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startup executive compensation

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As the startup gets bigger and the equity opportunity gets smaller, cash comp goes up to 300k+ and 500k+ for public companies. Properly crafted, an executive compensation plan can help attract top-notch talent, retain best performing executives, motivate the leadership team to succeed and align their activities to help ensure the company’s goals are being reached. Is It Time To Change Director Board Compensation In Private Real Estate Firms? In its ideal form, equity compensation aligns the interests of individual employees with the goals of the company they work for, which can yield dramatic results in … What are the tax implications? You’ve decided to start a company. So unless you raise millions and millions of dollars right from launch, it’s difficult to justify a high startup CEO salary. Unlike standard deferral plans, where cash is paid out on some unalterable future date (thus triggering automatic tax liabilities), the option approach gives executives control over when and how they will be taxed on their deferred salary. Typically, equity — a percentage of ownership in the company — is the anchor of a solid compensation package for a potential chief executive, so let's dive a little deeper into the details of what this may look like. Other C-level execs would receive 1-5% equity that vests over time (usually 4 years). The founders devised a solution to meet the needs of the company and its prospective employees. (Shares need not be publicly traded for them to have a fair market value. In return, of course, they forfeit the rights and privileges of ownership. Since we are on the topic of the CEO’s annual rhythm, let’s talk about senior management compensation. That is, they should award shares to key executives and second-tier employees in a way that protects the long-term company interest. They consulted other software startups and documented that second-tier employees typically received 1% to 3% ownership stakes. NSOs can also play a role in deferred compensation programs. Finally, the company placed restrictions on the resale of stock purchased with options. Equity compensation is the practice of granting partial ownership in a company in exchange for work. Of course, if companies generate taxable income before their executives exercise their options, lack of a deduction is a definite negative. Unrealistically low levels of cash compensation weaken their ability to attract quality managers. One young company saved 25% on its health-insurance premiums by self-insuring the first $500 of each claim and paying a third party to administer the coverage. But she makes $100,000 a year in a secure job at a large company. So management backed out of the program at the eleventh hour. Most companies should not adopt long-term disability coverage, dental plans, child-care assistance, even retirement plans, until they are well beyond the startup phase. The obvious risk with linking compensation to any one metric is that becomes pursued blindly and at all costs, while other important goals for your startup are ignored. To spotlight how that applies to CEOs at venture-backed companies, we partnered with compensation data firm J.Thelander Consulting to break down the data by gender, the amount of capital the company has raised, and whether or not the CEO founded the company. So you begin the search for a topflight engineer to head product development and a seasoned manager to handle marketing, sales, and distribution. Startups often prefer ISOs since they give executives a timing advantage with respect to taxes. And these awards should take place only after the company has fully distributed stock to the founders. The choice of whether to issue actual or phantom shares should also be consistent with the company’s strategy. Research and development, facilities and equipment, and marketing costs all make priority claims on resources. Explore by role, location, skill, or market. One service company in the startup stage adopted an insurance-backed salary plan for its key executives. The five prospects had unreasonably high expectations about how much stock they should receive. The list of traditional employee benefits doesn’t have to stop here—but it probably should. Many executives value the option of deferring taxable income more than the security of immediate cash. Companies must factor regional and industry trends into their compensation and benefits calculations. Creativity and flexibility are at a premium. The activity and success seen in the venture-backed biotech space has trickled down to the compensation of the executive teams and scientists running these companies. Roughly, for every additional $1 million raised, a startup CEO will take home between $4,000 and $5,000 more in annual salary. Equity is the great compensation equalizer in startup companies—the bridge between an executive’s market value and the company’s cash constraints. The founder of a temporary employment agency used this approach to attract and motivate key executives. The obvious solution: supplement cash compensation with stock. Setting higher-than-average deductibles lowers employer premiums (the deductibles can be adjusted downward as financial stability improves). Indeed, one startup in the business of developing and operating progressive child-care centers wisely decided to wait for greater financial stability before offering its own employees child-care benefits. Equity establishes a commitment from the CEO through personal stake-holding, but there’s another significant factor that makes it a substantial component: potential return. Opinions expressed are those