Maslow’s Hierarchy of Startups

How companies cater to our inner motivations

Soda Hall
Published in
6 min readSep 25, 2014


Why do people do the things they do?

In 1943 psychologist Abraham Maslow attempted to answer this question in his paper “A Theory of Human Motivation”. This paper was the basis for what we now know as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Maslow refined this theory until his death in 1970 and his final version breaks human needs into eight categories. There are four basic needs:
(1) biological and physiological needs,
(2) safety needs,
(3) social needs, and
(4) esteem needs.

Once these basic needs are met, there are four higher-order needs:
(5) cognitive needs,
(6) aesthetic needs,
(7) self-actualization, and
(8) transcendence.

According to Maslow, we’re only capable of focusing on the the next need in the hierarchy if our previous needs have been met.

You don’t have to be psychology expert to recognize his theory in action. Think back to the last time you had a hard time paying attention to an important meeting or lecture that was right before lunch. You probably zoned out for a bit, salivating over the thought of biting into a toasty sandwich and washing it down with an ice-cold lemonade.

When your basic physiological need for food has not been met, there’s no way you can meet your higher-order cognitive need for information.

There’s an app for that motivational need

Maslow died in 1970, long before the creation of the World Wide Web. I’ll bet he had no idea that thousands of small companies would emerge to help people meet each of their major motivational needs.

Lets look at examples of companies in each area, keeping in mind that the most interesting companies meet more than one motivational need. Over time, this will become a necessity.