2 minute read / Jan 18, 2022 / compensation /

Is Compensation Stagnation to Blame for the Great Resignation?

The Great Resignation has rippled across headlines and boardrooms as employees’ values and priorities evolve. Has the Great Resignation been caused by a silent stagnation in compensation?

Let’s compare data from 2010 and 2021 to understand the longitudinal trends in cash and equity compensation. The cash compensation of three executive roles at early-stage companies has increased faster than inflation.

Role 2010 Cash 2021 Cash Cash Change
VPE 219 256 17%
VPM 220 250 14%
VPS 320 404 26%
CPI 217 262 21%

A VP of Engineering in a Bay Area startup that has raised less than twenty-five million dollars earned 17% more in 2021 than 2010. In constant dollars (correcting for inflation, which is listed here as CPI), a 2021 VPE took home 4% less. VPs of Marketing saw similar raises across their salary and bonus, and small loss to inflation. On the other hand, heads of sales’ pay appreciated 5 percentage points more than inflation.

Role 2010 Equity 2021 Equity Equity Change
VPE 1.6% 2.0% 33%
VPM 1.2% 1.1% -8%
VPS 1.5% 1.4% -7%

Equity value surged. We’ll use two tables to tell the story here.

VPs of engineering today command 33% more than their 2010 younger selves. Equity grants for VPSs and VPMs are down on an ownership basis by about 7-8%. But remember the equity value is the ownership multiplied by the valuation. During the intravening decennium, startup valuation have compounded at 24% annually.

Year Series A Post-Money Valuation, $m Value of 1% Equity, $m
2010 12.5 0.125
2021 105 1.05

Owning 1.4% of a company worth $105m, an executive is 7.4x better off than ten years ago. I’m ignoring the cost of exercising options and the 409a price to simplify the math. Assuming the 409a methods haven’t changed in this period, the increase in take-home pay multiple would be constant, but the amount is reduced by the cost of option exercise.

Overall, executives earn considerably more than eleven years ago, driven primarily by equity value. Cash hasn’t outpaced inflation. The question I haven’t answered is whether compensation at larger companies has materially outpaced startups’ raises. But if you’re a startup person, the data suggests you’re better paid than ten years ago in equity.


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