2023 Startup CEO Salary Analysis
It’s January 2023, and our startup clients are still running payroll for the first month of the year. When the month is over, we’ll be able to calculate the average startup CEO salary for 2023! Until then, we’ve got our 2022 report, below, and we can estimate where the market is going based on more recent payroll data from the end of 2022.
Based on the end of 2022 payroll data, we estimate that the average CEO salary at startups had slightly decreased from the average of $150,000 in 2022 to $148,000 in 2023. The economy and VC fundraising environment is obviously channeling, and later stage founders are likely to have reduced their salary increases, and not raised an additional round (at which they’d give themselves a pay boost). Seed and early-early-stage founders are raising less capital, meaning they will be taking a smaller starting pay.
Read our 2022 report to get more detail by industry, stage, funding and gender.
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||$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.
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+|
The Impact of the Financing Environment on CEO Compensation
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.
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
|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?
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
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?
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
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 $|
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
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.
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.
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|
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 $|
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.