What is the Average Startup CEO Salary in 2024?

2024 Startup CEO Salary Report

Average startup CEO salary decreased in 2024 to $141,000, down slightly from 2023’s $142,000. This decrease is mainly driven by the difficulty in the Series B and beyond funding market – CEOs who raised large, later-stage rounds in the bubble are cutting salaries to keep their companies afloat. Whereas the average seed CEO salaries increased from $129,000 to $132,000, Series B CEO salaries decreased from $251,000 to $227,000.


This is the longest running and largest startup CEO salary report based on anonymized payroll data. Kruze has produced this report for seven years. Unlike a survey, where salary data can be embellished, this is based on anonymized payroll data, and we think it’s the most unbiased view into how CEOs at startups – and the VCs who guide (or bully) them – are actually addressing the thorny issue of executive/founder compensation.

There are over 450 startups in this analysis that have collectively raised billions in venture capital. They range from SaaS companies to biotech startups to AI businesses and every variant of business in between.

The genesis of the report was to be able to advise founders who were raising rounds – and building out financial models with their projected headcount and payroll – on what they should ask for in compensation. Founder compensation is tricky, with many founders thinking that VCs want them to get paid as little as possible. And many VCs don’t bother to advise their portfolio companies on what they should be making, which is a major reason, in our opinion, that female founders are so undercompensated vs. their male counterparts. We hope that this report sheds light on what CEOs actually make at startups, and helps founders ask for (and get) reasonable cash compensation for their hard work, dedication, and the amazing amount of risk they take starting a business.

Startup CEO Salary Calculator

We’ve compiled data from over 450 seed and VC-backed startups to produce our Startup CEO Salary Calculator. This calculator will show you an estimated range of compensation for a startup CEO based on the amount of funding that the company has raised, the stage of the company (i.e. Seed, Series A, Series B, etc.), and the company’s industry. Most early-stage, non-CEO founders are often paid about the same amount as the CEOs, so founders can use this to estimate compensation as well.

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Analyzing the Shift: Average and Median Startup CEO Salaries Over Time

The 2024 Startup CEO Salary Report reveals nuanced shifts in compensation trends across various stages of startup development, reflecting broader market dynamics and strategic responses to funding climates. The overall trends in executive compensation at early-stage companies is very much driven by the macro fundraising market, industry trends, and the specifics of how individual companies are performing and their prospects for raising another round.


Year-over-Year Compensation Changes

In 2024, the average startup CEO salary experienced a slight decrease of 0.7% to $141,000 from $142,000 in 2023, signaling a cautious approach amidst a challenging funding landscape. This adjustment primarily affects CEOs at Series B and beyond, where a notable contraction from $251,000 to $227,000 (approximately -9.6%) highlights the strategic salary reductions implemented to extend company runways during tougher times for raising capital. The later-stage funding market is exceedingly difficult, and many later-stage companies are trying to grow into large valuations they got when they last raised in 2020 or 2021. Earlier stage (seed and Series A) numbers actually modestly increased. We’ll discuss compensation by stage further along in the article.

The median startup CEO salary tells a story of resilience and slight optimism, inching up by 1.4% from $145,000 in 2023 to $147,000 in 2024. It’s always interesting when the average and median don’t move in sync. Looking at the distribution of CEO pay, you can see that extreme levels of compensation are less common in 2024:

Distribution of Startup CEO Pay


In 2024, fewer CEOs and founders are paid less than $100,000 or more than $250,000. At the low end, this is likely because a large number of startups where the chief executives made little to zero in 2023 have gone out of business in 2024. Only 13% of startups where the CEO drew a $0 salary in 2023 are still in operation in 2024. And at the high end, many later stage businesses, many of the founders earned over $250,000 in cash comp have reduced burn by cutting pay. It’s the reduction in the percent under $100,000 that is driving up the median, while the drop in the highest compensated individuals reduces the average. (Math!)

VC Backed CEO Pay by Stage

CEO pay by stage really diverged in 2024, with later-stage (Series B and beyond) chief executive compensation dropping by a massive 9.6% vs. 2023, whereas seed and Series A somewhat surprisingly went up. Here is the data by stage of funding from 2020 to 2024:


Seed Stage CEO Salaries

In 2024, seed stage CEO salaries witnessed a modest increase of 2.3% from $129,000 in 2023 to $132,000. This adjustment is indicative of a more favorable valuation environment for early-stage startups (see our startup valuations article), despite a notable decrease in the volume of seed rounds. Those startups that have successfully navigated the fundraising process are securing seed funding at attractive valuations, and they are often pretty great businesses (or at least as great an opportunity as a very early-stage company can be).

A Historical Perspective on Seed Comp

Looking back over the past few years, seed stage CEO compensation has seen its share of fluctuations, reflecting broader market dynamics. From a high of $140,000 in 2021, during the zenith of the VC bubble, salaries adjusted to $129,000 in both 2022 and 2023 as the market began to normalize and the competition for seed funding intensified. One other factor that may be helping push up the 2024 number is inflation. It’s getting increasingly expensive to live in the major startup hubs, as housing, food, etc. continue to become more expensive.

