Startup Employee Options

Do we need a new pay system for the way startup employees are compensated? While many people agree that the current 90-day exercise practice — an outdated relic of when companies used to go public/get liquidity in a much shorter timeframe — is far from ideal, neither are some of the other solutions proposed so far. Because incentives matter, and behavior follows incentives. Which is fine as long as you know all the implications around what you’re incentivizing for and it aligns to what you want as a founder for your company and employees.So “let’s get it out from under the rug, let’s talk about it, and let’s design a system that works for whatever you want your company to be”, argue a16z partners Ben Horowitz and Scott Kupor in this episode of the a16z Podcast. The discussion goes beyond just the question of a 10-year exercise to other configurations — such as Snapchat’s model and Tesla’s model for timing options, as well as radical experiments like “progressive equity“. What are the tradeoffs of each approach? How does the type of company you’re building (a complex hardware or infrastructure-heavy startup for example) change things? How does the broader environment affect all these considerations (and might plans to create a new long-term stock exchange help)?

Finally, is it fair to treat tenure as a proxy for the actual value a particular employee contributed to building the company? Or to optimize for earlier vs. later employees, particular if the earlier ones de-risked the company and later ones helped scale it? And what do different employees want — more options, more RSUs, cash, more ownership, more stability, more mobility? All this and more in this episode…

To listen to the full podcast, click here: