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Top C-Level Executive Compensation Trends in 2023

The Betts Team
September 15, 2023

Executive compensation trends in the world of tech startups saw subtle shifts in 2023 according to the data we sourced from within the Betts network. At a glance, inflation and the Fed’s interest rate hikes seem to be affecting the technology industry the most; however, we are also seeing shakeups throughout the market that are keeping salary rates competitive for experienced new hires at the C-level. While the news is still dominated by big names like Google and Microsoft laying off employees, new startups in fields such as artificial intelligence and biotechnology are keeping demand for tech veterans alive and well.

In this blog, we will go over our findings for 2023 and uncover what they mean for executive compensation trends going into 2024:

Betts Compensation Guide Data

At Betts Recruiting, we keep an eye on the hiring market to ensure you are informed of the latest updates. For a deeper look at the data featured here, check out more of our Resources, including:

Executive Hiring vs. Entry-level Hiring for Tech Startups

A pattern that we have seen growing over the past few years throughout the technology sector is the prioritization of experience for finding the right hire. Roles that call for more proficiency often offer a premium over those that can be filled by a generalist, or a candidate with only entry-level expertise.

Executive hiring, however, is a different beast from recruiting for say, an AE or SDR, in that there are more expectations that come with the territory. Experience as well as incentivized perks are a given and become more substantial once you arrive at the bigger stages in a tech startup, and these become even more important as the business grows on the journey to unicorn status. This means that not only hitting the target base salary rate but also offering the right type of benefits are key to locking down exec candidates, and we saw that reflected in our data.

Executive Compensation Trends for 2023

Below we break down the top executive compensation trends in 2023 we found for chief officer hires in the technology industry, and the differences at each stage of the startup lifecycle from Seed to Series D:

Salary & Benefits Trends by Role

1.      Chief Executive Officer

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) is the face of the organization and is responsible for guiding the team’s direction. If this role is not filled in by the founder already, then hiring for a CEO in a tech startup means looking for someone with a proven track record of providing leadership in a fast-paced setting. The importance of this role is reflected in the base salary, with a median range of $275,000 to $375,000. More importantly, we found that a majority of CEOs qualified for bonuses of 50% to 100% of their base rates.

2.      Chief Commercial Officer 

The Chief Commercial Officer (CCO) – sometimes titled the Chief Business Officer (CBO) – is an emerging role that is still riding the wave of post-COVID digital transformation in the technology sector. This is a unique position that has a hand in overseeing sales, marketing and customer success activities, and the only other member of the C-suite that we saw joining at the Seed stage besides CEOs. Base pay remains close (or in some cases surpasses) those of Chief Executive Officers as well for companies still in earlier startup stages, though bonuses were usually capped at 50%. The median range for CCO base salary is $300,000 to $325,000 with bonuses hovering at around 40%.

3.      Chief Financial Officer

The Chief Financial Officer (CFO) is in charge of all things related to the money – namely reporting, budget tracking and keeping an eye on performance. CFO median salaries start at $275,000 to $330,000 with bonus rates ranging 30% to 35% of base earnings.

4.      Chief Product Officer

Chief Product Officers (CPOs) are the leaders of innovation, strategy and design at solution-focused startups that chart the path to making product planning a reality. A CPO’s responsibility is to shape and refine, so it becomes a more important position to add once you have enough customers to provide reliable feedback on user experience (UX). The median salary rate for this role is $300,000 and usually remains there, while bonuses average 15% to 20%.

5.      Chief Marketing Officer

A Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) runs, as the title implies, the marketing team and all related customer acquisition activities, from branding to events to digital channel management. CMOs see a media salary range of $265,500 to $350,000 with bonus rates of 25% to 30%.

6.      Chief Operations Officer

Chief Operations Officers (COOs) are responsible for managing the day-to-day activities of your organization and thus are generally mid- to late-stage hires for tech startups, for when the team grows into needing someone to fill the role. This is reflected in the starting COO salary, which has a narrower median range but higher top-earner cap at $350,000 to $400,000, not to mention a 40% average bonus rate.