Series A CEO Salaries

Series A stage startups have shown a notable recovery in CEO compensation in 2024, bouncing back to $179,000 after a drop to $168,000 in 2023. This is a 6.5% increase year over year – and we weren’t really expecting this when we went into the year. When we look at the crop of Kruze clients that successfully raised an A in 2023 and early 2024, we have to say – these are awesome companies. It’s no wonder that the founders were able to command good salaries. Slightly related, check out our How to Raise a Series A article.

The Journey from Boom to Stabilization Impacts What Series A Execs Make

The trajectory of Series A CEO salaries over the last few years encapsulates the journey from the exuberant highs of the VC boom, with salaries peaking at $189,000 in 2022, to a more measured approach in the subsequent years. The salary adjustments seen in this stage today are closely tied to the startups’ ability to demonstrate viable growth and traction – versus what we saw in the bubble, which was more of a reflection on how easy it was to raise capital.

Series B CEO Salaries

At the Series B stage, CEO salaries in 2024 have realigned to $227,000, reflecting a return to the figures observed in 2020, and representing a significant drop from $251,000 in 2023. This adjustment of approximately -9.6% underscores the ongoing challenges in raising later-stage funding rounds. Series B companies are dramatically cutting expenses to preserve cash – usually in an attempt to improve the top line enough to grow into the valuations that they got when they raised their B in the bubble, either 2021 or 2022.

Reflecting on the Bubble and Beyond

The decrease in Series B CEO salaries from the high of $262,000 in 2022 to $227,000 in 2024 illustrates the normalization of compensation as the startup ecosystem moves beyond the VC bubble. Later-stage companies are being particularly cautious in their expenditure to preserve runway and focus on achieving key milestones. CEOs are increasingly prioritizing the longevity and health of their companies over personal compensation, reflecting a mature approach to navigating the complexities of post-bubble market conditions.

The diverse trajectories of CEO salaries across seed, Series A, and Series B stages highlight the complex interplay of factors influencing startup compensation. From early-stage optimism and strategic scaling at Series A to the cautious, cash conserving approach at Series B, each phase reflects the unique challenges and opportunities faced by startups as they progress along their growth journey.

Male vs Female Startup CEO Salaries: A Continued Pay Gap

The persistent gender pay gap in startup CEO compensation remains, in our opinion, a critical issue, with the 2024 data revealing that female CEOs earned, on average, $14,000 less than their male counterparts. This gap mirrors the disparity observed in 2023, maintaining a consistent dollar difference. However, with the overall decrease in average startup CEO salaries to $141,000 in 2024, the relative impact of this gap has intensified on a percentage basis, highlighting a concerning trend in pay equity.


Over the past several years, the trajectory of gender-based salary disparities has seen fluctuations, with a peak gap of $45,000 in 2020, narrowing to $14,000 in the subsequent years. For several years now, we’ve encouraged venture capitalists to conduct introspective evaluations at the board level, where the authority to determine executive salaries lies. By dedicating attention to identifying and understanding gender-based pay discrepancies within their portfolios, the venture community has the opportunity to significantly reduce this gap. This proactive approach is not only about ensuring fairness but also about embracing responsibility for fostering equity at the highest levels of startup governance.

The Best VCs Want Their CEOs to Draw Salaries

Kruze Consulting continues to advocate that founders accept salaries as soon as they’ve acquired funding. As it has since 2018, our analysis clearly demonstrates that it’s normal for VC- and seed-backed CEO/founders to get paid.

Why Startup CEOs Should Take Market Salaries

And the best venture investors want their CEOs focused on growing the business, not worrying about making their rent. VCs, at least the good ones, understand that a founder’s financial stability is crucial to the sustained growth and success of their startups. They recognize that by encouraging founders to draw a reasonable salary, they’re not just supporting personal well-being but also investing in the company’s future because a financially secure founder is better positioned to focus fully on business objectives, innovate, and drive the company forward without the distraction of financial stress. So don’t be afraid to ask for reasonable compensation.

This concludes our 2024 Startup CEO Pay Report. We’ve included prior years reports below so you can see how compensation has changed over time. Read our 2023 report below, or scroll down to see the commentary – and data – we’ve published for the past several years.

What is the Average Startup CEO Salary in 2022?

2024 Startup CEO Salary Expectations

It’s early 2024, and our team will update our startup CEO salary report once January 2024 payroll is over! Yes, we use payroll data to get this salary information; it’s not a survey, it’s literally the cash that CEOs get paid.  Therefore, we need to wait for payroll to actually run to produce the data.

Estimating 2024 Salaries

That being said, we can estimate what 2024 CEO salaries will be based on recent trends - we estimate that the average CEO salary in 2024 will be $140,000, slightly down from the $142,000 that they were paid in 2023.

