If you are a business founder and want to start a tech company, you will need a developer. He or she could be your co-founder, freelancer, consultant. An ideal case would be a co-founder who believes in your idea and wants to go all out with you to build a great company.
Not every early stage business can afford to hire a full-time developer. The truth is, you probably can’t pay one. The best option most people choose is to offer them equity. But the big question is: How much equity is good enough to attract a Chief Technical Officer? Most of them demand greater percentage of your business but you don’t necessarily have to give away a huge percentage of your business away just to attract a developer who probably won’t be your co-founder or commit fully to your vision. There is always an option.
If you can identify with this scenario, the advice from these entrepreneurs, founders and advisors can help you decide how much equity to give a CTO.
1. Joe Monastiero Entrepreneur / Advisor / CEO, Founder at nFlate.
I have 2 separate opinions on this question. 1st, I was in a slightly similar situation a year and a half ago. I had an idea for a company and needed a CTO partner to help me execute on the idea (data science business). I matched up with a talented former colleague and we agreed to split the company (my idea, his engineering). I’ve since figured out that this is virtually NEVER a good idea (50/50 splits). Regardless, he never wrote any code in 4 months, we could not fund the paper napkin and we parted ways amicably.
I then went to a Startup Weekend, found 3 guys to help me build a concept demo (relatively jr but talented engineers) and we’ve been together now for a year (we pivoted in August and will release our MVP next month). They worked part-time, I worked full-time. We now have 2 more part-timers on the project. So…I’d suggest that if the CTO you’re considering can build your MVP platform by himself (get you to market) or with minimal assistance AND you are personality compatible, then 15-20% is fair (assuming no real engineering has been done to date).
An alternative is to find some part-timers as I did (if you do not believe the CTO candidate can build the platform completely) and offer them smaller pieces (that might also add up to 15-20%). The difference for me is I now have a team of 5 or 6 for the approximate price of a CTO and I have 3 different core skillsets included. I believe I was very fortunate to find the core 3 guys all in one Startup Weekend, but I cannot be sure that it does not happen all the time. Lastly, if TTM is critical (not enough cash to bootstrap for too long), then 15-20% might be your only option. You cannot raise outside capital in today’s market without MVP and traction.
2. Tim Kilroy Entrepreneur / Advisor / CEO at Adchemix ( Applied Data Science for Retailers)
The amount of equity that you give him depends on him & you. How much do you value him? How much can he do that you can’t without him. You state that this isn’t a “co-founder” role, but it is “ground floor”. I think you want to share equity generously with the “ground floor” team (and I am not sure what a “co-founder role is, honestly, once you have “founded” a company, you and everybody else are on the same team – I think we fetishize the role of “founder” and “co-founder” a little too much – a great team member can bring MUCH more value than a founder (and honestly, they often do).
Pay your CTO what you think they are worth…if they make your company 3x as successful as it would be without them, what would that be worth to you? 10x? 100X? Are they taking equity in lieu of pay? Think of the cash and equity as levers that you can pull – more cash means less equity, more equity means less cash – but you have to respect that people need to live. This CTO may be worth more to you than he might be to someone else – does he feel like a partner who should receive recompense in the event of your success? Is he a partner who will work for the company’s best interest (even when different than his own?).
The amount of equity that you share is related to his worth to your organization – when it comes down to early stage team, there is no market comp – there is a market of 1 – one company one candidate – the rest goes out the window. Answer this question – do you believe that your company will be significantly more successful with him than without him? If so, it is your job (as CEO) to do the right thing for the company (even if it dilutes your equity stake – as CEO, you are a servant of the company…). My take is this: If he is the right person, then make the deal with whatever tools you have available – just be sure to add a 6 month or 12 month cliff in their vesting schedule….