Top 5 Engagement Drivers in Startups

Startups have a way of making everything more personal. In a business you’re just building up, the engagement drivers will be significantly different from the typical, 9 to 5 job benefits. We’ve put together a quick round-up of the top 5 engagement drivers in startups.

Startups are special

I didn’t understand just how special a startup is until I started working for one. It seemed to me that people were using “startup” as a buzzword and that entrepreneurship was just another cool-thing-to-be right now.

Over the past few months I’ve come to understand what makes startups so special. Let me share it with you.

  • A startup is like a family

Many startup founders describe it as a marriage. The ups and downs, the constant stress, the commitment to be there 24/7 and the immense rewards that come with every success. You come to fully trust the few people around you and you learn to adapt and fill-in every business role, together.

  • Startups are built on freedom

Compared to the most common model of work, a startup offers you immense freedom. That’s precisely why it’s so appealing and more and more people are interested in building their own: it’s your idea. An idea that you get to shape into a business. Sometimes it doesn’t even feel like you’re working, it’s just part of you now.

  • Little things matter

Since the day you launch your product, there will be hundreds of adjustments, changes and little things to be done every week. You’re always trying new things, learning new things and you’ll have fun doing it.

Engagement drivers in startups

Building a startup or working for one is an engagement driver of its own. The fundamental engagement principles don’t change but they shape up completely different in a startup.

You’re engaged when you find meaning in the work you do, then you have a social support system that motivates you and when your accomplishments are acknowledged.

The top 5 engagement drivers in startups are Work, Colleagues, Environment, Management and Recognition.


Being part of a growing business can offer immense satisfactions when it comes to the work you do. You get to test ideas, try different strategies and learn as you go.

However, it’s important that the pressure that comes with a startup job is kept at a performance-driving level and not a frustration-driving one. There is enough pressure from trying to build a new business, but when you have the tendency to put even more pressure on yourself, like many entrepreneurs tend too, it can be a recipe for disaster. Hello disengagement!

It’s important that you find meaning in the work you do through every day. You can start your day with a 5 min reflection to remind yourself why you’re there and what you’re trying to achieve. Then trace your day based on that feeling and make sure your work trajectory has a logical flow.

It’s about building something that changes the lives of those around you. Be it directly or indirectly, you are setting a trail on which people can follow you. It’s a great responsibility but also an incentive in itself. Being part of shaping the future is always intriguing and engaging, as we are very driven by the unknown.


One of the top 3 engagement pillars in a startup is the social network you form. Your colleagues are like family in a startup environment, because you rely heavily on each other. Not just because of the reduced number of people usually working in a startup, but because you’ve embarked on this adventure with them, through good times and bad.

How they make you feel will determine your emotional state and therefore your action. You can be a really productive and efficient individual, but when you don’t feel comfortable and connected with those you work with, you won’t give it 100%.

For a startup, that’s an essential driver you need to keep in mind.

Build strong, long-term relationships with your colleagues and don’t be afraid to involve them in your work and vice versa. A shift of perspective can help you guys come up with a jackpot idea.

Use the “campfire” approach whenever you need a second or a third pair of eyes. How does it work? Really simple, you just get to the middle of the room (presuming it’s possible from a logistical standpoint), grab some chairs and gather around an imaginary campfire. The person who called it will throw in an idea or a question and you have 10 minutes to contribute and build on it. Fun, efficient and very social.   


Diane Hoskins, co-CEO of the design and architectural firm Gensler, has been studying the link between design and business performance. Her research indicated that different aspects in workplace design had a substantial influence on employee satisfaction and productivity levels.

The case with most startups is that they either have a relatively small office space or they work in remote teams.

If you fall into the first category, that’s great news! Having a smaller office space versus a bigger one, can bring a lot of unseen advantages. Advantages like:

  • Personalizing your workspace
  • Re-arranging furniture
  • Re-designing working areas
  • Bringing objects that you really like
  • Flexibility and comfort

The bigger the company, the bigger the distance between wanting something and getting it done.

If you’re working in a remote team, the playground is online. Virtual spaces, apps and tools and all sorts of tech solutions, that’s your office. Make sure you’re getting the comfort and functionality you need, but, most importantly, never stop communicating. Your “space” has to be accessible, reliable, easy to work with and adaptable to your needs.


The optimistic startup CEO/CEOs. They’re like business unicorns, they hold big dreams and design amazing visions for their startup.

For that startup to succeed though, it will take an almost superhuman perseverance and resilience. A CEOs job description will change every 6 months or so. Hiring new people and managing those already on-board will be much more challenging than a usual managerial position.

That’s because in a startup, management is a “learn-as-you-go” process. They are the visionaries who came up with a business idea and made it happen. Growing it will be another battle.

But here’s what’s great with a startup manager:

  • They will give you autonomy
  • They will help you learn
  • They’ll work alongside you
  • Like in a family, they will support your decisions
  • Most often than not, you can make mistakes, just learn from them
  • They will make the time to get to know you
  • They will appreciate your work
  • They’ll challenge you to get out of your comfort zone
  • They’ll involve you in other specialties, different from your own

It’s not always rainbows and butterflies, it’s really hard work. But you’ll be encouraged to learn and to give it 150%.


This engagement driver is closely connected to the previous two. Having a small, well-connected team and an involved manager build a sense of community. And, in this community, it comes naturally to acknowledge both small and big victories.

Startups have this intrinsic recognition culture that fosters gratitude. It’s also easier for a smaller team to create and support an employee recognition system. For example, Employee of the Month programs have been known to work best in small to medium teams.

Let’s talk about YOUR startup

We’ve given you a broad overview of the most common engagement drivers in a startup. Surely you’d be more interested in finding out what drives engagement in your company. You have two ways of doing this: online or offline.

Your first option is to set-up an online system through which you start gathering feedback and information from your team, over a given period of time. This system should provide you with a tracking and monitoring feature, to make sure your data is accurate and can be translated into clear action steps.

Your second option is one-on-one meetings, with all of your team members, over a given period of time, in repeated cycles.

The end goal is to find out what motivates these people to show up for work, perform, engage and aspire to a future endeavor. What makes them happy at work? Once you have that information, you need to act and build on it, together with your team.

That’s how we got Hppy Apps started in the first place. We wanted to know what makes our team happy and how can we improve our working experience.

It’s like a team manager recently told me, different companies of different sizes have different needs. Engagement drivers differ from industry to industry, from one working environment to another. For startups, these are the top engagement drivers we’ve identified, but there will always be some distinctive aspects that make every workplace unique.

We’d love to hear your thought on the matter and any other engagement drivers that you’ve come across. Drop us a line bellow and have a happy day at work!

Image via under C.C.0 license