2023 Startup CEO Salary Report

The average startup CEO salary in 2023 is $142,000, down from $150,000 in 2022 and $146,000 in 2021 – essentially a reversion to the typical CEO pay from 2019. Startup executives are extending runways by decreasing their pay, and recently funded startups are lowering their compensation in reflection of a more difficult funding environment. Rounds are getting smaller and harder to raise in 2023.

2023 is the 6th year that Kruze Consulting is publishing our Startup CEO Salary Report. This is a unique analysis, based on payroll data for over 400 VC-backed startups (it’s not a survey, which can be biased – it’s anonymized payroll data). We’ve included our prior reports below in this article; scroll down to read them to see how the market has changed.

The companies in this study have collectively raised over $5 billion in seed and venture funding, and operate in diverse industries from enterprise SaaS to crypto to biotechnology.

Average Startup CEO Salary in 2023

For 2023, the average startup CEO salary decreased by 5.3% vs 2022 to $142,000. However, the median startup CEO pay increased from $140,000 to $145,000. This is the first time that we’ve seen the average and median not move together, reflecting a change in the distribution. We’ll discuss this changing distribution in the How Fundraising is Impacting CEO Pay section below. The following table shows average and median salaries since 2018.

Average Startup CEO Salary - 2018 to 2023

Average Startup CEO Salary - 2018 to 2023

  2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023
Average Startup CEO Salary $130,000 $142,000 $139,000 $146,000 $150,000 $142,000
Median Startup CEO Salary $125,000 $131,000 $130,000 $135,000 $140,000 $145,000

The Genesis of the Report

As trusted accounting and finance advisors to over 750 funded companies, we are often asked certain questions – one of which is guidance on ‘appropriate’ or ‘normal’ spending levels. VCs are incentivized to have their portfolio companies spend as little as is reasonably possible – and this can sometimes include pushing founders to take ‘ramen’ salaries.

That’s where our guidance helps. Since we have a view into the finances of hundreds of companies, we are in a position to use data to help founders negotiate their pay accurately. We really care about the founders that we work with, and publish anonymized data on CEO salary, CTO salary and other average startup executive compensation. Use our 2023 Startup CEO Salary Calculator to estimate your cash compensation based on your startup’s details.

2023 Startup CEO Salary Calculator

This calculator is based on anonymized payroll data from over 400 VC-backed startups. This calculator will show you an estimated range of compensation for a startup CEO based on the amount of funding that the company has raised, how recently the funding was raised, the stage of the company (i.e. Seed, Series A, Series B, etc.), and the company’s industry. Most early-stage, non-CEO founders are often paid about the same amount as the CEOs, so founders can use this to estimate compensation as well.

How the Fundraising Environment is Impacting CEO Pay

The fundraising environment has gotten much more difficult since we last updated our CEO pay study (the last update was early in 2022, before the funding market had radically worsened). As expected, this has had a chilling effect on overall spend inside of startups, and executive compensation has definitely been impacted. Founders are doing all that they can to keep cash inside of their companies and preserve runway. Here are some of the ways we are seeing the funding environment change how startups pay their CEOs.

Recency of Funding Impacts Salaries

Companies that have not raised capital recently are paying their CEOs less. It’s clearly harder for companies to raise their next round of funding – and because companies that raised their last round when valuations were much higher are delaying raising so that they can grow into their previous round’s valuations.

Later Stage Companies Seeing Bigger Impact

The Series B, C, D and beyond rounds are much more difficult to raise in today’s environment. We saw a greater decrease in CEO pay at the A and beyond, driven by CEOs facing the reality of more difficult funding, and decreasing round sizes.

Changing Distribution of Pay

Median compensation went up in 2023, while the average went down. This is the first year in our analysis that the median and average moved in different directions! Analyzing the underlying data, we see a major increase in companies paying their CEOs zero or very low salaries vs. previous years – again, this is a direct result of the difficult funding environment. This by itself would move the median down. However, we noticed an increase in the percent of CEOs being paid just over the average, in the $150,000 to $200,000 range.

How is this possible?

Our current hypothesis, backed by many of the advisory conversations that we are having, is that the market has bifurcated. On the one hand, there are companies that are struggling with the more difficult funding environment and possible technology recession. On the other hand, many companies have succeeded in raising solid rounds of funding (and many of these are executing quite well). The second bucket of companies represent a meaningful percent of the companies in our sample set, and they have set slightly higher than average CEO compensation – but not unreasonably highly comp that might drive up the average.

It’s becoming more obvious who are the winners and the losers, and how CEOs compensate themselves is a clear indicator of how the board and founders feel about the company.

Pay by Stage of Funding

The average pay by stage varies greatly depending on many factors, including the company’s trajectory, fundraising success, CEO experience and more. However, in general, seed stage startups pay lower executive pay than Series A companies – and the trend continues as companies progress down the VC path. This makes sense, as (in theory) companies become larger, more valuable, and less risky as they grow.