of the author. Early-stage will be higher stock and no cash, later stage the percentage of the stock grant will go down and cash will become a factor. As with most things in life, managing compensation issues inside of a startup is all about balance. Attracting these executives is easier said than done. Startups must strike a delicate balance. And there are endless variations on the equity theme: restricted shares, incentive stock options, nonqualified options, stock appreciation rights (SARs), phantom stock, and the list goes on. Certainly, Thai food is no substitute for a generous pension. Companies can choose among various book-value plans, under which they offer to buy back shares issued to employees according to a pricing formula. Startup.law uses a flexible pricing structure that is better suited to startups and VC legal work. One thing to keep in mind, though, when considering how large of a slice the CEO gets is how much equity will remain in the option pool afterward for other key employees sought later. However, as a quickly growing firm, providing equity is the strong point to counter those realities with. The value of each depends on the stage of a company’s growth, the role , … All Rights Reserved, This is a BETA experience. Reporting rules for artificial stock plans are very restrictive and sometimes create substantial charges against earnings. Executive Compensation Plans in a Startup’s Growth Stage. Compensation and benefits choices have major tax consequences for a startup company and its executives; startups can use the tax code to maximum advantage in compensation decisions. This can create real problems. Editor's Note: In the early years of your Compensation career? An executive compensation plan must act as an incentive and retention device for startup executives while delivering a fair return to investors and shareholders who have funded the company. The company’s business plan, a competent leadership team and the right compensation package can each reduce the risk of working for a startup. While the vice president of marketing watches marketing, the CFO keeps tabs on finances, and the CEO snuffs out the fires that always threaten to engulf a young company, who is left to mind the personnel store? How do they affect cash flow? But benefits that promote a creative and energetic office environment may matter more to employees than savings plans whose impact may not be felt for decades. All this can be factored in and is influenced by the existing option pool set aside beforehand. One small but growing high-tech company used a combination of stock techniques to achieve several compensation goals simultaneously. What an employee receives in equity, cash, and benefits depends on the role they’re filling, the sector they work in, where they and the company are located, and the possible value that specific individual may bring to the company. But the wisest approach is to go slowly, to make enhancements incrementally, and to be aware at all times of the cash flow, taxation, and accounting implications of the choices you face. Let’s consider these questions one at a time. When he sold the business a few years later for $10 million, certain executives, each of whom had been allowed to buy up to 4% of the company, received as much as $400,000. It did not make sense for the company to raise venture capital to pay the engineers their market-value salaries. Restricted stock is one alternative. Any compensation data out there is hard to come by. At the same time, there are real advantages to being small. Looks really good. An executive making $5 million per year would not be happy hearing about a competitor executive making $30 million per year. If the goal is to realize the “big payoff” within three to five years through an initial public offering or outright sale of the company, then stock may be the best route. Some founders take the other extreme. Of course, certain basic needs must be met. If so, should the company use restricted stock, options, or some combination of both? In such cases, it may make sense to create an artificial market for stock. Investors and shareholders must decide how much dilution of equity they are willing to accept to provide an appropriate equity pool for the management team. But it would have meant heavy charges to book earnings over the deferral period—charges that might have interfered with the company’s plans to go public. Tho two tables below tell the story for VPs of Engineering (VPE) and VPs of Product (VPP) across the US broadly and in the SF Bay Area. They had sufficient personal resources to contribute assets and cash to the new company in exchange for founders’ stock. To set the table I wanted to share some national startup compensation data. Now you must assemble the quality management team that venture investors demand. Then they agreed on a formula by which these employees could trade cash for stock during their first three years. With this in mind, Graham says there are three places where a company needs to focus on compensation and have specific ideas about how to handle it. One startup computer company thought it was important to create a “think-tank” atmosphere. Startup companies have special opportunities for creativity and customization with employee benefits. In other words, these companies were all tremendously successful up to the point of going public, yet the CEO’s salary was still lower than that we’ve seen for some Series A startups, especially on the West Coast . But any program has costs—and costs of any kind are a critical worry for a new company trying to move from the red into the black. How do you structure a compensation package that will lure her away? Your business plan is based on sound strategy