another opportunity.
Ellen is the sixth hire. She knows how this goes. She has worked for a number of start-ups. Some fell apart but some were sold, one in which she held equity. She hopes to repeat the experience but this time with enough money to give her the flexibility she’s always wanted. If this goes well maybe she can cash out and become a consultant to other start-ups. Manage her own schedule. Work part-time.
Jeannie thinks Mark is a nice guy but a bit too serious. Henry thinks Jeannie is a bit idealistic about thinking she’s going to find some career she loves; her idealism annoys him. Jeannie suspects that she annoys Henry sometimes but she’s not sure why; he’s very polite. Ellen worries that if the company ever does get a buyout offer Mark is going to be unwilling to sell. Ellen thinks that Mark is too concerned about what his wife thinks. Ellen is single by choice and doesn’t want to get married. She saw her parents go through a messy divorce and vowed she’d never make the same mistake. Mark thinks that everyone is entitled to make their own decisions and it’s just fine that Ellen doesn’t want to get married and have a family, but she needs to understand that most people aren’t going to tolerate the same level of risk that she does.
Allen is the seventh hire. Allen is excited to be part of a start-up but is irked he he’s not making as much money as he did in his previous job. And so it goes.
No matter how many go get’ em speeches and emails, no matter how many happy hours, no matter how many birthday cakes and lunches, seldom few of us have solely the best interest of the organization in mind. And those of us who do disagree on what the best interest looks like – what the exit strategy should look like, when to sell, and for how much, and so on.
Let’s pretend this fictional start-up grows for five years. There are 100 more hires. Even if we mostly get along, even if we were selected in part for ability to fit in with the company culture, we will all bring our own unique motivation to work. And then we wonder why everyone else just can’t behave and think logically like we do.