  2020 2021 2022 2023
Seed $128,000 $140,000 $129,000 $129,000
Series A $181,000 $183,000 $189,000 $168,000
Series B $227,000 $250,000 $262,000 $251,000

CEO Pay by Stage of Funding

Let’s dive into pay by stage of the company.

Seed Stage CEO Salary

The average seed stage founder/CEO is paid about $129,000 in 2023 – basically flat with the prior year, and down from the peak in 2021. There is a great spread in founder comp at the seed stage – and while this is partly driven by total dollars raised and founder experience, there is clearly another factor at play. Anecdotally, this factor is probably company progress; seed stage startups with significant revenue, and possibly positive cash flow at scale, tend to pay at the highest end of the range, sometimes as high as the mid $400,000s. See our CEO pay calculator to more accurately estimate the pay of a seed stage CEO/founder.

Series A CEO Pay

Series A startup pay, on average, dropped by over 12% in 2023 to $168,000. The decrease is likely driven by the difficult Series B funding environment, with some VCs calling the B round the toughest round to close this year. A serious chunk of startups paying their chief executive over the average raised financing in the past year, many in the past few months. Again, the compensation at the Series A varies a lot by industry and by amount of funding raised, so use our calculator to estimate what is a reasonable compensation spread for your particular situation.

Series B CEO Pay

Series B CEO pay peaked in 2022 as the 2021 bubble worked its way through the startup ecosystem, and dropped in 2023 to an average $251,000. This is a 5% decrease from 2022. Even massively funded Series B startups have lower than average pay, likely driven by founders who are laser-focused on maximizing their company’s runway.

CEO Pay: Men vs. Women

Once again, the women lag men in startup CEO compensation; in 2023 female CEOS earned  $14,000 less on average. However, this is tighter than the $20,000 pay gap than we saw in 2022. While both men and women’s compensation decreased in 2023 vs. 2022, men’s salaries came down $8,000 while women’s only decreased $2,000. In an attempt to see the silver lining, this is the first time that we’ve seen men take a bigger salary cut than their female counterparts, and this is the major reason there was a smaller pay gap vs. the previous years.

CEO Pay: Men vs. Women

  2019 2020 2021 2022 2023
Male Salaries $143,000 $146,000 $148,000 $153,000 $145,000
Female Salaries $138,000 $101,000 $132,000 $133,000 $131,000
Average $142,000 $139,000 $146,000 $150,000 $142,000
Pay gap $5,000 $45,000 $16,000 $20,000 $14,000

For the past several years, we have been advocating that VCs should examine their behavior at the board level. Boards have official control over setting executive salaries, and if the venture community would spend the time to see if there are any meaningful discrepancies by gender across their own portfolio, we believe that this gap could be narrowed.

Factors that influence startup CEO compensation

We ran a series of regressions to try to understand what impacted CEO salaries. We’ve performed this analysis over the past few years - it’s what powers the CEO compensation calculator above. Not ever factor is going to fit into a data table, but we believe that our data (and experience) shows that the stage of the business, the amount and recency of funding, and the industry greatly influence how much the founders take home. One other data point we did NOT put into our calculator is the gender of the executive - we strongly believe that the execs at a startup should not have their pay differ based on if they are a man or woman. Unfortunately, as we discussed in the gender gap section above, it does appear to be a variable (and we think VCs have an obligation to make sure there isn’t some odd pay discrimination within their portfolios!).

Other factors that we can’t fit into a database are around the founders’ feeling for the company’s prospects, the relationship with the board, and the overall company culture on comp. It’s possible that region would impact the numbers, but our analysis is only for US companies, and we don’t yet see a meaningful difference based on US region. Perhaps if we collect more information will in a future study.

Salaries by Geography

Our CEO salary dataset is deep enough to dive into CEO pay at several major geographies. Here is a breakdown of CEO salary by state for seed to Series B companies:

  • California: $156,000
  • Florida: $91,000
  • Illinois: $146,000
  • Massachusetts: $156,000
  • North Carolina: $129,000
  • New York: $139,000
  • Texas: $97,000

Compensation Matters

Kruze Consulting continues to advise founders to accept salaries as soon as they’ve acquired funding – our analysis continues to show that it’s normal for a CEO to be paid, unless the company is having difficulties. And the best venture investors want their CEOs focused on growing the business, not worrying about making their rent. Use our guide to find out what reasonable levels are.

This concludes our 2023 Startup CEO Pay Report. We’ve included prior years reports below so you can see how compensation has changed over time. Read our 2022 report below, or scroll down to see the commentary – and data – we’ve published for the past several years. Of , if you want, check out our other  valuable content for startup CEOs, including a comprehensive guide on 409A Valuation, essential for understanding the fair market value of your startup’s common stock; insights on the best Startup Accounting Software to streamline your financial processes and ensure accuracy; recommendations for the Best Startup Credit Cards that can help you manage expenses and earn rewards; and an analysis of the Top 5 Venture Capital Pitch Decks to help you create a compelling pitch for investors.

