Startups · Entrepreneurship

How much should an early stage startup CEO receive in salary?

maskal boipai Business Development Advisory Services

September 12th, 2016

There are several articles from folks like Peter Thiel talking about how much a startup CEO should receive. I wonder if you all have some thoughts and more specifically applied to early stage ventures.

Neil Gordon Board Member, Corporate Finance Advisor and Strategy Consultant

September 12th, 2016

My short version: Enough to keep a roof over your head and not starve to death.

Henri Lechner Managing Director at Wien Ovo Group

September 12th, 2016

In my opinion you should charge the company a relevant renumeration for your expertise and skill but draw as little as possible during the early stages. Whatever is 'earned' but not drawn can be regarded as an investment loan. In future financing rounds it accounts for the investment and risk taken by the shareholder/director and if all is a success it generates a benefit. In the end, if you did not invest your time and experience in the company  you would have earned a market salary. 

Michael Feder Founder and CEO at PrayerSpark; Finalist: Global Business & Interfaith Peace Award

September 12th, 2016

I, myself, have taken nothing. Zero. Burned thru my savings, my HELOC (my home is now on the market), and my IRA.  ALL WORTH IT. I will live in a trailer parked in a Wal-Mart parking lot if that is what it takes to finish my tech. I wouldn't take a dime of anyone's money without that commit. Why so committed? We are going to save lives. And that is what I wake up with, every morning. If you don't have that passion for what you are doing, don't risk years of your life to do it. Someone else can launch the 32nd company to deliver food to the office. Just my 2 cents worth....  ;-)

Art Nutter Chairman & CEO, PatentBooks Inc. and TAEUS Corporation; Patent Licensing Expert

October 4th, 2016

I've taken no salary for 5 years from my latest startup. Keeps me focused! Only customer money can become my income. I think like a sales guy: commissions drive my every decision. No customer, no sale, no commission, no money.

Chris Norman CEO at Kraftwurx - Makers of Digital Factory- enterprise software for 3D printing ecommerce & mass customization

September 12th, 2016

Ensure that you are taken care of. If you have children for example. The deal should not leave your family uninsured and struggling. Above all do not invest so much of your own money that you will leave yourself vulnerable. Investing everything is not sound business practice and anyone who you may raise from should be concerned if you are a wildcard like that because it shows a lack of reality. All-In should be reasonable but not both arms and legs.

If the company cannot pay you even a paltry salary then it is too underfunded and you should adjust your plan to get enough capital to be successful even during development. Lean but enough. 

Bring others into the fold that bring more confidence to the investors. Then ask for more capital. Do not risk being underfunded or short on talent. A Well funded Startup should pay its people adequately.

Ar Entrepreneur

March 15th, 2018

0. Really.

Jorge Papadopolo A Project Manager, founder of, and

November 20th, 2017

That question can be answered by honestly answering these two questions:

1) How much is that startup willing to pay for a CEO without risking the finance stability of the business?

2) Does that startup business need or can afford a CEO?

Understand the difference between these two requirements:

a) A person's need for a CEO job (which only the real owner is willing to reject the position).

b) A business' need for good managerial guidance (which only the real owner is willing to invest in, either by paying off or by doing it).

And finally, you have to understand that, getting a lousy CEO salary does not mean you are a lousy CEO. Only means that you are very much interested in doing that CEO job while your goals are met.

Matt Harrigan President & CEO at PacketSled

September 12th, 2016

It really depends on your version of "early stage." If you've raised enough money that you have substantial runway, be reasonable. If you're in seed/angel stage and the future is uncertain, draw as little as you can and invest everything possible in your product/service. 

Stephen G. Barr Inimitable Advisor with Wide experience.

September 12th, 2016

I'm with Neil on this...whatever the minimum is to stay off a park bench. I am assuming by "early venture" you mean "pre-revenue". I've seen far too many "pre-revenue" startup CEO's taking way too much out. One I know of is paying himself over 250k out of investor money prior to selling a single "widget".

Shalini Trefzer Senior advisor to early-stage AI-based start ups

September 12th, 2016

There's the talk and then there's the walk...I personally struggle to juggle the two. Receiving compensation is an excellent morale booster as well as incentive to keep going. What about selling an earlier version of the product to bring in organic revenue, even before closing bigger funding rounds?