How do you negotiate salary at a startup when approached by the founder?

Shawn Agyeman ‏@Sagyeman: how do you negotiate salary at a startup when approached by the founder?


Salary is all about exploitation. I don’t mean this in a communist sense. I mean it in a very capitalist way. A founder wants to pay you less than the value he can get from you, but enough that you remain incentivized. His goal is to make you happy above and beyond salary in ways that can benefit you (everything from stock options to weekly masseuses coming in to educational opportunities).

Remember that in any negotiation it’s not just about “the number”. It’s about your list of things you are negotiating. If you have a greater list than his then it’s either to exchange some nickels in exchange for some dimes. For instance, time you can spend pursuing other projects. Vacation time. Room for advancement. Stock options or equity. Money if you bring in sales, money if you achieve certain goals, etc.

But in terms of just straight salary here’s what I would do.

Say a number that is ludicrously high. High enough that it’s a joke so you both laugh. What is the point of that? It’s to “anchor” the founder’s thinking at a high point. Now he has to think high because you anchored him there.

Then say, “Listen, I’m just a programmer/salesguy/ops guy” whatever you are. Say, “you’re the expert. You tell me”.

And because you’ve anchored him high he’s going to give you a number at the high end of the mental range he was already thinking about. If you like it, and like the other benefits (the other items on your list) then take the job.