August 27th, 2021 | By: Wil Schroter
No one cares what we have — they care that they don't have it.
That's a huge problem for Founders because we often have very asymmetrical compensation compared to the rest of our staff. We have more equity, we have a higher salary. We're on an investor retreat to some insanely cool resort while they are freezing their asses off in our cramped office. We're driving the new Benz while they're sharing a Kia with their roommate.
No matter what the delta is, what we have and what everyone else does not will always be a problem. As the organization grows, and the delta between our lifestyle and that of our staff increases, this situation only gets exponentially worse.
What we need to do is first understand why it's happening and then be mindful of how to manage it.
Before we talk about how to manage it, let's talk about why the problem exists to begin with. Fundamentally humans feel like they deserve more, regardless of the situation. Have you ever heard someone turn down a raise? Why hasn't someone said "Well, 5 years ago I never thought I'd be making this much, so I'm good. No more raises for me!"
We all want more, and that's OK. The problem gets exacerbated when the people who have more are living in the same conditions. If our team is parking next to us, eating lunch with us, and working from the same office every day, yet we're flying on a private jet and they are sitting on a Greyhound bus, there's no version where they say "This is cool, I'm super happy for them." When we see Jeff Bezos hop in his own rocket ship, we don't worry about that because he's in some other orbit (literally) from us. But the closer Jeff gets to our own lives, the easier it is to wonder why that delta is too far away when our lives are so close.
The moment we say "That's just the way it is, everyone has to accept it" is the moment we make the problem 100x worse. It's not that we haven't earned that luxury, it's that we have to be self-aware enough to understand that our luxury directly correlates to someone else's pain.
When I was a poor kid, I had a good friend who would go on all of these incredible vacations all over the world with his parents. He would come back all tanned and happy and recount all the cool shit they got to do. Meanwhile, we didn't own a phone because we couldn't pay for the service. At no point was I thinking "Welp, I'm just poor so I guess that's the way it is!" He was my friend, and at some level, I was happy for him, but that wasn't the primary trigger — it was jealousy and envy because I wanted that and I couldn't have it.
Pretending that everyone else is going to magically suppress all of those feelings simply because it's not convenient for us personally is a dangerous position to take. Those same feelings of jealousy and envy spark all of the negative cultural behaviors we could possibly imagine, from folks rooting against us to, in the extreme, conspiring to ruin us.
How we present our asymmetry of compensation to our staff has a very real consequence to us as Founders. We want them to be on our team, and ideally, we want these same great outcomes for them. But we have to be incredibly careful as to how we present that asymmetry and how we present ourselves.
That means not everything is a social media moment. What's an innocent selfie on the Amalfi Coast to us is yet another slap in the face to a team member who's struggling to make ends meet. Like everything else we do with our startup, we have to consider the consequences of our actions, and those actions are more often going to cost us than help us.
This isn't about trying to pretend the delta doesn't exist — it's the opposite. It's about recognizing that the delta does in fact exist and being incredibly considerate to those in our world who can be unduly harmed and affected by it. We can enjoy all the great things life has to offer — but sometimes we need to consider who isn't at the party.
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Wil Schroter is the Founder + CEO @ Startups.com, a startup platform that includes Bizplan, Clarity, Fundable, Launchrock, and Zirtual. He started his first company at age 19 which grew to over $700 million in billings within 5 years (despite his involvement). After that he launched 8 more companies, the last 3 venture backed, to refine his learning of what not to do. He's a seasoned expert at starting companies and a total amateur at everything else.