and thorough market research. Founders rightly worry about diluting their control before obtaining venture funds. Equity is the great compensation equalizer in startup companies—the bridge between an executive’s market value and the company’s cash constraints. These programs can get complicated, however, and they require thorough accounting reviews. The executive otherwise enjoys all the rights of other shareholders, except for the right to sell any stock still subject to restriction. The best performing companies use incentive-based compensation to achieve their goals. ‘Booking.com’ Is A Trademark – Does This Matter To Your Business? If you do decide it's time to look outside for leadership, it's important to know what it takes to lure a proven executive into a startup. Which is not to suggest that the only answer to benefits is setting strict limits. Since 2008, there has been a secular trend to increase cash compensation and decrease equity to startup management teams. Your business plan is based on sound strategy and thorough market research. Cash compensation must be a lower priority. If a substantial benefits program is in place, someone has to handle the day-to-day administrative details and update the program as the accounting and tax rules change. After working with startups for over a decade, I have dealt with many founders who are presented with the tough decision of handing off the role of CEO to an outsider. For companies that plan to grow more slowly over the first three to five years, resist acquisition offers, and maintain private ownership, the stock alternative may not be optimal. What is the competition doing? Whatever the format, our top priority is … Now you must assemble the quality management team that venture investors demand. Other creative policies may not only cost less but they also may better suit the interests and needs of executive recruits. Other approaches, like leaving deferred compensation liabilities unsecured, allow executives to declare the income later while the company takes a future deduction. Compensation and benefits plans can be expensive to design, install, administer, and terminate. The lure of cashing out quickly was a great motivator for this company’s top executives. But never are the challenges more difficult—or the stakes higher—than when a company first takes shape. Many employers match a portion of their employees’ contributions.) This is tough to answer without knowing your background and without knowing how much the current company might be worth. Self-insuring smaller claims also conserves cash. So you begin the search for a topflight engineer to head product development and a […], From the Magazine (January–February 1989). When it comes to issuing stock, startups should always be careful not to sell the store before they fill the shelves. Certain approaches, like setting aside assets to secure deferred compensation liabilities, require that executives declare the income immediately and the company deduct it as a current expense. Moreover, the exercise price of an ISO cannot be lower than the fair market value of the stock on the date the option is granted. They grant NSOs at a below-market exercise price that reflects the amount of salary deferred. And the resale restrictions created golden handcuffs without forcing executives to wait to buy their shares. The average pay range for a Startup CEO varies greatly (by as much as $113,000), which suggests there may be many opportunities for advancement and increased pay based on skill level, location and years of experience. Executive Compensation 01/08/2021. M any many moons ago, back when I used to be an Actuary and Compensation expert in the Human Capital Consulting space, I used to benchmark Board, Executive, Sales, and All Employee compensation and benefits. More and more startups are following the lead of larger companies by allowing executives to defer cash compensation with stock options. Venture capitalists or other outside investors will demand a healthy share of equity in return for a capital infusion. You can start with 5% off the bat and add a point year by year. Group medical is also essential, although there are many ways to limit its cost. Executives may receive options on 1,000 shares of stock, but only 25% of the options vest (i.e., executives can exercise them) in any one year. How much and what type of stock should the package include? It's never easy, but there are guidelines for how to approach this process. ISOs, however, give the company no tax deductions—which is not a major drawback for startups that don’t expect to earn big profits for several years. In addition to an actual percentage, consider also vesting timetables tied to goals. Tax laws impose stiff technical requirements on how much stock can be subject to options, the maximum exercise period, who can receive options, and how long stock must be held before it can be sold. For these and other reasons, companies usually issue NSOs as well as ISOs. Copyright © 2020 Harvard Business School Publishing. The company gladly obliged. The goal should not be to come as close to what IBM offers without going broke, but to devise low-cost, innovative programs that meet the needs of a small employee corps. You can’t possibly commit that much cash, even if you do raise outside capital. Take company-supplied lunches. No startup is an island, especially when vying for talented executives. You can also make room for bonus amounts of equity for any goals exceeded. And they have different tax consequences for the issuing company, which can deduct the spread between the exercise price and the market price of the shares when the options are exercised.

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