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The inside story of the venture capital and startup world by Biz Carson.
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Women running startups took a bigger pay cut during the pandemic than men

Women took a larger salary cut than men during the pandemic.

Hello and welcome to Pipeline. We're taking next week off to observe the Fourth of July. This week: what tech founders own when they exit, Peter Thiel's Roth IRA, and how the startup CEO pay gap widened during the pandemic.

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Overheard

  • VC ≠ venture capital. "Venture capital seems too small for SoftBank. Vision capital is more like it," said Masayoshi Son.
  • CCC decies ad obsidendam in comitatu: "Sign of the times – A tech company I love is raising $300M with Latin placeholder text in their fundraising pitch! ('Loren ipsum dolor sit …')" tweeted angel investor Hadi Partovi.
  • Is "concierge" the new EA? A16z is hiring for an "entry-level" role with 10 years of experience for someone to plan dinners and travel itineraries for partners.

Biz on Biz

Female startup CEOs took a 30% pay cut during COVID-19. The same didn't happen for men.

When the pandemic hit last spring, startup CEOs took a hard look at their finances and started crunching the numbers on how to survive a potential doomsday scenario. Healy Jones ended up fielding a lot of the calls as VP of financial planning and analysis at Kruze Consulting, an accounting firm that works with hundreds of venture-backed startups.

In a crisis, cash flow is king. And cutting executive salaries sends a good message to employees and investors.

  • "There were a lot of investors who were saying you have to cut expenses now," Jones said. "So we were spending a lot of time on the phone with our founders, helping them figure out how they might adjust their budgets to preserve cash flow because no one knew what's happening."
  • Personnel costs were an easy place to start, which is why many companies saw layoffs and CEOs took pay cuts to help extend their company's runway.

The pay cuts disproportionately impacted female CEOs, who took a large salary hit during the pandemic, according to data analyzed by Kruze, which tracks startup CEO salaries over the years. The firm looked at anonymized CEO salary data for over 250 venture-backed startups, including more than 40 female-run companies.

  • Female CEOs saw a nearly 30% dip in their average salaries in April. It took months for the numbers to crawl back, the data showed.
  • The average salary for male CEOs didn't really see a hit at all. The male CEOs who did take a salary cut were washed out by the male CEOs who took raises at the time, something that often happens in conjunction with a new funding round as companies raced to raise cash.
  • "We knew that there was this trend of a lot of CEOs trying to cut their own pay to help the company, but we didn't realize that it had fallen disproportionately on women," Jones told me. "That was a shock."

Salary levels haven't returned to pre-pandemic levels in 2021.

  • There was a $5,000 pay gap between the average male and female CEO salary at the start of 2020, according to Kruze's data. In 2021, that widened to $16,000.
  • It's part of a larger trend of the pandemic disproportionately affecting women. Some estimates calculate that women lost $800 billion in income globally during the pandemic.

"Not to throw VCs under the bus…" but Jones thinks this is something venture capitalists have direct control over, and the power to effect change.

  • "VCs should go and when they walk into their next board meeting where they've funded a female CEO, they ought to just take a quick look to make sure the person is being compensated as they are compensating their male CEOs," Jones said.
  • The big firms should also run their own salary data reports for their portfolio companies, and correct any disparities where salaries may remain depressed from the earlier pandemic cuts, particularly looking at female CEOs, he said.

The pay gap may be wider — but it's something venture capitalists can fix now if they just run the numbers for their own companies instead of waiting for the next board meeting or financial planning session.

A MESSAGE FROM MICRON

Recently, Micron announced new memory and storage innovations across its portfolio based on its industry-leading 176-layer NAND and 1α (1-alpha) DRAM technology. But what does "1α" mean, and just how amazing is it?

Learn more

Inside Track

  • How much do tech founders own of their companies when they exit? Blossom Street Ventures's Sammy Abdullah crunched through 160 tech IPOs and found the average was 20%.
  • Every company needs to have a North Star metric, said growth ninja Lenny Rachitsky. In a post on a16z's new media site Future, he lays out what metric drove strategy at 40 of the top growth-stage companies.
  • SPACs, but make them in space! "You combine that interest in SPAC-ing early-stage, high-growth companies with the promise of space colonization, and naturally we're seeing a lot of space companies coming to the SPAC market," said Bessemer's David Cowan in the firm's discussion of "SPACs in Space."
  • China has slowed in birthing unicorns, and most billion-dollar startups are still clustered in Silicon Valley and New York. With over 700 billion-dollar startups now, Elad Gil breaks down where the unicorns are grazing.
  • If you're joining a hypergrowth startup, know that you're being hired to fix problems, not to point them out, says On Deck's Andreas Klinger in his advice to employees joining high-velocity startups.

Need to Know

  • Peter Thiel turned less than $2,000 in a Roth IRA into $5 billion. You're either reading this story in disgust or calling your financial adviser (or for some of you, maybe both). ProPublica has a deep look into how Thiel amassed his fortune in a tax-sheltered retirement account — although if you'd been reading Protocol editor Owen Thomas's work, you may have known about this since he first wrote about it for Gawker Media's Valleywag in 2009.
  • Silicon Valley's favorite stock exchange gets its first listing. Both Asana and Twilio will list on the Long-Term Stock Exchange (where their CEOs are also early investors).
  • The four firms celebrating this weekend: Benchmark, Index, Emergence Capital and InterWest Partners all turned pre-revenue investments into a billion dollars following the Confluent and Doximity IPOs, CNBC reported. Confluent doubled its valuation in IPO, proving that the age of real-time data analytics is here, writes Protocol's Joe Williams.
  • "Muskian" rewards: Blend Labs co-founder Nima Ghamsari was given a $10.9 billion pay incentive package, according to Forbes.
  • Visa's Plaid deal do-over: It's paying more than $2 billion for Swedish fintech Tink.
  • I got 99 LPs, and 901 more: Most venture funds are capped at 99 limited partners, which is why it shocked a lot of folks when Weekend Fund announced it had raised from 1,000. (That is not a typo.) Here's how Ryan Hoover and Vedika Jain did it.
  • The Future, according to a16z. The firm launched its highly-anticipated content venture that's supposed to make people excited about the future and then turn to a16z to back it. It's open to outside voices to contribute though, and other venture firms say the weird collaborative and competitive nature of venture would make them participate. "It's in the best interest of VCs to collaborate — help each other on deal flow, adding someone to a round, etc.," wrote JetBlue Technology Ventures's Sarah Mattina. "So I think this new media outlet has more potential to be helpful than hurtful."
  • On Protocol: We launched Protocol | Workplace, which is all about the future of work. Some of my favorite stories from the launch include how Amazon is pushing to legalize weed but defending its own employee drug testing in court, how annual shareholder meetings are a new battleground for tech workers and how Twitter hired tech's biggest critics to build ethical AI.
  • Release radar: Twitch founder Justin Kan unveiled Kin Habits, a new habit tracker inspired by his own struggle with alcohol addiction as a founder.
  • Your weekend reading: Jeffrey Fang was the model for a gig economy worker, then his children were kidnapped as he was making a DoorDash delivery. Wired has a powerful and sad narrative on what it looks like on the front lines as a gig worker.

Five Questions With...

A Leading Investor from a Well-Known Firm

Really, the only interview you need to read with a leading venture capitalist this week is this satirical interview by TechCrunch's Alex Wilhelm. I'm still laughing about it.

A MESSAGE FROM MICRON

Recently, Micron announced new memory and storage innovations across its portfolio based on its industry-leading 176-layer NAND and 1α (1-alpha) DRAM technology. But what does "1α" mean, and just how amazing is it?

Learn more

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