2019 Startup CEO Salary Report

Last year, we analyzed data from 125 startups to find that the average 2018 salary for a startup CEO was $130,000. This year, we expanded the data to over 200 of our seed and venture-backed clients and found that in 2019, CEO salaries rose to an average of $142,000 annually, nearly a 10% increase.

The startups we used to determine this figure have raised collectively more than $2B in funding. They span the “typical” range of U.S. startup industries including biotech, eCommerce, fintech, hardware, SaaS and more. As we found last year, the highest-paid CEOs fell predominantly into the healthcare and biotech categories.

As financial and accounting consultants to hundreds of funded startups, we are regularly asked by our clients to help them benchmark their companies’ metrics. And, not surprisingly, compensation is one of the most frequent questions. We hope this data will help other early-stage businesses prepare their budgets!

Table of contents

What’s Driving the Salary Growth?

According to our founder and CEO of Kruze Consulting, Vanessa Kruze, “this year’s data indicates that startup CEOs are making around 10% more than last year, which is to be expected since funding rounds increased in size year over year.”

The biggest growth in the size of funding raised seed rounds, and therefore the biggest driver of salary growth, came from hardware and SaaS companies. In 2018, CEOs of hardware startups had an average salary of $118,000, which rose 14% to $135,000 in 2019. Meanwhile, those of SaaS companies made on average $113,000 in 2018, which rose 7% to $121,000 in 2019.

Biotech CEO salaries remained relatively unchanged year over year, coming in at $147,000 in 2019. Same with fintech at $129,000. The one decline we saw was for eCommerce companies, who saw their salaries dip nearly 4% in 2019.

Startup CEO Salary by Industry

Seed Stage CEO Salary by Industry (in thousands)
Industry Salary 2018, thousands $ Salary 2019, thousands $
Biotech/Pharm $147 $147
eCommerce $83 $80
FinTech $124 $129
Hardware $118 $135
Saas $113 $121

One trend remained the same as last year: the more you raise, the more you get paid. For companies with total funding of $2 million or less, average CEO salaries increased just $5,000 in 2019. Companies that raised between $2 million and $5 million saw almost an 8% increase in Chief Executive Officer salaries.

Total Funding Raised

$0-$2M $2M-$5M $5M-$10M $10M+
Average $120,000 $124,000 $162,000 $173,000
Minimum $35,000 $60,000 $20,000 $55,000
Maximum $275,000 $315,000 $410,000 $350,000

The largest growth appeared among companies who raised between $5-10 million – among this group, average CEO salaries jumped 12% from $145,000 in 2018 to $162,000 in 2019. Startups with $10 million or more in funding saw their average Chief Executive’s pay rise 8% from $160,000 in 2018 to $173,000 in 2019.

Male vs. Female Startup CEOs: Are Men Paid More?

There’s been plenty written about the pay disparity between women and men in the U.S. And when it comes to the startup world, that pay gap has remained stubbornly high.

Still, when it comes to startup CEO pay, our data reveals some good news. When we compared the salaries of male Chief Executives versus females, we found that the numbers were roughly the same – $138,000 per year for women versus $143,000 for men.

“Wait,” you may be saying, “that’s still a $5,000 difference.” Yes, but there’s a solid explanation. Based on our analysis of the data, this small difference can be explained by the fact that the female CEOs in our dataset are predominantly running earlier stage companies. When we look exclusively at Seed and Series A Chief Exec salaries, the difference in pay between men and women practically vanishes.

Granted, for the later stage companies it’s a different story – while these CEOs tend to make more, there are fewer female CEOs in this group. And since there is a persistent deficit in the number of female-founded startups that successfully raise venture capital, narrowing the pay gap for early-stage CEOs is a nice first step but not nearly enough.

Below is our 2018 study, which we have left online for reference. Please quote the information above when referring to 2019 data.

2018 Startup CEO Salary Report

One of the most common questions CEOs ask us at Kruze Consulting is: “How much should my salary be?” Since the Kruze team helps run startup’s books and payroll, it’s natural that we’d get this question. We looked at our payroll data for over 125 seed and venture-backed startups to come up with the answer.

What do startup CEOs get paid?

$130,000 per year. Our data shows that the average annual salary for a CEO of a seed or venture backed company is $130,000. Note that our dataset is only for funded companies, with the average company in this analysis having raised between $7 and $8 million in venture and seed financing.
Startup CEO Salary report

How does a CEO pick his/her salary?

We’ve found that there are a variety of factors that can influence the salary of a startup CEO. These factors include: the total funding raised, cash in the bank, industry, and the experience of the founder. Our analysis backs this up, but it’s important to mention that there is no single factor that influences this decision.

How does a startups funding impact CEO salary?

Roughly, for every additional $1,000,000 raised, a startup CEO will take home between $4,000 and $5,000 more in annual salary. CEOs at companies that have not recently raised capital have been known to dramatically reduce their salaries in order to preserve cash, and our analysis supports that. Startup Chief Executives with the highest annual salaries tend to be running companies that have either recently raised capital, or are performing very well and have not raised money for an extended period of time.

2018 Ceo Pay By Total Funding Raised

Raise More, Pay Make

Total Funding Raised
Salary Range
$0 - $2MM $2 - $5MM $5 - $10MM $10 - $50MM
Average Salary $115000 $115000 $145000 $160000
Minimum Salary $10000 $0 $20000 $0
Maximum Salary $300000 $265000 $275000 $325000

2018 CEO Pay by total funding raised

How does a startups industry impact CEO salary?

We’ve found that CEOs in some industries have higher average salaries than others. CEO salaries in the Biotech and Healthcare industries tend to average more than those in other industries. Founders in those industries tend to come with academic credentials, and previous experience, that founders in other industries don’t always have (M.D., PHD), and thus warrant a higher annual salary.

Seed Stage Ceo Salaries by Industry (in thousands)
Industry Salary, thousands $
Biotech $158
eCommerce $83
FinTech $124
Hardware $118
Healthcare $136
DB/Info $138
Saas $113

Seed stage CEO Salaries by industry

CEOs of funded startups make many important decisions - including compensation decisions. We hope this report simplifies your startup CEO pay decision! Expect us to publish future studies on other startup executive pay.

Interested in other data on startup spending? Visit our Uber vs. Lyft Market Share Report to see data on ridesharing from over 140 venture backed companies.

About Kruze Consulting

Kruze Consulting was founded in 2012 by Vanessa Kruze, a big four alum, startup controller and CPA. Kruze provides Startup CFO Consulting to over 200+ startups in Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, New York, and other major startup hubs. Kruze’s clients have raised over $500 million in venture capital in the past 12 months, and are market leading Saas, software, eCommerce, eHealth and FinTech startups. The firm handles all things Accounting, Tax, Finance, & HR: interim CFO Consulting, financial modeling, annual taxes, venture debt consulting, 409A reporting, bookkeeping, AR/AP, and Seed/Series A/B Fundraising Preparation. Visit kruzeconsulting.comto learn more.

The 2018 Startup CEO Salary Report was created by Healy Jones, Senior Consultant Alex Janeck and Staff Accountant Litzy Yang. Design by Lucila Romero.