The best CEOs in tech pay themselves modestly

We looked at the CEO's salary of 85 publicly traded tech companies the year they went public to get a sense of what successful tech CEOs pay themselves.  We define these CEOs as successful because if you’ve filed to go public on a major exchange, you’ve built a real company.  Below is the data.

 

    Year of Salary Bonus Options & Other Total
Company CEO S1 Comp Comp Comp Comp
             
Software            
2U Christopher Paucek  2013 $300,000 $450,000 $4,086,606 $4,836,606
Acacia Murugesan Shanmugaraj 2016 $246,750 $122,045 $13,363 $382,158
Appfolio Brian Donahoo 2014 $250,000 $1,763,000 $369,000 $2,382,000
Apptio Sunny Gupta 2015 $300,000 $0 $2,435,695 $2,735,695
Athenahealth, Inc. Jonathan Bush 2007 $298,077 $0 $81,921 $379,998
Atlassian Scott Farquhar 2015 $264,862 $23,041 $0 $287,903
BazaarVoice Brett Hurt 2011 $250,000 $141,092 $0 $391,092
Benefitfocus, Inc. Shawn Jenkins 2013 $510,513 $0 $370,420 $880,933
Box Inc Aaron Levie 2014 $150,833 $38,750 $87 $189,670
BroadSoft, Inc.  Michael Tessler 2010 $276,058 $191,120 $493,176 $960,354
Castlight Health Giovanni Colella 2014 $200,000 $0 $41,661 $241,662
Cornerstone Adam Miller 2011 $310,000 $0 $3,664,591 $3,974,591
Cvent, Inc.  Rajeev Aggarwal 2013 $365,796 $97,020 $803 $463,619
Demandware Thomas Ebling 2012 $275,000 $0 $211,680 $486,680
Five9, Inc.  Michael Burkland 2014 $366,212 $49,462 $1,932,377 $2,348,051
HortonWorks Robert Bearden 2013 $166,667 $166,667 $727,292 $1,060,626
Hubspot Brian Halligan 2013 $238,183 $1,212 $132,376 $371,771
Instructure Joshua Coates 2015 $1 $0 $0 $1
Intralinks J. Andrew Damico 2010 $325,000 $227,000 $11,921 $563,921
Jive Software, Inc. Anthony Zingale 2011 $255,769 $0 $2,761,632 $3,017,401
Lifelock Todd Davis 2012 $408,462 $0 $239,277 $647,739
LinkedIn Jeffrey Weiner 2010 $250,000 $1,242 $211,055 $462,297
LivePerson Inc. Robert Loscascio 2000 $108,000 $50,000 $0 $158,000
LogMeIN, Inc. Michael Simon 2009 $265,000 $299,118 $72,686 $636,804
Marin Software Christopher Lien 2013 $275,000 $0 $2,735,708 $3,010,708
Marketo Phillip Fernandez 2012 $325,000 $308,750 $1,852,900 $2,486,650
Match Group Sam Yagan 2016 $500,000 $600,000 $3,719,992 $4,819,992
Medidata Solutions Tarek Sherif 2009 $360,000 $448,000 $58,136 $866,136
MindBody Richard Stollmeyer 2014 $360,000 $106,484 $699,668 $1,166,152
MobileIron, Inc. Robert Tinker 2014 $270,000 $0 $13,500 $283,500
Nant Health Patrick Soon Shiong 2016 $0 $0 $0 $0
Netsuite Zachary Nelson 2006 $300,000 $12,591 $143,000 $455,591
New Relic, Inc. Lewis Cirne 2014 $240,000 $127,435 $0 $367,435
Proofpoint, Inc. Gary Steele 2011 $300,000 $127,500 $816,884 $1,244,384
Qualys, Inc. Philippe Courtot 2012 $300,000 $103,500 $0 $403,500
RealPage, Inc. Stephen Winn 2010 $400,000 $250,440 $0 $650,440
RingCentral, Inc. Vladimir Schmunis  2013 $325,000 $146,453 $3,166,531 $3,637,984
SalesForce Marc Benioff 2003 $1 $0 $0 $1
Secureworks Michael Cote  2015 $456,924 $3,328,038 $0 $3,784,962
ServiceNow Frank Slootman 2011 $150,000 $116,218 $0 $266,218
Shopify Tobias Lutke 2015 $339,055 $0 $0 $339,055
Splunk Godfrey Sullivan 2011 $250,000 $500,000 $0 $750,000
SPS Commerce, Inc. Archie Black 2009 $276,000 $29,728 $103,406 $409,134
Textura Patrick Allin 2013 $455,000 $698,926 $677,899 $1,831,825
Twilio Jeff Lawson 2016 $299,783 $15,000 $1,938,769 $2,253,552
Ultimate Softare Scott Scherr 1998 $200,000 $0 $318,809 $518,809
Veeva Systems Inc. Peter Gassner 2013 $225,000 $0 $0 $225,000
WorkDay David Duffield 2012 $33,280 $1,500 $0 $34,780
Xactly Chris Cabrera 2015 $342,000 $124,231 $0 $466,231
Zendesk Mikkel Svane 2013 $200,000 $74,906 $0 $274,906
Tabula Rasa Healthcare Calvin Knowlton 2014 $227,025 $0 $220,006 $497,031
Yext Howard Lernman 2017 $395,742 $0 $3,758,066 $4,153,808
             
