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Do Startups Pay Well? (More or Less than Big Companies?)

If you are considering getting a job at a startup, one of the main concerns you may have is whether startups generally offer good compensation packages. You may be particularly wondering whether your compensation will be on par with more established companies.

So, do startups pay well? The truth is that startup salaries can vary significantly based on factors such as funding, company size, and location. Of course, there’s more to startup compensation than just your base pay; it’s essential to consider additional benefits such as equity and flexible work arrangements.

In this article, we’ll explore further details on the factors influencing startup pay, so you have a better understanding of what to expect when you dive into the exciting world of new ventures.

What Is Technically a Startup?

Before diving into how well startups pay, let’s first define what actually qualifies as a startup. In general, a startup is a young company founded by one or more entrepreneurs to develop a unique product or service, bring it to market, and make it a commercial success. Although the concept might seem abstract, there are certain criteria that help determine whether a company qualifies as a startup.

Here are some key factors to consider:

  • Age of the company: Startups are typically new or relatively young organizations, often less than five years old.
  • Size: Most startups are small in terms of both employees and revenue. The team usually consists of the founders and a small team of employees.
  • Funding: Startups often rely on external funding from angel investors, venture capitalists, accelerator programs, or crowdfunding campaigns to help grow their business.
  • Growth potential: A key characteristic of startups is their potential for rapid growth. They usually focus on tapping into an unexplored market or filling a gap in existing markets with an innovative solution.
  • Scalability: Startups typically plan for their business model, product, or service to be scalable, which means they can expand quickly and efficiently as demand arises.

No two startups are exactly the same, and they may vary across industries and geographies. Trying to put every startup in a neatly defined box can be challenging, but understanding these criteria can serve as a helpful guide in identifying what makes a particular company a startup.

Do Startups Pay Well?

Startups often have a reputation for paying less than big companies, but that’s not always the case

Indeed, early-stage startups typically pay less than the market average, while late-stage startups may offer higher compensation compared to larger companies.

In fact, developers at late-stage startups tend to earn 11.5% higher salaries than those at public companies in the US. The gap is even larger in Spain, where developers at late-stage startups earn 14.3% more.

Of course, not all startups pay well, and your experience will depend on various factors:

  • Company size: Smaller startups might have a lower budget for salaries, but they often balance this with other benefits, such as equity or flexibility.
  • Funding: Well-funded startups may be able to offer higher salaries than those that are bootstrapping or have limited funding.
  • Location: Companies based in high-cost areas such as Silicon Valley and New York City tend to pay higher salaries to account for the cost of living.

It’s important to look beyond salary when evaluating job offers from startups and take into account other factors, such as equity, perks, and flexibility, that may make a startup a more attractive option than a big corporation.

Do startups pay well?
Photo by Jp Valery @ Unsplash

What Do Startups Offer besides Salary?

Higher shares and stock options

As a startup employee, you might be compensated with more substantial equity grants in the form of shares or stock options. This can be an attractive proposition, especially if the startup is promising and grows in value over time. During the early stages of a startup, the company may not have the cash to offer competitive salaries, so equity can be a way to incentivize top talent to join the team. Remember, though, this comes with risk, as not all startups succeed.

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Flexible work arrangements

Startups tend to be more open to flexible work arrangements, including remote work, flexible hours, and extra days off. This can allow you to balance your personal life with your work responsibilities more efficiently. It can also contribute to increased productivity and overall job satisfaction.

Skill development

Working at a startup typically means wearing multiple hats. This can be an excellent opportunity for you to develop new skills in various areas of the business. In addition to your primary role, you may have the chance to dive into marketing, product development, or even finance. The exposure to diverse responsibilities can help you grow both personally and professionally.

Unique perks

Startups often offer some unique perks that you might not find at larger companies. These can include things like pet-friendly offices, casual dress codes, and social events. Some startups even provide free meals, gym memberships, or shuttle services to and from work.

Each startup is different, and the benefits they offer may vary. It’s essential to carefully evaluate your offer and weigh the pros and cons of the various compensation packages when considering a position at any company, big or small.

Can You Become Rich Working at a Startup?

So, you’re wondering if you can become rich working at a startup? It’s definitely a possibility, but there are several factors to consider. First, let’s talk about the potential financial rewards of working at a startup.

Startups often pay competitive salaries, especially as the company grows and attracts more funding from investors. While you might take a pay cut initially, your salary should increase over time. Furthermore, many startup employees choose to accept a greater equity stake in the company in exchange for a lower salary. This equity can substantially contribute to your wealth if the startup becomes successful in the future.

However, it’s important to remember that working at a startup is a riskier venture. You might face involuntary unemployment if the company fails, so it’s important to weigh the potential financial rewards against the risks involved.

