A gap between two figures
Illustration: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

The startup CEO gender pay gap is widening

Protocol Pipeline

Hello, and welcome to Pipeline. My name is Biz Carson and I’m such a huge fan of the British royals that I once slept on the street to be in the front row on the Mall for William and Kate’s wedding. Congrats to the queen on her Platinum Jubilee! This week in the startup world: the craziest VC lawsuit since Benchmark sued Travis Kalanick, more fallout from layoffs and a stubborn pay gap for startup CEOs.

The startup CEO gender pay gap persists

Image: Datawrapper

At the beginning of the pandemic, early-stage female startup CEOs took disproportionately higher pay cuts. A year later, things aren’t much better for them, according to new data provided to Pipeline by Kruze Consulting, which publishes annual reports on the early-stage startup CEO salaries.

The early-stage startup CEO gender salary gap is worse today than it was in 2019, even after a record-breaking funding year in venture capital.

  • The pay gap between early-stage male and female CEOs was only $5,000 in 2019. In 2022, it’s now $20,000 according to Kruze’s analysis of over 250 startups' pay data it has access to, of which more than 40 are female-led companies.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic was the first shockwave to CEO salaries. In its study, Kruze Consulting found that female CEOs took on average a 30% pay cut in April 2020 in response to the pandemic and it took months for pay levels to climb higher. Male CEOs, on the other hand, didn’t really see a pay cut at all during the pandemic. Those who did accept lower pay were washed out by the CEOs who gave themselves raises, Jones said at the time.
  • Female early-stage startup CEOs are making on average $5,000 less than they did pre-pandemic: $138,000 in Q4 2019 vs. $133,000 in Q1 2022. Male CEOs, on the other hand, have seen their salaries increase by $10,000, growing from $143,000 in Q4 2019 to $153,000 in Q1 2022, according to Kruze’s data.

“Women have raised their salaries back up, but we still have this tremendous gap, which is kind of weirdly really persistent and weirdly large in my mind,” said Healy Jones, Kruze’s VP of Financial Planning and Analysis.

  • One explanation could be that male-led startups raise more money, and startup CEOs tend to rise in line with the amount of funding the company has raised. But even taking that into account, using Kruze’s startup CEO salary calculator for average amounts raised by men versus women in the data set showed the gap should be roughly $5,000, not the $20,000 it is today. Jones said he was “dumbfounded” by the persistence of the gap.

The challenge for CEOs is that there’s very little transparency into what they should be paid. And if they do receive advice from venture capitalists, it can often be conflicting. This week, Vitalize’s Justin Gordon asked founders and investors what pre-seed startup founders should be paid — a stage at which a founder typically doesn’t necessarily have a board to consult.

  • Some investors like Worklife’s Brianne Kimmel argued that pre-seed CEOs and founders should get paid at least $100,000. “Investors who want founders to pay themselves poorly are indirectly saying only rich people should start a company,” she tweeted. “Rent, childcare, gym membership, therapy, and taking time off to recharge all add up.”
  • Other investors embraced the “ramen-poor” mentality typical of startups and said anything over $100,000 was a red flag for a business, even advocating for $0 in some cases when people can afford it. “Anything under $100K is ok. Above it and will raise eyebrows,” investor Andrew Gluck tweeted.
  • It’s common to see pay variability in the pre-IPO markets, Renegade Partners’ head of people Susan Alban wrote in an email, so she advises founders to look at companies in similar financing stages to determine what’s fair. “The more bespoke a situation is, the more opportunity for bias because that's where the inequity creeps in and you see a lot of inconsistencies in equity,” Alban said.

The changing times means a rising concern that women could fall further behind. In today’s market, there’s going to be a lot of conversations around how to cut costs. It’s easy for founders to feel the call to sacrifice when employees are feeling the pinch, so that may be a time for investors to step in and make sure that they’re not unfairly shortchanging themselves.

“I am concerned that women are going to pull their salaries back more than that if history is a guide,” Jones said. Hopefully, with a warning to be on the lookout, history won’t repeat itself.


Dear Diary … In this week’s odd PR move, Rent The Runway’s PR team offered a Fast Company journalist a look at its CEO’s diary during the pandemic, which backfired when the entries “read like a mission statement in progress” and didn’t really address the struggle at all.

“Please stop using the word Girlboss thank you,” tweeted “Girlboss” author Sophia Amoruso. This isn’t some copyright claim, but a plea in response to an article from the New York Times that took a lot of heat for saying Glossier’s Emily Weiss leaving the CEO role was the “sunsetting of the girlboss.” While we’re retiring sexist language, I’d add to that petition to also ban the phrase “crypto bros,” especially when it’s an article about crypto startups buying real estate. “I guess women who work at crypto companies based in NYC don’t count!” Haun Ventures’ Rachael Horwitz tweeted.

The irony: “Most of the venture capitalists instructing us how to put out the fires were arsonists until fairly recently,” said BVP’s Adam Fisher.