What is the Average Startup CEO Salary in 2022?

2022 Startup CEO Salary Report

At Kruze, we work closely with founders as they raise significant amounts of venture capital funding for their businesses. Included in the equation that VCs use to make investment decisions is CEO salaries, and experienced startup CEOs realize that. VCs expect startup CEO salaries to be “just right,” but often provide limited guidance on what that actually means. Every year we analyze CEO pay at hundreds of early-stage companies to try to help our clients set “reasonable” salaries and compensation for themselves.

For 2022, we analyzed CEO pay at over 250 seed and venture-funded startups, and we noticed an interesting trend taking shape. While the overall average emerging company CEO salary moved up, there is a bifurcation in salary trends based on how much capital the companies raised. Read on to see the average CEO salary, detail on how CEO pay differs as companies raise increasing amounts of capital, salary data by company industry - and more!

Also, try our Startup CEO Salary Estimator tool on the right. This tool can help founders estimate reasonable pay based on the amount of capital that they’ve raised, the stage of their business (Seed, Series A, B, etc.), and their company’s industry.

Average Startup CEO Salary in 2022

For 2022, the average startup CEO salary increased by 2.7% from 2021 levels to $150,000, while the median increased to $140,000. That average represents a 7.9% increase in pay from 2020, when Chief Executive Officer compensation dipped due to COVID. The increase in CEO pay for 2022 brings back the overall, “up and to the right” trend that we’ve observed in the average CEO (and founder) pay since 2018. The table below shows average and median salaries since 2018. And if you are interested in how COVID impacted compensation in 2020, skip to How Did the Covid Pandemic Affect CEO Salary?

Average Startup CEO Salary - 2018 to 2022

Average Startup CEO Salary - 2018 to 2022

  2018 2019 2020 2021 2022
Average Startup CEO Salary $130,000 $142,000 $139,000 $146,000 $150,000
Median Startup CEO Salary $125,000 $131,000 $130,000 $135,000 $140,000

The analysis comes from an anonymized dataset comprising more than 250 venture-funded startups and representing more than $2.5 billion in funding. Startups in the study represent several industries, including Biotech, eCommerce, EdTech, FinTech, HealthTech, Hardware, SaaS and more.

Average Startup CEO Salary Calculator

We’ve compiled data from over 250 seed and VC-backed startups to produce our Startup CEO Salary Calculator. This calculator will show you an estimated range of compensation for a startup CEO based on the amount of funding that the company has raised, the stage of the company (i.e. Seed, Series A, Series B, etc.), and the company’s industry. Most early-stage, non-CEO founders are often paid about the same amount as the CEOs, so founders can use this to estimate compensation as well.

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Salaries Levels by Venture Funding Raised

As you would expect, startup CEO salaries vary by the amount of venture/seed funding that the companies have raised. Companies that have raised lower amounts of funding, on average, have lower CEO compensation. In 2022, chief executives at early-stage companies that have raised over $10 million in financing were paid just under two hundred thousand dollars a year, $199,000. Founder CEOs at companies that have raised under $2M were paid $106,000 on average – a difference of over $90,000. So it does pay to be good at fundraising!

CEO Salary by Total Funding Raised - 2022

  $0 - $2m $2m - $5m $5m - $10m $10m+
Average $106,000 $135,000 $171,000 $199,000
Min $0 $0 $0 $0
Max $350,000 $400,000 $450,000 $410,000

The Impact of the Financing Environment on CEO Compensation

Average Startup CEO Salary by Amount of Funding Raised

Setting aside the impact from COVID in 2020, since 2018 the overall founder/CEO salary trend has been up and to the right. However, the average hides some interesting nuances which may be driven, in part, by changes in the fundraising environment in late 2021/early 2022.

Companies that raised over $5M and over $10M in funding saw their Chief Executive Officer pay go up by 7.5% and 13%, respectively, in 2022. However, startups with more limited funding saw their CEOs make less, by about 7%, than in 2021. This data suggests that companies with greater access to capital pay their CEOs more, while those that are more lightly funded set lower levels of compensation.

“We feel there are three primary drivers for this behavior,” said Healy Jones, VP of Financial Planning & Analysis for Kruze. “Firstly, and most obviously, companies with more funding are better able to pay their CEOs. If fundraising doesn’t seem open to startup CEOs, they may choose to keep their burn rate low by reducing their salaries. Secondly, the increased CEO salaries recognizes that these CEOs are more effective at fundraising, much like how compensation increases for CEOs in mature companies that generate greater profits.”

“Finally, startup culture can generate pressure to not take salaries,” Jones said. “For the most lightly funded tech companies, the concept of ‘ramen profitability’ encourages founders to take no salary to keep expenses minimal and make the company more attractive to investors. And, of course, you have well-known founders like Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg who took little or no pay and focused on company equity for their compensation.”