Let’s also talk about the timeline for getting rich working at a startup. Unfortunately, there’s no set timeline or guarantee for success in the startup world. Some startups may take off quickly and make their employees wealthy in just a few years, while others might take a decade or more to achieve the same results. Success is highly dependent on factors like the business model, market, and timing.

To increase your chances of getting rich at a startup, consider doing the following:

  • Choose a startup with a strong business model and growth potential
  • Develop your skills and adapt to new challenges in the company
  • Be flexible, resilient, and ready to take on different roles as needed

In conclusion, it’s possible to become rich working at a startup, but it’s essential to be realistic about the risks and timeline for achieving wealth.

Why It’s a Good Idea to Work at a Startup?


At a startup, you’ll experience a flexible work environment. Rigid schedules and strict policies are less common, allowing you to balance your work and personal life more effectively. Plus, startups often embrace remote work, giving you the freedom to work from anywhere you like.

Creativity and Innovation

Startups thrive on creativity and innovation. Your opinions and ideas matter and can have a direct impact on the company’s success. You’ll be constantly encouraged to think outside the box and contribute to the growth of the organization. How great is that?

Visible Impact

In a startup, your work has a visible impact. Typically, startups have smaller teams and flat hierarchies. As a result, your contributions are easily noticed, giving you a sense of accomplishment and pride in what you do, leave alone the potential to get promoted.

Skill Development

Working at a startup allows you to develop a wide range of skills. Given the fast-paced environment and limited resources, you’ll likely wear multiple hats, which can be both challenging and exciting. This experience can enhance your resume and make you a more valuable professional.

Networking Opportunities

Finally, startups provide generous networking opportunities. You’ll have the chance to collaborate with talented individuals from diverse backgrounds. Additionally, startups often have connections to investors, mentors, and other industry leaders, expanding your professional network and opening doors to future opportunities.

3 women sitting on chair in front of table with laptop computers
Photo by S O C I A L . C U T @ Unsplash

Disadvantages of Working at a Startup

Heavy Workload

As a startup employee, you might find yourself handling the responsibilities of multiple roles due to the smaller team sizes. This could lead to a heavier workload and longer hours, resulting in potential work-life balance challenges.

Lower Job Security

When you work at a startup, there’s often a risk of the company failing. As a result, you may face involuntary unemployment if the efforts don’t pan out. So, be prepared for a bit more uncertainty than you would with an established company.

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Potentially Lower Pay

Although some startups might offer competitive salaries, it is frequent for startups to pay less than established companies. They often compensate for this with equity or a promise of a better work environment, however.

Limited Resources

Startups can operate with tight budgets, which may limit your access to resources or tools you’d find in a larger company. This may challenge you to think creatively and find innovative solutions with the available resources.

Work-Life Balance Challenges

Many startups emphasize a work-hard, play-hard culture, blurring the lines between personal and professional spheres. While you might benefit from flexible scheduling, understand that it could come at the cost of managing your work-life balance.

Each situation is different, so you should weigh these disadvantages against the potential benefits to decide if working for a startup aligns with your career goals and risk tolerance.

Who Should Work at a Startup

So you’re considering a job at a startup, but are unsure if it’s the right fit for you? Startups can offer unique opportunities and challenges compared to more established companies, but it also depends on you and your priorities whether you are a nice match for startup culture. Here’s a list of personal qualities or preferences that might make you a good fit for a startup environment:

  1. Flexibility: At a startup, things are often changing quickly, and your role might evolve over time. If you’re comfortable wearing multiple hats and learning as you go, you’ll be better equipped to handle the fast pace of startup life.
  2. Risk tolerance: As an employee in a startup, you may experience a degree of financial risk, with lower starting salaries and less job security compared to larger corporations. If you’re someone who can tolerate this uncertainty and find it exciting, working at a startup may be a good fit for you.
  3. Passion: Startups are built around a vision, and you’ll be expected to pour your energy into making it a reality. Being passionate about the company’s mission and products can help motivate you through the long hours and challenging times.
  4. Proactiveness: In a startup, you won’t always have a clear roadmap or structure to follow. If you’re someone who thrives when taking the initiative and seeking out opportunities to contribute, you’ll feel more at home in a startup environment.
  5. Team player: Startups usually have smaller teams, which means that collaboration and teamwork are essential for success. If you enjoy working closely with others and building strong relationships, a startup might be the place for you.
  6. Adaptability: As a startup grows and pivots, you’ll need to be able to adapt to new circumstances quickly. If you’re comfortable with change and able to learn new skills on the fly, you’ll be better prepared for the startup world.
  7. Resilience: There will be plenty of challenges and setbacks along the way in any startup journey. If you’re able to bounce back from these obstacles and maintain your motivation, you’ll be well-suited to the ups and downs of the startup experience.