“Heroes or Villains”? That’s supposedly the title of a drafted press release at the heart of a lawsuit between European VC firm Solid and startup Heroes. In a truly wild story, Heroes claims that the VC firm fabricated documents to claim it had invested and promised a “media war” against the founders. The lawsuit has now been settled, according to Sifted.


For the last 50 years, SAP has worked closely with our customers to solve some of the world’s most intricate problems. We have also seen, and have been a part of, rapid accelerations in technology in response. Across industries, certain paths have emerged to help businesses manage the unexpected challenges over the last few years.

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Inside track

The days of chasing high-TAM businesses that incinerate cash are over, says Slow Ventures’ Sam Lessin. It’s trendy again to care about capital efficiency.

It’s not just SaaS companies that have to watch their burn. Craft Ventures’ Jeff Fluhr took the burn multiple and adjusted it for marketplaces, warning any company above a 2.5 to lower burn.

Why did Coinbase’s CEO write that “mission-driven” company memo? In an interview on the Good Time Show, Brian Armstrong talked about what led up to that moment and how other CEOs can challenge social activism in their companies. Plus, Marc Andreessen made the case that employees shouldn’t bring their “whole self” to work but their “professional self.”

Need to know

Tiger Global hit a new low. Its losses reached 52% and now it’s cutting management fees. Meanwhile Fidelity marked down tech startups like Stripe, Reddit and Instacart.

Two dozen SPACs may die out. There could be a big SPAC shakeout around the corner, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The crypto VC winter is coming*. Investment levels are reportedly down and crypto startups are trimming staff to cope. Coinbase also announced it was going to rescind already-extended job offers. (*That’s if a16z’s new $4.5B fund doesn’t artificially inflate the investing market.)

The DOJ also has crypto in its crosshairs with its first-ever NFT insider trading charge.

Layoff watch: Carbon Health cut 250 people. PolicyGenius trimmed a quarter of its staff just months after raising $125 million. Investors’ favorite email app Superhuman laid off 22% of its staff, while investors’ favorite fundraising pitch format Loom laid off 14%, or 34 people. Social app IRL let go of around 20 employees. Crypto-related startups had a hard week too. Coinbase-backed Rain laid off dozens, while Gemini trimmed 10% of its headcount. In case it’s helpful, Protocol is keeping track of a bunch of layoffs and hiring freezes here.

Layoff fallout: Bolt employees are wondering why its outspoken founder Ryan Breslow hasn’t commented on the layoffs. Gergely Orosz published an account of what happened inside Klarna, including a “night of dread” when U.S. employees had been let go but there was no word in Sweden of who would be losing their jobs.

From Protocol: Kabbage’s co-founders are back with a new startup that offers forgivable loans to employees to help retention.

Also on Protocol: Startups are hard. War is harder. Here’s how startups in Ukraine are surviving.

Your weekend reading: “It’s like a collective Theranos. A wildly unproven product with nobody at the helm,” one VC told Vice. They weren’t talking about a specific company, but instead, the entirety of Web3. Even if you disagree, it’s worth taking in the critique.

Five questions with … Atomic’s Jordan Kong

Jordan Kong is a principal at Atomic where she works on starting and building companies, particularly in Web3. She worked at IVP and Barclays before moving into the crypto world in 2017 when she worked at Expa to co-create Eco. She later joined Polychain Capital before starting at Atomic three years ago.

We're potentially entering a downturn. What's a piece of counterintuitive advice you'd offer to other company builders right now?

Build relationships with strategic and corporate investors. Since their mandate is equally strategic as it is financial, they are less at the mercy of public market swings. A strong strategic relationship could help generate more revenue if the investor is a potential customer or tee you up for an acquisition down the line.

What's different about building Web3 startups versus other startups you've worked with?

It's easy to forget that crypto is as much a social innovation as a technological one. Web3 builders need to think about community and network effects as foundational, not as features on top of the core product. In crypto, the network itself is often the product.

What product or service are you totally, even irrationally, loyal to?

I'm a die-hard Goodreads fan. The product needs an overhaul, but it remains the best social recommendation engine for a good book.

What problem do you want to see a startup solve?

Anxiety and depression are at an all-time high. Many of us have had a tough couple of years due to the pandemic. This generation of kids is growing up with the emotional baggage that comes hand-in-hand with social media. We need better and more accessible options for mental health. We'd all be in a better place if we could give everyone the right outlets and tools to be more mentally resilient.

What book do you think every startup founder should read?

“Creativity, Inc.” by Ed Catmull highlights the power of storytelling and how to manage a team of creatives and builders effectively. I am so inspired by how Pixar pioneered the studio model and a whole new way of organization management.


When companies invest in maintaining their “green ledger” with the same commitment they have to their financial ledgers, they will be able to connect their environmental, social, and financial data holistically so they can steer their business towards sustainability. At the end of the day, what gets measured, gets managed.

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