7.      Chief Revenue Officer

A Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) is brought on to focus on improving profitability and growing – you guessed it – revenue. CROs are usually in charge of driving sales and other go-to-market (GTM) strategies to contribute to the organization’s ROI. We found a median salary range of $250,000 to $300,000 for this role, but often with a 100% bonus earning capacity.

8.      Chief People Officer

The Chief People Officer (CPeO) is the C-level executive who oversees talent acquisition and other human resource operations, which of course usually means having a team large enough to require this hire so it should be a post-Seed recruitment focus. CPeOs have a high starting salary that remains flat at nearly every stage, though, with the median rate at $330,000 and bonuses typically 15% to 20% of base salaries.

Salary & Benefits Trends by Startup Stage

1.      Seed

Seed startups are usually still building out a core team so are not as concerned with making executive hires until they reach the next stage. What is critical, however, is ensuring that operations and especially sales run smoothly, so we do see chief executive and commercial officers being brought in most often. Base salary for CEOs will range between $250,000 to $325,000 with the median at $275,000 while bonuses go from 25% to 50%. CCOs will earn $275,000 to $315,000 while the median rate falls at $300,000. Executive hires also see equity offers of up to 4% to give a payout return greater than the risk of joining a Seed or pre-Seed company.

2.      Series A

Series A is where you see most tech startups begin to expand their teams with new hires to fill in any gaps that are not being addressed by existing employees already, including for executive duties. CFOs, CPOs and CROs will usually be recruited starting at this stage, with median salaries ranging from $250,000 at the low end to $330,000 for the top earners (Chief People Officers). CEOs and CCOs both see earnings increases averaging $25,000 and $15,000, respectively.

3.      Series B

Series B is where we typically see COOs come in to round out the C-suite, at salary ranges of $325,000 to $400,000. Some C-level positions, such as CEOs and CMOs, will see increases to their base of between $15,000 and $35,000 from Series A to this stage, although others like CPOs will remain around the same. Equity offers also start to shrink as the team becomes bigger and there is less risk.

4.      Series C

At Series C, most executive leadership teams should be established and we see this reflected in the compensation trends at this stage. Critical roles like CEO and CFO will see another average increase, while only top earners in other positions like CMOs or CCOs will notice a difference in their base salaries. Rates for all other titles will remain around the same, while equity is hard-capped from her to the end of the road at the IPO stage.

5.      Series D

Series is when most C-level roles feature their top salary ranges for new executive hires, as well as the highest bonus potential for any title that has not reached it yet. Most median rates hover around $300,000 at this stage and go up to $400,000 for COOs.

Changes in 2023 – 2024: Fractional Executives, Severance & More

2023 saw new developments that are likely to impact the hiring landscape going into 2024, chief among them hardline return-to-office (RTO) policies, more upfront severance negotiations for C-suite officers and the rise of fractional executives.

Fractional C-Suite Executive Hires

A fractional executive is a temporary hire that is brought on part-time to run a particular project. They meet a middle-ground between the traditional duties of external advisors and interim executives, and are currently used by several organizations as a way to scale leadership needs in the short-term.

Below are the rates we found for specific fractional C-level roles:

  • Fractional CEOs $250 to $500 per hour, or $20,000 to $50,000 on a 3-month retainer
  • Fractional CFOs & CFOs – $250 to $400 per hour, or $15,000 to $30,000 on a 3-month retainer

Streamline Your Executive Recruiting with Betts

There are a lot of factors to consider when hiring a new executive for your startup company, with a high price tag for bringing on a candidate that isn’t the right fit for your team. Let Betts Recruiting help you streamline your search and take the uncertainty out of the equation. We leverage a robust talent network, the latest technology and our experience with over 10,000 startups to refine your talent acquisition and bring you the right C-level candidates for your team.

Contact Betts today and see how to unlock the future of talent acquisition for your executive recruiting.