Pay by Stage of Funding

While the spread of compensation by stage of financing (i.e. Seed, Series A, Series B, etc.) is pretty wide and is more driven by the absolute dollar amount raised, pay does vary by stage. Here is a breakdown by Series A, Series B, etc.:

Seed Stage CEO Pay

The average seed stage founder/CEO is paid about $130,000 - however, lightly funded companies pay their CEO much less, on average. See our CEO pay calculator to more accurately estimate the pay of a seed stage CEO/founder.

Series A CEO Pay

Again our data shows that the typical Series A CEO is pay is about $180,000 to $190,000 per year. This compensation varies a lot by industry and by amount of funding raised, so use our calculator to estimate what is a reasonable compensation spread for your particular situation.

Series B CEO Pay

Series B CEOs are paid, on average, about $250,000 to $260,000 - but once again, there is a tremendous range of compensation based on the industry, amount of funding raised, etc.

CEO Compensation by Industry


Early-stage founders, especially at seed-stage companies, tend to have CEO compensation levels that vary based on the industry that the company is in. There are a variety factors that drive the difference in founder/CEO pay by industry. Let’s dive into why we think there are notable difference by industry.

Founder pay at Biotech / Pharma companies

As we’ve seen in the past, biotech and pharmaceutical companies tend to have the highest CEO compensation, with seed funded companies paying their Chief Executives $161,000. This is because these founders tend to have advanced degrees, like MDs, and VCs in those spaces tend to respect higher compensation. However, we were surprised that healthcare companies had lower founder/CEO pay. Upon digging deeper, we realized that this is because of the rise of D2C healthcare companies, which tend to seem more like SaaS businesses and less like a healthcare company with a CEO who has an advanced degree.

eCommerce CEO Compensation - a Surprising Uptick

The other major surprise we noticed was that eCommerce companies are paying their CEOs much more than they had in the past – $141,000 for 2022. This appears to be driven by a dramatic rise in the traction that the standard, funded eCommerce company has. Several years ago, many eComm companies were just getting started when they were seed funded. Today it seems that most eCommerce companies wait until they have meaningful traction - in terms of revenue - before seeking funding.

SaaS and Fintech CEO Pay - Reverting to the Average

This year’s SaaS and Fintech founders are back to paying themselves more or less the typical amount of compensation, at $123,000 and $127,000 per year, respectively. This level of pay makes sense, given the low amount of funding and modest traction that most of these types of companies have at the seed stage.

Hardware CEO Salaries - Below the Average

Hardware companies tend to require larger than average amounts of venture capital funding to get to a meaningful size. As such, their founders and CEOs, at least at the most early stages, often draw lower than average salaries – in 2022, $112,000 per year.

CEO Salary: Men vs Women

Female startup CEOs continue to lag behind their male counterparts in salary in 2022. This continues a corporate trend that began in 2019. According to a Morningstar analysis of C-suite pay, from 2015 to 2019 the gender pay gap for CEOs had been narrowing. However, during the COVID pandemic in 2020 the pay gap expanded again throughout corporate America, and our research on startup companies also reflects that trend. Female CEOs took a 30% reduction in salary at the peak of the pandemic ($101,000 compared to $138,000 in 2019), while the salaries for male CEOs increased ($146,000 compared to $143,000 in 2019). We had hoped that this expanded difference would shrink in our 2022 data, but unfortunately it did not.

CEO Pay 2019 2020 2021 2022
Male Salaries $143,000 $146,000 $148,000 $153,000
Female Salaries $138,000 $101,000 $132,000 $133,000

Gender Pay Gap for Female CEOs Persists

Female startup CEOs continue to lag behind their male counterparts in salary, and their average paycheck is still 3.7% below the peak in 2019. The following year average CEOs salaries for women dropped by 30%, from $138,000 to $101,000, and still has not rebounded from that drop. In 2022, female CEOs made $20,000 less than males.

Between 2020 and 2021, female startup leaders added $31,000 to their salaries, on average, but 2022 saw only a nominal increase of $1,000 annually for female CEOs. Male CEOs saw a $5,000 salary increase. Looking by year, for every dollar in salary men earned, female CEOs earned:

  • 2019: $0.96
  • 2020: $0.69
  • 2021: $0.89
  • 2022: $0.86

“The setback in salaries for female startup CEOs is troubling, especially considering that the market was much closer to parity in 2019, prior to the COVID crisis,” said Vanessa Kruze, CEO of Kruze Consulting. “Early-stage companies, as well as all other companies, should evaluate their policies to determine how the gender pay gap increased in the last three years, and see what steps they can take to better support female leaders.”

