Startup founders get to do something most of us never have the chance to: decide their own salaries. So how frivolous — or frugal — are they when writing their own paycheques?
Sifted teamed up with salary benchmarking platform Figures to find out. We looked at the wages of nearly 400 founders across the UK, France and Germany in 2023.
Here’s what the data told us.
Does size matter?
It does. While the median salary for startup founders at Series B and beyond is €120k, at pre-seed and seed it’s €88k.
Early-stage founders will often own more equity in their startup than later-stage founders — but they often need a competitive salary too.
“In the end, a decent salary allows you to focus on work, support your family, and take care of the fundamentals in your life,” Reshma Sohoni, cofounder and partner of Seedcamp, told Sifted last year. “[I’d] rather founders get a healthy salary, rather than equity release too early in the company’s journey towards IPO.”
Women are paid less
Women founders pay themselves nearly 25% less than their male counterparts. While there are only 22 women's salaries in the dataset — another sign of the gender inequality on the tech scene — the figures do provide a useful look at the gender pay gap at the founder level.
The “ask gap” — the difference in salary expectations between different groups, meaning women and minorities end up being paid less — is all the more important when salaries are self-determined.
“Very few women are in positions of authority [in the tech ecosystem], and as a female founder you feel like you’re going to trip yourself up,” says Sophia Parvizi-Wayne, cofounder of children’s mental health platform Kanjo. “I think I pay myself too little — I don’t want people to think I’m taking anyone for a ride.”
Those numbers echo the frankly dreadful gender pay gap across the European startup scene. According to data from Figures seen by Sifted last October, women earned 30% less than men at UK startups, 23% less in Germany and 16% less in France.
Which country’s founders pay themselves the most?
British and German founders write themselves the biggest paycheques, taking home median salaries of €110k and €109k, respectively.
The tricky fundraising environment could well mean founder salaries stagnate in the coming year, says Virgile Raingeard, cofounder and CEO of Figures.
“The best moment for founders to increase their salaries is after a fundraise, which is a 'honeymoon period' where there is cash coming in and growth expected,” he tells Sifted. “With less fundraising and more pressure on cash, I expect to see less founders upgrading their compensation.”
But salaries in the UK, Germany and France are far better than some in Europe. A recent report by VC Creandum and tech conference Slush found that founders in the Baltics were making around €50k a year.