A Startup Founder Salary Doesn’t Exist Outside Your Own Pocket

Mar 15, 2013

This may come as a shock to some founders — seeing as though this question arises constantly — but a startup founder’s salary is whatever you create.  My question for you would then be: who exactly do you think is going to pay your founder salary, that you need to ask what your salary is?

I don’t know, maybe you want a salary.  And I suppose you want health benefits and a 401K to go along with it, huh?  Then go get a real job and work your way up the corporate ladder.

Founders Create Their Own Salary

That’s right!  If you want to be in charge, then you need to be willing to take on the problems that come with it.  A startup is a business.  No one is going to hold your hand.  No one is going to hand you a paycheck at the end of the week.  No!  You know what happens?  You have to break out your own checkbook to pay everyone else on Fridays.  That coffee everyone’s drinking?  Yeah…you paid for that.  The water in the coffee?  Yep, waters not really free either.  The sooner you can come to terms with this, the sooner you’ll succeed.  It’s a learning curve though, and that’s alright.

Founders Should Work In Their Startups

The catch 22.  Another fact of business, is yes…there are startups that require more risk then others and a much longer time to break even.  And most of the time, yes, the founder absolutely needs to be involved fulltime.  Not usually as an employee, but as a leader.  A guide.  The person who knows what the heck is happening around here, and has risked enough to feel the drive to make stuff happen.

And I don’t know where everyone is getting the perception that founders just build something, then run off while someone else takes control.  While the old philosophy is certainly still out there, most of the investors (especially those that have been entrepreneurs themselves) actually will NOT invest in a company where the founder is not on the management team.

That’s because if a founder has been through the struggle, has risked everything, has figured out how to build that business….then there is no other person that holds that much knowledge about that startup.  This is different then narrowing your focus or delegating, which I think is very important to growth.

The Bottom Line

It’s one thing to say this is what’s going to happen in the startup, it’s going to work this way, and this is how much money the startup will make.  Therefore, I am a founder and I can get this much startup salary.  But it’s a completely different story when you start executing.  There is no founder startup salary outside of your own pocket.  And frankly, if someone is willing to pay your salary, I’d be having a serious conversation in my own head about why.  Because there is probably more potential there then you see, or else no one would want to pay your salary to begin with.