Someone made a comment this morning about offering large amounts of equity at the early stages of a start-up's life to find employees. It went along the lines of labelling the folks that are incentivised by equity as either fools or mercenaries. It basically implies that you are either dumb or tactical to take a large equity stake early as your main motivator.
I don't necessarily disagree about the part referring to motivation. If profiting from equity is your main reason for joining a start-up, you will most likely be disappointed. There are one-off opportunities to strike it rich but the same is the case for the lottery. Pick your poison!
Nevertheless, there is one reality about joining early stage start-ups. You're a fool one way or another. Don't forget Steve Jobs famous quote "Stay hungry, stay foolish!" I've come to understand this more and more having been on the company building side this past couple of years. I'll openly admit how little I understood what that quote originally meant. Sure, each person has their own interpretation but for me it's pretty straightforward.
Going into a start-up, you're a fool. It's irrational, risky, hard, emotional and so forth. There really is no way to argue that it makes sense. To be honest, it either does make sense to you or it doesn't. Not everyone is cut out for startups and the ups and downs associated with them. But even more so, those who aren't able to foolishly dive in head first most likely won't succeed in them. Those who are foolish enough to do so at times reap the rewards. Or they fail. Some will still refer to this as "foolish" but they're missing the point.
Further though, you have to be somewhat of a mercenary when at a startup. There's nothing standardised in the startup world. You make up the rules as you go. At times, you have to be a mercenary. You are hired to serve (if you aren't the founder) an army. This army is going into "war" and none of your opponents are playing by the rules. They too are breaking the rules and/or recreating them. I am not a proponent of being unethical but you have to be aggressive in a startup all the while being smart. See the other part of the above quote: "stay hungry!" I interpret this as be aggressive and keep pushing.
In summary, I'm with the fools and mercenaries.....the ones motivated to win and not just "earn".