It’s important to carefully consider whether your personality and preferences align with the demands and expectations of a startup environment. If these characteristics resonate with you, working at a startup could be a rewarding and fulfilling journey for your career.

Factors to Consider When Joining a Startup

Company Size and Funding

When considering joining a startup, it’s important to take into account the company’s size and level of funding. Why is that?

Smaller startups may offer more room for growth and development, but they may also have less stability than larger, more established companies. Additionally, startups in high-cost areas like Silicon Valley may have higher salary expectations due to the local cost of living.

Consider the amount of funding the startup has received, as this can affect the overall financial health of the company. Well-funded startups with strong venture capital backing are more likely to have the resources to pay competitive salaries and offer attractive benefits packages, thus making your position within the company more secure.

Your Role within the Company

Your role in the startup is another key factor to consider. As a founding member or CTO, you will have more influence on the company’s direction and potentially a larger stake in its possible success. With higher-level positions, you may be looking at a higher salary scale. But keep in mind that joining a startup in its early stages may mean greater job responsibilities and higher intensity, which could be both rewarding and demanding.

Comparing Offers and Benefits

As you weigh your options, it’s essential to evaluate the offers and benefits you will receive when joining a startup. Some major aspects to consider are:

  • Salary: Compare potential salary offers against industry standards and factor in any anticipated salary negotiations. It’s worth noting that startup salaries can vary depending on funding levels.
  • Equity: Determine whether and how much equity the startup offers as part of your compensation package, as this can represent a significant value if the company becomes successful.
  • Work-life balance: Startups often have a fast-paced and demanding work environment, so consider how the new role might impact your personal life and whether the company culture aligns with your values.
  • Growth opportunities: Assess the potential for personal and professional growth within the company, as working at a startup can provide valuable experience for your career.
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Remember that the benefits of working at a startup can extend beyond financial compensation. The unique experience, tight-knit team culture, and potential for growth can be rewarding aspects of joining a young, up-and-coming company.

people sitting on chair in a startup
Photo by Redd F @ Unsplash

How to Negotiate a Better Offer

Researching Salary Data

Before you begin negotiations, make sure to research the average market compensation for the position you’re applying for. A great way to gather information on startup salaries is by browsing websites such as Glassdoor. From there, you can:

  • Review average salaries for similar roles and locations
  • Factor in the years of experience and skills required for your role
  • Compare salaries offered by startups in the Bay Area to other cities

Doing this research will provide you with a better understanding of what salary range to expect and can help strengthen your negotiating position when discussing your offer.

Highlighting Your Experience and Skills

While negotiating, make sure to emphasize your experience and skills that make you a perfect fit for the role. Show your potential employer that you:

  • Have relevant past experience, making you a valuable asset to the company
  • Possess unique and specialized skills that not everyone can offer
  • Bring added value to the team and startup as a whole

By showcasing these qualities during your interview, you are giving your potential employer tangible reasons to consider offering you a higher salary.

Considering Multiple Offers

When dealing with multiple job offers, consider the following strategies:

  1. Leverage your options: If you have multiple offers, you can use them to your advantage. Informing potential employers that you have other options can make them more willing to provide a competitive salary or benefits package.
  2. Evaluate the entire package: Don’t focus solely on the base salary. Consider other factors such as equity, benefits, and work-life balance. Sometimes, a lower salary may be compensated with stock options or a better benefits package.
  3. Be transparent: Share your thoughts openly and honestly with potential employers about other offers, your preferred salary range, and additional benefits you’d like to receive. This conversation can help you and the employer find a middle ground that works for both parties.

Keep these guidelines in mind while negotiating, and you’ll be well-equipped to securing a satisfying job offer from a startup. Remember to be confident and assertive, back up your requests with research, and consider all aspects of the offer.


When considering applying to startups, it is normal for you to wonder about the compensation you might receive. Considering the information available, it is important to keep in mind that startup pay can vary depending on factors such as the size and age of the firm.

For example, employees who join a startup before it grows to 50 employees tend to earn 10%-15% less over the subsequent decade compared to their peers. However, if you join a startup that has already found success and grown to more than 50 employees, you might earn 2%-4% more.

Startup salaries can also vary noticeably, depending on the role and the founder’s compensation strategy. For instance, startup founders in Y Combinator pay themselves around $50,000 in salary, while CEOs of startups with $7 million to $8 million in financing might earn an average salary of $130,000.

It’s important to weigh your personal priorities and preferences when considering a startup job offer. Remember that factors like risk tolerance and the desire for challenging work also play a role in your decision. To ensure a good fit, make sure to assess the company’s culture and growth potential alongside the financial aspects.

In summary, startup compensation depends on various factors and personal preferences. So, when considering a job offer at a startup, make sure to evaluate each aspect carefully before making your decision.