Good Leadership Matters

CEOs are always on duty, and startup CEOs are even more in demand than the leaders of mature businesses. Every stakeholder of the startup often needs direct contact with the CEO, and startup CEOs can’t delegate everything. They’re responsible for fundraising, reporting to the board and other stakeholders, providing direction to the company, and making operational decisions. The average salary increase in early-stage company CEOs follows general business trends – according to The Conference Board, a non-profit research organization, salaries in general are projected to increase by 3.9% in 2022.

Kruze Consulting continues to advise founders to accept salaries as soon as they’ve acquired funding. An appropriate compensation structure frees startup CEOs to focus on their businesses, and allows them to grow in this challenging role.

Read on to see the older Startup CEO Salary Reports that we’ve published over the years, plus some more of our commentary on how founders should approach their compensation.

Salaries for CTOs

Kruze Consulting expanded its salary research in 2022 to include the average salaries paid to Chief Technology Officers (CTOs). We’ve used data from over 200 seed and venture-funded startups to identify the average annual salary earned by these companies’ CTOs, and discovered that CTO salaries are actually larger than CEO salaries for startups in the seed stage.

Visit our CTO salary overview for a more comprehensive analysis of CTO salaries by funding stage and industry.

2021 Startup CEO Salary Report

One of the most common questions we get from founders is what their salary should be after they raise funding. To help answer that question, we analyzed CEO pay at over 250 seed and venture-funded startups. We’ve been tracking this data for several years, and 2020 was the only year that we’ve seen a dip in the standard CEO pay. And in 2021, the average salary popped back - but that’s not the full story, as you’ll see as we dig into the numbers.

Average Startup CEO Salary in 2021

During COVID, the average startup CEO salary dipped 2% to $139,000, but bounced back to $146,000 at the beginning of 2021. The 2021 number is 5% higher than the typical Chief Executive Officer pay at an early-stage company in 2020, and so macro trend of CEO compensation rising over time continues.

Of course, read our answers to the two logical follow up questions:

When can a startup CEO take a raise - we’ll tell you what the data says!


*Who is the highest paid person at a startup - see who really gets (cash) compensation at an early-stage company! *

Average Startup CEO Salary 2018 to 2021

Salary By Year

  2018 2019 2020 2021
Average Startup CEO Salary $130,000 $142,000 $139,000 $146,000
Median Startup CEO Salary $125,000 $131,000 $130,000 $135,000

The analysis comes from an anonymized dataset comprising more than 250 venture-funded companies and representing more than $2 BN in funding. Startups in the study represent several industries, including Biotech, eCommerce, EdTech, FinTech, HealthTech, Hardware, SaaS and more.

How Did the Covid Pandemic Affect CEO Salary?

CEO Salary Change during COVID

As the urgency of the COVID situation decreased, and many early-stage companies saw their financial situation stabilize, a number of the companies that reduced their executive pay reversed the situation.

41% of the CEOs who had their salaries reduced later increased them by the end of the year, while 47% kept their salaries flat - and 13% decreased their compensation further.

The following chart shows what happened to the CEOs who reduced their pay during COVID by the end of the year.

Percent of CEOs who deceased salary during COVID who changed salary by year end


In 2019, before COVID, startup CEO salaries averaged $142,000. In 2020, approximately 36% of companies reduced their chief executive compensation during COVID. Many slashed their compensation to zero. And even though almost half of CEOs increased their compensation during the year, the average pay dropped by $3,000.

For 2021, the average startup CEO salary is now up to $146,000, an increase of $4,000 from 2019 (almost a 3% increase) or 5% up from the COVID crisis of 2020.

“Many CEOs scrambled during COVID to try to stretch their company’s runway by slashing costs, including their own pay,” said Scott Orn, COO of FP&A at Kruze Consulting. “However, as the year ended and many technology companies recovered - and as venture funding continued at unprecedented levels - boards and executives felt comfortable increasing executive compensation to pre-crisis levels.”

However, the recovery was not even.

CEO Salary Females VS. Men

Female Salary Trends

  2019 2020 2021
Male Salaries $143,000 $146,000 $148,000
Female Salaries $138,000 $101,000 $132,000
Average $142,000 $139,000 $146,000

Compared to Their Male Counterparts, Female CEOs Took a Pay Cut During the Pandemic

Interestingly, Female CEOs were more likely to take a pay cut during the pandemic. When comparing male and female CEOs, female leaders took a 30% reduction in salary at the peak of the pandemic ($101,000 compared to $138,000 in 2019) while their male counterparts saw an increase ($146,000 compared to $143,000 in 2019).

Differences in Recovery

Leading into 2021, the female leaders moved their salaries up over $30,000 - however, the gap between male and female CEO’s salaries did not close vs 2019. Looking by year, for every dollar in salary men earned, female CEOs earned:

  • 2019: $0.96
  • 2020: $0.69
  • 2021: $0.89

“The female executives we work with were aggressive at taking steps to preserve their companies’ cash during COVID, including drastically cutting their own compensation”

said Vanessa Kruze, CEO of Kruze Consulting.

