Here’s how much executives are paid for working in Australian startups

- April 29, 2020 4 MIN READ
Photo: AdobeStock
Australians startups executives are among the country’s best paid workers, earning more than $200,000 a year, but that money is mostly going to blokes, a new report into startup pay has found.

The Australian Startup Salary Guide 2019/2020, produced by startup talent and growth firm Think & Grow, and Amazon Web Services (AWS), looked at the wages of 1000 people working in 63 venture capital-backed startups, to build a picture of what people get paid.

The dig around the ecosystem concluded that $10 million is the magic capital number – once you’ve raised that much money, the business gets serious and goes shopping for key hires such as a CFO.

The $10m mark is where founders stop being all-rounders and focus on dedicated people for roles in HR, legal, finance, risk, compliance, customer support and strategy, opening the chequebook (okay, Single Touch Payroll) generously to do it.

Of all hires, dedicated product (48%), HR (82%) and sales (55%) positions appear at the $10 million mark, having often previously been outsourced.

Heavyweight hires also surge at this point, with CTO/VPs of engineering (53%) and CFOs (58%) coming on board. Interestingly, COOs tend to make an earlier appearance, with hires in 77% in startups who raise $5 million.

But one of the key findings was the lack of women in STEM roles. Among the startups surveyed, women comprised just 12.9% of founder CTOs and zero CFO roles. Instead they dominated three key areas at exec level: 75% of senior marketing roles, 50% of senior HR and 55% of customer service roles.

And there’s a depressing flow on from that too: fewer women means less VC funding. Female founders are not only scarce, but their startups didn’t attract more than $3 million in funding.

But once the business has hit the $10m raise benchmark, the big bucks flow on the C-suite, with CEO, engineering, and finance roles as the most lucrative.

Here are the mean salaries for the top five roles.

Top five salaries in Australian startups 

*figures represent mean salary in businesses that have raised between $10 million to $50 million

Founder, CEO 


VP/Head of Operations 


Chief Financial Officer 


Chief Technology Officer 


VP/Head of Product 



The other good news when it comes to high-paying jobs, the report concluded, was that heavyweight hires, such as COOs and data scientists are on the rise as the ecosystem matures.

And here’s an interesting quirk: founders who raise money earlier pay themselves better, give themselves more equity and generally have more gender diverse teams.

Early-stage founders who’ve raised $500,000 or less pay themselves a mean salary of $76,792, while founders who have raised $50 million or more also have the mean salary listed above – $227,551.

But as more capital is raised, the number of founder CEOs decreases, which indicates that as startups mature, founders either take a backseat or exit.

Think and Grow director Jonathan Jeffries believes the more mature end of the tech-startup sector is defying the current economic downturn, including when it comes to wages, with hires in software and IT up 17.3%.

While there are temporary pay cuts and reduced hours, in line with general business conditions, they didn’t see a shift in salary levels

“Even with COVID-19 layoffs, we aren’t seeing current salaries reduce from the salary data reflected in the report,” he said.

“Talent in tech is still a premium, despite economic decline across other industries. Tech jobs are still growing and skillsets are in high demand.  The recruitment work we still have globally shows the same salary levels as was six months ago.

Jeffries said the Australian Startup Salary Guide findings should demonstrate to government the importance of looking after the tech sector.

“The tech sector is a driver for the future of Australia’s economy and it’s essential we support this industry for generations to come,” he said.

“The jobs of today and yesterday will be vastly different from those in 5, 10 and 20 years’ time. Globally and locally, we are seeing shortages of skills in product, engineering, sales roles. Specialists across AI, Machine Learning, Data Science, amongst others, are particularly in high demand in Australia.

“Once we move out of the current economic turmoil, new roles and needs will appear in the current skillset shortages, as well as new technology needs. With the amount of qualified, skilled staff being let go, it’s clear we must act now and support in the training of tomorrow’s economy.”

Jeffries said Think & Grow is trying to play its part by extending free career coaching services to anyone in the technology industry made redundant.


The tech glass ceiling

One issue the report highlighted was tech’s gender problem. Women account for a majority of low-level roles, but they disappear when it comes to executive positions.

You’ll find them in 66% of accountancy roles, 55% of customer service roles and 77% of office manager roles, but unless it’s marketing (as mentioned above, along with HR and customer service, their absence is notable, with one other exception – 66% of data scientist roles.

Data scientists now comprise 3.5% of all new job hires in the sector.

Among the startups surveyed after raising between $10-50 million, women were absent in roles including CFO, CTO/VP Engineering, VP/Head of Sales or Head of Operations.

This year’s salary survey also reveals graduate and junior engineering positions are rare, despite 40% of all startup hires being in engineering

Jeffries says this indicates a need to develop solid mentoring programs within startups, enabling younger engineers to land satisfying roles and broaden the local talent pool.