How Do Startup Founders Pay Themselves?

How Do Startup Founders Pay Themselves?

Starting a new business venture is an exciting and challenging journey, especially for startup founders. As they navigate through various aspects of building a successful startup, one important question often arises: How do startup founders pay themselves?

In this blog post, we will explore different methods and considerations for startup founders when it comes to paying themselves.

Introduction to Startup Founder Compensation

Before diving into the details, it's crucial to understand that startup founders' compensation can vary greatly depending on several factors, including the stage of the startup, available funding, and the founder's personal financial situation. In the initial stages, most founders may not receive any compensation or take a minimal salary to conserve resources for the company's growth.

Bootstrapping: Minimal or No Salary

During the early stages of a startup, many founders choose to bootstrap, which means using their own personal savings or investments to fund the business. In this scenario, founders often forgo taking a salary or take a minimal one to ensure the survival and growth of the startup. This approach allows more resources to be allocated towards product development, marketing, and hiring.

Personal Savings and Side Income

Founders who bootstrap their startups may rely on their personal savings or side income to cover their living expenses. This could include tapping into savings accounts, and investments, or even taking on part-time or freelance work to supplement their income. It's important for founders to carefully manage their personal finances during this time to ensure their financial stability while the startup gains traction.

Equity Compensation: Founder's Shares

Equity compensation is a common method for startup founders to pay themselves. Founders often hold a significant portion of the company's equity, which represents their ownership stake in the business. As the startup grows and secures funding, founders may receive compensation through the value appreciation of their shares. This means that as the company becomes more successful, the value of the founder's equity increases, providing a source of compensation.

Founder's Salary: Post-Funding

Once a startup secures external funding, founders can start paying themselves a more substantial salary. The specific amount will depend on factors such as the startup's financial health, the funding received, and the founder's role and responsibilities within the company. Founders should ensure their salary is aligned with industry standards and reflect the value they bring to the startup.

Deferred Compensation

In some cases, founders may choose to defer their compensation temporarily. This means that instead of taking a salary immediately, they agree to receive their compensation at a later date or when the company hits certain milestones. By deferring their compensation, founders can allocate more resources toward the company's growth and demonstrate their commitment to its success.

Profit-Sharing and Bonuses

As the startup progresses and generates profits, founders may have the opportunity to receive additional compensation through profit-sharing or bonuses. This can be based on achieving specific financial targets, meeting key performance indicators, or overall business success. Profit-sharing and bonuses can serve as incentives for founders to drive the company's growth and reward their contributions.

Reinvestment in the Business

Rather than taking a significant salary, some founders choose to reinvest a portion of their earnings back into the business. This reinvestment can be used to fuel further growth, expand operations, or fund new product development. By reinvesting in the business, founders demonstrate their long-term commitment and confidence in the startup's potential.

Considerations for Founders

When determining their compensation, startup founders should consider several factors:

  • The financial needs of the founder and their personal circumstances
  • The current financial health of the startup
  • The availability of funding and the runway for the business
  • The industry standards and comparable salaries for similar roles
  • The founder's contributions, responsibilities, and time commitment to the startup

Seeking Professional Advice

Navigating the complexities of founder compensation in startups can be challenging. It's advisable for founders to seek professional advice from accountants, financial advisors, or startup consultants. These experts can provide guidance on structuring compensation packages, tax implications, and ensuring compliance with laws and regulations.


Paying themselves is a vital consideration for startup founders. The compensation methods may vary depending on the stage of the startup, available funding, and the founder's financial situation. Whether through bootstrapping, equity compensation, salaries, or deferred compensation, founders must carefully balance their personal financial needs with the growth and success of the startup.