Julianne Brands – Aug 2019
Since 2016, the Oregon Venture Fund has collaborated with The Brentwood Group and other regional and national venture funds investing in Oregon and SW Washington to survey and track founder, employee, and board compensation at local venture-backed companies. As the only annual survey focused on Oregon VC-backed startups and growth companies, the data has unique value for identifying trends, benchmarking compensation, and assisting startup executives, investors, and board members with recruiting and retaining key people.
In Spring 2019, we surveyed the venture-backed companies in Oregon & SW Washington and received 28 responses. Most of the responding startups and growth companies are software-intensive, have raised $2-10M in capital, employ 10-50 people, and generate $1-$10M in annual revenue. With five years of data (2015 through 2019) and increasing company participation, the survey is starting to capture meaningful trends and changes.
See here for the full data set and dashboard.
While executive pay at Oregon venture-backed companies has risen steadily since 2015, median compensation continues to lag more established companies by 15-20% (e.g., $150,000 vs. $175,000) median annual base compensation), according to the survey’s advisory panel.
The data also confirms that the cost of senior software engineering talent has risen considerably since 2015. The 2019 median base compensation for VPs of cloud, SaaS, and IT operations reflects an annualized growth rate of 17% since 2015. The comparable annualized increase in compensation for software architects is 10%.
In contrast, junior engineering talent has not experienced the same rapid increase in compensation. Median base comp for software engineers with 3+ years of experience ($97,500) has grown at annualized rate of 4% since 2015. For software engineers with 0 to 2 years of experience ($80,000), the annualized increase has been just 3%.
The demand for technical talent has increased as the Portland area continues to emerge as an engineering hub for startups and global companies. The data shows engineering compensation across all levels of experience growing at more than 5% per year locally. Portland venture-backed companies are increasingly competing for talent with deep-pocketed larger enterprises, such as Amazon and New Relic, who offer top pay, a full package of benefits, and state-of-the-art work environments.
Over the past five years, the cohort of survey participants has, on average, raised more money, and generated higher revenues. In the 2015 dataset, the majority of companies were pre-revenue, with less than $2M raised. As these companies have grown, the data shows they are paying higher salaries and offering smaller option grants. Similarly, the percentage of equity owned by founders has declined, as they’ve raised more capital. These trends match and reflect the trends of more frequent and larger venture capital financings in the Pacific Northwest.
Compared with other region, specifically the Seattle Area & San Francisco Bay Area, salaries of venture-backed companies in Oregon continue to lag by 15% to 45%.
Two position stand out for their significant year-over-year increase in compensation: CFOs ($150K vs $121K) and VPs of customer success ($119.6K vs $107.5K). Our advisory panel confirmed that these two positions are in high demand and short supply both in Oregon and nationally.
CFOs no longer focus on just finance and accounting. Increasingly, they are taking on operational responsibilities and serving as strategic thought partners with the CEO when it comes to business modeling, analysis, and planning, capital requirements, corporate development and partnerships, and fundraising.
The VP of customer success, responsible for the customer experience and often reporting to the CEO, is another significant growth area, as companies focus more on the retention and growth of existing customers. Unsurprisingly, this role has gained prominence as net promotor scores and upselling customers are becoming key performance metrics driving success.
Starting in 2017, we began to ask more about sales team compensation. In this year’s data, we are seeing total compensation for local sales teams align more with market trends. Overall, VP sales and sales reps earn higher overall compensation, but on a percentage basis we’re seeing a lower base salary and higher variable component. According to our advisory panel, compensation for sales teams are currently roughly 50% base and 50% variable, but the market average is moving towards 40% base and 60% variable, which our data suggests as well.
Greater Oregon continues to rise as a competitive region for hiring talent and starting companies. However, as the regional economy becomes more competitive, and more expensive, to hire and retain employees, startups in our region need more capital than ever to fuel their growth.
Over the five years covered in these surveys, it has become increasingly clear that as a regional venture economy we are undercapitalizing companies and undercompensating employees. To better support our high-growth, venture-backed startups, we will need to ensure they have access to larger amounts of growth capital to hire and retain the best employees.
We would like to thank our compensation advisory panel of leading local HR executives for lending their expertise with structuring, analyzing, and interpreting the survey:
- Heather Flynn - Head of talent, ASML, formerly Puppet and Nike
- Mike Guerchon - CPO at RealWear, formerly Puppet, Okta, and Riverbed Technologies
- Frank Moscow – President of The Brentwood Group, a top executive recruiting firm for West Coast tech companies.
And a huge thank you to the executives of the venture-backed companies who participated in the survey.
For more information, please contact:
Julianne Brands, partner, Oregon Venture Fund