I think what a lot of people are missing here is based on your question - you have no clue on what you are doing. Almost in every conceivable way.
You are giving people equity like you are dolling out candy at the end of class. You have no promise of payment for past work or what their equity might be worth. Either you are really clueless on how a ...
Ok, so instead of offering money you are trying to offer the members some value in the form of equity.
The developers that are working for equity are actually the same people who could invest into your startup, but instead of money they invest their skills and time.
The first question is - why don't you try to sell some equity and pay developers instead? ...
Empathy is the best way to motivate a team, when equity is the only material return the leader can offer.
Empathy works both ways. The team members will also show empathy to the condition of the leader, if they have the evidence of the leader showing empathy to team members.
I do not think that the problem here is motivation. It is the lack of perspectives.
Unpaid work is ok if it is only for some months and you know it will end (like an internship) or that you will get a paid job afterwards.
It is not ok if you work without salary for weeks and months and you do not know how long this will take.
Your employees are motivated ...
Questions about team composition and team effectiveness are on topic here. However, questions about business plans and startup funding are out of scope for a site about the practice and profession of project management.
With that in mind, I will address myself solely to the project management perspective here. I'll cover why you need the project ...
Yes, I realize how shockingly absurd such an idea may be at first glance. And, indeed, for your organization, it might be impossible or, at least, unrealistic.
However, I propose that we consider a couple of things before outright totally dismissing this idea.
First of all, there are non-profits who frequently get people to work for ...
I liked Todd A. Jacobs', Tiago Martins Peres' and some others' answers, but I wanted to add to them. While this isn't a complete answer I think it is too much to place in the comments, so perhaps consider this a supplement to the other answers.
Startups, especially unfunded startups, are not the same as established businesses.
Equity, especially in such an ...
Frankly, I don't see how it can be done.
Specifically, I don't see what you could do, considering the constraints you have (and some of them are assumptions):
No real-world contact to your and between your (co-)workers.
The software you're developing is probably given, you can't just do something completely different all of a sudden.
I see three ...
Lots of good answers already, but one thing I think may be missing is customer feedback.
Developers will initially be enthusiastic at solving technical problems, but to sustain their enthusiasm they need to feel what they are doing is worthwhile. The best way to give them that feeling is to ship your product to real customers and to get regular feedback.
First of all i really enjoyed your question Sergey Yakovlev to the point of giving an upvote.
It appears to me what you really try to understand is
How are people motivated to do their work at work?
I assume if you found out money is really a game changer, you would do all the possible efforts to get that into the hands of your workers. From that point ...
If you aren't paying people, you really shouldn't expect them to stay around. If you want to give someone equity in exchange for payment; it should be a large amount of equity, and it should be spelled out in a contract, that stipulates the vesting period (if they aren't getting any money it should be an accelerated vesting period tied to milestones), but ...
Well, you haven't made it clear just how "good" (your word) the equity is, but yes, likely the lack of anything tangible in terms of compensation is one of the factors involved here. But it's probably not the only one.
It also sounds like you are running a virtual team, so it makes it easier for the individuals to fade into obscurity because ...