Dear SaaStr: How Do VCs Really Feel About Founder Salaries in the Early Days?
Let me add just one thought to the discussion on founder salaries, once you are venture-backed.
There are lots of good ideas for all different situations:
- 75% of market for founders’ salaries.
- As little as possible, until it doesn’t matter
- $10k a month
- Market once you are well funded, not until then.
- Etc. etc.
There are lots of good answers. And also — lots of different situations.
In my first start-up, we raised $9.2m in the seed round. So it really didn’t matter that much in that scenario. The second time, I funded the prototype myself ($0 salary) and then we raised a $2.6m seed and I took a small salary (no need to be $0 anymore, but anything large would decrease the runway). So different situations = different answers, up to a point.
One thing I have learned, though.
If the founders are the highest compensated people in an early-stage start-up, at least pre-Scale (e.g., pre $10m ARR) … something is often wrong. Incentives are not aligned here. Later, as you scale, it makes sense if the CEO has the highest salary, at least by a modest margin. But not when cash matters.
If the founders are really going for it, there’s always one great engineer, a Stretch VP, even a sales rep, a marketing lead, someone, the first great hire that wasn’t quite a founder but still is great … that makes more than the founders. Always. At least the VP of Sales.
If the founders take the highest salaries though … then … usually … that’s a flag at least for me.
Other than that, as long as it’s appropriate, and doesn’t harm the runway of the company, most anything fair seems right to me.