Payments            
Square Jack Dorsey 2016 $3,750 $0 $0 $3,750
             
Social            
Facebook Mark Zuckerburg 2012 $483,333 $220,500 $783,529 $1,487,362
Linkedin Jeffrey Weiner 2011 $250,000 $211,055 $1,242 $462,297
Snapchat Evan Spiegel 2016 $503,205 $1,000,000 $901,635 $2,404,840
Twitter Dick Costolo 2013 $200,000 $0 $11,305,740 $11,505,740
             
Marketplaces            
Priceline Richard S. Braddock 1998 $112,500 $0 $5,000,000 $5,112,500
Sabre Tom Klein 2014 $711,923 $0 $3,724,632 $4,436,555
Shutterstock Jonathan Oringer 2012 $250,000 $0 $0 $250,000
Etsy Chad Dickerson 2015 $300,000 $247,500 $0 $547,500
Lending Club Renaud laplanche 2014 $314,583 $203,625 $0 $518,208
Angie's List William Oesterle 2011 $254,995 $1,440,847 $141,586 $1,837,428
Zillow Spencer M. Rascoff 2011 $215,780 $0 $351,200 $566,980
Groupon Andrew Mason 2011 $180,000 $0 $4,599 $184,599
GrubHub Matthew Maloney 2014 $265,000 $0 $417,827 $682,827
Care.com Sheila Marcelo 2013 $259,167 $125,000 $78,750 $462,917
Elevate Credit Kenneth Rees 2014 $409,231 $0 $536,957 $946,188
Redfin Glenn Kelman 2016 $250,871 $0 $68,258 $319,219
             
             
             
Content Distributors            
Google Eric Schmidt 2004 $250,000 $301,556 $2,894 $554,450
Yelp Jeremy Stoppelman 2011 $220,000 $0 $0 $220,000
TrueCar Scott Painter 2014 $313,186 $231,918 $5,201,179 $5,746,283
Netflix Reed Hastings 2000 $12,698 $0 $1,550,000 $1,562,698
Pandora Joseph Kennedy 2011 $325,000 $175,000 $0 $500,000
             
Gaming            
Zynga Mark Pincus 2011 $301,154 $135,000 $0 $436,154
             
Ecommerce            
Amazon Jeff Bezos 1996 $64,333 $0 $0 $64,333
Blue Apron Matthew Salzberg 2016 $214,560 $201,000 $0 $415,560
Carvana Ernie Garcia 2016 $400,000 $0 $54,008 $454,008
Shutterfly Jeffrey Housenbold 2005 $263,542 $137,500 $0 $401,042
Blue Nile, Inc. Mark Vadon 2003 $249,499 $100,000 $5,107 $354,606
U.S. Auto Parts Network, Inc.  Mehran Nia 2005 $400,000 $0 $0 $400,000
             
Hardware            
Fitbit James Park 2015 $222,179 $80,000 $7,542,446 $7,844,625
GoPro Nicholas Woodman 2014 $800,000 $1,003,200 $49,591 $1,852,791
TiVo Corporation Michael Ramsay 1999 $150,000 $0 $0 $150,000
Garmin Ltd Min Kao, Gary Burrell 2000 $166,270 $14,330 $51,879 $232,479
             
             
             
Median     $265,000 $38,750 $58,136 $500,000
Average     $276,503 $194,924 $892,399 $1,364,415

 

A few observations stand out:

 

-Very successful CEO’s allow themselves a $265k salary.  The median CEO salary was $265,000 and the average was $276,503.  The range was wide: one CEO took no salary and another took an egregious $800,000.

 

-Scrappy CEOs run the most dominant companies in the world.  Certain companies and CEOs stand out: Joshua Coates of Instructure took a salary of $1, Patrick Shiong took no salary, Marc Benioff of Salesforce took $1, Jack Dorsey of Square took $3750, Reed Hastings of Netflix took $12,698, and Jeff Bezos of Amazon took $64,333.  Some of the aforementioned companies are the biggest and most dominant in their space, and while it’s impossible to say there’s a correlation between a CEO that takes a minimal salary and a successful company, there isn’t an investor out there that wouldn’t prefer a scrappy, cheap CEO that leads by example versus a CEO like Nick Woodman at GoPro who pays himself $800,000 per year. 

 

-Options are important.  Options and “other compensation” can represent a significant source of income prior to going public.  When you’re a successful CEO that either controls the board or has reasonable board members, the board will refill your equity along the road to going public as a way of making sure the leader that got them to the promised land is properly rewarded.     

 

In summary, unless you’re wildly successful and about to go public, your salary should come nowhere close to $265,000 – that’s what the most successful and proven CEOs make.  Additionally, we do believe it’s no coincidence that some of the most successful companies in the world had some of the most modestly paid CEOs.  Scrappiness is valuable and permeates the culture, and there is nothing more attractive to investors than a founder that runs lean and cares about cash efficiency.  Take as low a salary as you can reasonably live with, and make sure that mentality runs throughout the organization. 

 

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