Early-Stage Startup Salary Breakdown for Tech Roles

Early-Stage Startup Salary Breakdown for Tech Roles

Have you ever felt like you're not being paid what you're worth? Do you find yourself comparing your salary to others? If so, you've come to the right place!

Aditi Sharma

Aditi Sharma

Oct 28, 2023 5 min read

Have you ever felt like you're not being paid what you're worth? Do you find yourself comparing your salary to that of your friends and colleagues? If so, you've come to the right place!

Today, we are going to discuss all about salary, your expectations – well, not really– but all about how well you are compensated at your current job, and what factors decide how much you get paid broadly.

Salary components at a startup:

When it comes to startup compensation, you've got the usual salary and benefits, but the real draw is the equity – a stake in the company that can potentially be worth a lot if the startup succeeds. Of course, the catch is that equity isn't a sure thing, and startups can be risky businesses.

How do you determine your next salary?

Figuring out your salary expectations for a startup job involves taking into account a few key things: your experience, your skills, and the cost of living in the area.

It's also smart to research salaries for similar jobs at other startups, so you have an idea of what's competitive.

No further ado, let’s see what your salary should be at an early-stage startup:

Early-stage startup salary:

Early-stage startups tend to pay lower salaries than corporate companies and more mature startups due to their limited revenue and product development. However, they often offer equity to their employees, which can be very valuable if the company is successful.

The given table shows the different roles, with their salary ranges for different countries. It is accumulated from various sources available on the internet, like Payscale, Radford, etc.

IndiaUSAUKCanadaChinaSouth Africa
Salary Range (INR)Salary Range (USD)Salary Range (GBP)Salary Range (CAD)Salary Range (CNY)Salary Range (ZAR)
Designer300k - 600k80k - 120k35k - 55k60k - 90k300k - 500k300k - 500k
Developer400k - 800k100k - 150k40k - 65k70k - 110k400k - 600k400k - 600k
Product Manager500k - 1M120k - 180k50k - 75k80k - 130k500k - 700k500k - 700k
Engineer600k - 1.2M140k - 200k60k - 85k90k - 150k600k - 800k600k - 800k
QA Tester200k - 400k60k - 90k30k - 45k40k - 60k200k - 300k200k - 300k
SAP Consultant700k - 1.4M160k - 220k70k - 95k100k - 170k700k - 900k700k - 900k

Different stages of startup and their salaries

The relationship between company maturity and compensation seems pretty straightforward - more mature, more money. However, the increase in pay between stages tends to get smaller as companies mature.

Startup salaries by their stage
Startup salaries by their stage

Hold on! This is not it.

Salaries based on experience:

Let’s see some data based on the experience level (based on the USA):

All data is taken from the internet – Payscale.

Years of Experience0-11-33-55+
Designer40k - 60k60k - 80k80k - 100k100k+
Developer60k - 80k80k - 100k100k - 120k120k+
Product Manager70k - 90k90k - 110k110k - 130k130k+
Engineer70k - 90k90k - 110k110k - 130k130k+
QA Tester40k - 60k60k - 80k80k - 100k100k+
SAP Consultant70k - 90k90k - 110k110k - 130k130k+

Surprisingly, the size of a company's tech department doesn't have a huge impact on compensation.

Startup salaries by their engineering team size
Startup salaries by their engineering team size.

Graph and insights are taken from Creandum.

Startups vs. Corporate

If you are someone who is coming from a corporate company, then this graph can give you a broad insight into how salaries differ for the roles at the different organization levels.

Startups are usually tight on cash compared to big companies, so they can't pay super-high salaries. Instead, they offer equity, which can be more valuable than a higher salary in the long run.

Job TitleStartup Salary Range (USD)Corporate Company Salary Range (USD)
Designer40k - 80k60k - 120k
Developer60k - 120k80k - 150k
Product Manager70k - 130k90k - 170k
Engineer60k - 120k80k - 150k
QA Tester40k - 80k60k - 100k
SAP Consultant80k - 150k100k - 200k

Some more data from X:

Now, the only part left is to understand how broadly these salaries get calculated.

Let’s take an example of Buffer, and how they do it:

How does Buffer calculate salaries?

Buffer uses a salary formula to calculate everyone’s base pay, and it's designed to keep things fair and equal. This formula factors in your role and where you live, and gives out a salary that's fair for everyone.

Their formula is (your role) x (cost of living) = your salary.

Here's how they figure out how much to pay for each role:

  • They compare each role to data from a company called Radford. Radford surveys a bunch of companies twice a year to see what they're paying their employees. They use data from San Francisco for role benchmarks because it's a really competitive job market there.
  • And now for the cost of living factor, they take the benchmarked salary from San Francisco and multiply it by a factor that considers the cost of living in the employee's location.
  • There are four geographical areas that they consider, and each one has a different cost of living compared to San Francisco.

This calculator is different for every organization. However, going through the surveys and reports is what is widely used, and that’s how organizations end up having similar ranges across the country.

If you're starting out and nervous about negotiating salary, you're not alone! It can feel intimidating, but it's worth advocating for yourself to get the compensation you deserve, to learn more about it, head over to -  Negotiating your first salary.

In a nutshell, salary is a key factor in finding a job that's right for you. It's essential to do your research and stay informed about competitive salaries in your industry. Being informed means you won't be left wondering if you're being underpaid, and you'll be able to make a decision that's best for you.