“And, while we did see many of startups with male leaders also reduce their pay, we aren’t quite sure why females were more likely to take a pay cut during the pandemic.”

CEO Salary By Venture-Capital Funding Raised

How does CEO pay vary by the amount of venture capital raised?

  $0-$2M $2M-$5M $5M-$10M $10M+
Average $114,000 $144,000 $159,000 $176,000
Minimum $6,000 $14,000 $1,000 $1,000
Maximum $275,000 $450,000 $400,000 $440,000

The trend of increasing compensation being tied to increasing levels of capital raised persisted - as expected. Seed stage salaries - for companies that have raised less than $2 million in total funding - seem to be still recovering from the COVID crisis, and the overall pay there is down from $120,000 in 2019. However, at all other levels pay is more or less flat to up quite a bit.

We would advise founders to adjust their compensation as their company raises increasing amounts of funding.

How much should a Startup CEO be paid?

We analyzed the pay of over 250 startups - and the average startup CEO pay is $146,000, up 5% from the prior year. Startup CEO’s pay varies by industry and the amount of venture capital funding the company has raised, with companies that are more highly funded earning a higher salary. See our full report for CEO pay bands.

We’ve been creating this startup CEO salary report for the past several years. We’ve kept these previous salary analyses below. Additionally, you can read a opinion piece by Scott Orn, Kruze’s COO, about what salaries early-stage founders should take after they’ve raised funding.

Why startup CEOs need to pay themselves a market salary

Scott Orn, CFA, Kruze Consulting COO

With the financial stress that comes with running a startup, the last thing a startup CEO or founder should be worrying about is how they’re going to live day-to-day.

Not only does a market salary enable you to cover the cost of living and a good housing arrangement, it also ensures the financial stress doesn’t lead to bad decisions at the company.

We are strong advocates for CEOs and founders paying themselves a fair market salary. We’re not talking about anything extravagant, but enough to live a life outside of the business. Not paying yourself enough can turn you into a bad decision-maker.

The toll of not paying yourself enough

Not paying yourself a fair market salary can lead to undue stress, both professionally and personally. Professionally, you want to be on top of your game when it comes to making the right decisions for your company. Personally, you don’t want to bring that kind of stress home to your partner. Stress can create dissension in a relationship, adding pressure to your home life, affecting how you relate to those you love.

As most CEOs and founders know, launching a startup means working long hours, dedicating time and thought to the business’ success. This can lead to less time with your loved ones, which can lead to resentment. Money can be the root of problems in many relationships. Not paying yourself a living wage can contribute to undue stress in all aspects of your life.

Why CEOs and founders should talk salary before signing a term sheet

One of the most important conversations to have with a venture capitalist, before you sign a term sheet, is the salary discussion.

There has always been an underlying (unsaid) belief that startup CEOs and founders should have to make personal sacrifices and pour their blood, sweat and tears into their business. VCs, of course, wanted to stretch every dollar they could. Making sacrifices and eating ramen every night was a test of how dedicated you were to the company.

Thankfully, that thinking has evolved. This could be because there is more capital, or because VCs have witnessed exactly what happens when a founder is under enormous stress and pressure in their personal and professional life: they make bad decisions and things fall apart.

That’s why it’s critical you have the salary discussion before you sign the term sheet and close on that investment. Just like most couples should discuss important things like money and debt before they are married, it’s a good idea to talk money and salary before you enter into a “marriage” with a VC.

Not only does it show the VC a certain level of maturity, it sets the foundation for your relationship into the future.

A salary takes the pressure off

Not only does a fair market salary reduce your financial stress, it gives you a safety hatch. When you build something of value and valuations are going up, you won’t mind doing a small secondary. Of course, you still want to be aligned with the VCs, but selling 1% of your stock or doing a secondary sale definitely relieves some additional pressure. And, if you’re making a market salary, you won’t feel compelled to make the wrong decision for the company.

The bottom line is: Align everything in your life. One of the easiest ways to do that is pay yourself the right amount. Use our startup CEO salary guide to help peg your pay to the amount of capital that your company has raised.

2020 CEO Salary Report

We have presented you with CEO salary data the last two years. In 2019, we analyzed 125 startups. This year, we took it up a notch and analyzed data from more than 250 venture-funded companies.

In 2020, we saw salaries decline at the height of the covid pandemic. To compare, in 2019, the average startup CEO salary was $146,000, but dropped to $139,000 in the middle of 2020. The same trend was true for the median startup CEO salary. In 2019, it was $131,000 and in 2020, salaries ranged around $130,000.

SaaS was the top performing industry by CEO salary in 2020. EdTech and Hardware startups saw the biggest declines in CEO salary and eCommerce startup CEO salaries went up the most in 2020.

Below is our 2019 study, which we have left online for reference. Please quote the information above when referring to 2020 - 2021 data.

2019 Startup CEO Salary Report

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 companies 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!

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

  $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 500+ 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.