By writing off anyone who wants a decent salary as someone who should just work for a big corporation, you are completely ignoring the issue of exploitation by the company founders.
You write about how talented people can increase the value of the equity. Yeah, that’s true. But it’s also true that regardless of how talented people are, most startups fail and their equity is worth nothing. What’s really not fun is working hard and doing great work, but nothing is enough to save the company. That’s more what reality looks like for most startups.
The view in this post is a classic “master of the universe” view. You won the lottery, so you’re so remarkably talented and smart. Because, ya’ know, it wasn’t a lottery. It’s a meritocracy.
Personally, I think it’s better to be honest as possible. Such a discussion with a potential hire might go something like this:
We’re doing some really cool stuff and we have a chance to build something interesting that you can always be proud of. We can’t offer much in the way of salary right now. We can offer you a block of stock. The reality is, the stock may never be worth anything. If we get sufficient funding, we are going to raise salaries to market rates. I’m looking forward to this, since I’m making the same (or less) than you would be.
At least in this case there’s an effort to not blow smoke up someone’s ass.
At best you’re offering someone a ride that’s going to be really fun while there’s a chance at success and something really unpleasant if it fails. And maybe there’s a chance at a lottery win where you make money.
Even those who, ascribing all to prudence and capacity, exclude, so far as they can, the influence of Fortune, must needs admit that much turns on your happening upon or being born at a time wherein the virtues or qualities on which you value yourself are in request. — Francesco Guicciardini
Tangentially, the term “master of the universe” comes from Tom Wolf’s last good book The Bonfire of the Vanities. A “master of the universe” is someone who has benefited from luck, but ascribes all of their success to their brilliance and talent. Here’s my example:
You take 4096 people and have them all toss a fair coin. 2048 people get heads and toss again. Then you have 1026, 512, 256, 128, 64, 32, 16, 8, 4, 2, 1. That last person won twelve throws and wins a fortune. They ascribe their wealth to their remarkable talent and brilliance. They’re a master of the universe.