Startup CEO Salaries Decline to 2019 Levels
Thursday, May 25th, 2023
Kruze Consulting, a leading CPA and finance consulting company for VC-backed startups, has released new data on startup CEO salaries. The average startup CEO salary in 2023 is $142,000, down from $150,000 in 2022 and $146,000 in 2021 and back to the same level as 2019. The decline is attributed to increasingly restricted capital markets and the resulting requirement to extend cash runways.
Importantly, the pay gap between male and female startup CEOs is closing, but remains wide after the dramatic spread that took place during the pandemic. In 2019, there was a $5,000 difference between male and female CEOs that increased to a $45,000 difference during the pandemic in 2020. In 2021 that spread lessened to a $16,000 difference and a $20,000 difference in 2022. This year, the spread has improved modestly, to a $14,000 difference between male and female startup CEOs. Male CEOs earned an average of $145,000 this year, while their female counterparts earned an average of $131,000.
Additionally, while the average salary declined, the median salary increased - a major change from the historical precedent. Currently the startup world is a tale of two realities. Startups are falling into one of two camps - those that must cut spending dramatically in order to increase runway and those that are generating revenues strong enough to justify substantial increases in CEO salaries. While a larger than normal number of CEOs are drawing zero salary so far in 2023, there is a growing number who are making salaries in the $150,000-$200,000 range.
"Startup CEO salaries are declining as a result of constrained availability of capital to startups. Investors have been advising founders to extend runways as much as possible, resulting in declining salaries," said Healy Jones, Vice President at Kruze Consulting. "The pay gap is narrowing from the massive pandemic spread, but remains wide. We continue to advise VCs to look across their portfolio and make sure that the women who run their companies are compensated in line with their male contemporaries."
The data comes from more than 400 of the 800+ venture funded startup clients of Kruze Consulting, spanning seed through series-b funded startups across industries such as biotech, SaaS, fintech, hardware, and other verticals. This data is pulled annually by Kruze because one of the most common questions they receive from their clients pertains to what executive compensation should be. You can learn more about how Kruze approaches this question here and here.