I'd agree - the startups I've worked for weren't necessarily going for a buy-out, although that'd have kept the VCs happy. Along the way though, we got to play with some cool tech, got some (potential) customer interaction experience, occasionally flew a few places, got some 'everything's broken, you're the only one here, so make it work' type experience and drank a boatload of beer at various places when the bosses got their credit cards out. Of course, when the company went down the pan, we all got left with nothing, but it wasn't a surprise so we all had a 'plan b' lined up.
I wouldn't go for that now as I like the 9-5 so I can be at the right places at the right times for my kids. But back when I was (mostly) single, it was great fun, and rewarded me in a lot more ways than a regular salary.
Just as a side note, one startup I was at really did try to go for quality. We still had to move too fast quite a bit towards the end, but the foundations were pretty solid. All that means nothing now, because the product is long lost in some vault somewhere and provides no benefit to the customers we (nearly) had, or indeed the world as a whole. The question is, was all that quality worth it?