There are moments in life where you stand up for yourself. There are also moments where you do something incredibly stupid. Sometimes, those moments are Schrodinger’s cat until your CEO reads his email. tldr: All I really want is a beat up Miata.
I’ve been thinking about picking up a used Miata. A cheap ass Miata. A $2,500 Miata with a sex-toy shift knob and mismatched body panels or a rear trunk covered in zebra duct tape. The problem is - my financial statements say “your landlord is raising your rent, your company is moving to a new office and wants to charge you for parking, and you haven’t had a raise in 3.5 years”.
I’ve thought a lot lately about that last part. When I joined a start-up in February of 2013, I left an excellent job at an Ivy League university and a financial situation where I could have afforded a $1500/mo car payment. That job paid fairly and my rent was cheap but I was miserable. So when the opportunity came up to join a [very] ambitious start-up in San Francisco as one of the first hires, I jumped on it. The salary negotiation was simple and fair. The company was closing it’s first 1 million dollars in angel funding and had a successful Kickstarter. In a matter of 30 seconds we had a number that a seed stage company could afford and a that I could get by on - but there certainly wouldn’t be any big car payments.
In fact, when I got to the city, I found that to make things work comfortably I’d have to make more sacrifices than I realized - like living in Oakland, getting a roommate, coasting on my previous over-payment of my car loan to pay off my self-financed move, and paying minimums on student loans. After all, if things worked out, I’d be in a good position at a growing company and would quickly reap the benefits of having been in early (like rapid growth of responsibilities and pay).
In those early days, things were great. Our founders did the typical ramen noodles and sleeping on the company couch routine and the all-for-one and one-for-all was in full swing. Everyone pretty much took care of one another. Times changed, we got better at what we were doing, found some success, got a good amount of press, and did what we did best: made technology. We opened new offices, hired more than 100 people, and raised more 80 million dollars.
However, as some things changed - others stayed the same. Our CEO gave himself a raise. Our founders got raises - then moved to the office with the cheapest rent and lowest cost of living. Our CEO’s wife got a board seat and a raise. We hired executives, many of which didn’t work out. One of our latest executives, a cut-throat COO from the private equity world has been an interesting adventure in his own right.
To his credit, he’s made it his mission to fix some pretty big flaws - not the least of which is our compensation system. It’s riddled with issues including a gender pay gap that you could park a Unimog in. For months there has been talk about a comprehensive salary review and level setting. “Wipe the slate clean - fix the issues”. One of those issues? The case of some 15 or so people who have been at the company for years but haven’t seen a nickel in compensation growth. To put it in perspective, if you do my job at a competitor, you make $10. For every $10 you make for it, I make $5.
“You won’t get it if you don’t ask” is what they say. Well, asking has been met with strings of excuses so long that Ayn Rand would weep. Hell, BMW would start shortening the names of their cars if they had to sit through hearing time and time again about how whiny people are for asking.
But this was different. New COO (with CFO type experience), new grasp on financials, and new effort on fair pay. Heck, he bench marked not one, not two, not three, but five different services in building the data for the adjustments.
But when our COO returned from a trip this afternoon he casually said “So about pay leveling - it’s going to happen but frankly, your adjustment probably won’t be what you would expect. You should drop the CEO a note to make sure he knows what you think you’re worth. Got to run, see ya.”
I stood there for a moment and felt shockingly little. I’ve been through the emotions. I’ve lost sleep over it already months ago. I just don’t care anymore. I’m still coming to work and doing my job (really damn well mind you) because I have 1) pride, 2) care a great deal for my coworkers, and 3) want to see my small amount of company stock - which is still vesting for a short while longer - be worth something.
The thing that I find most remarkable is that all of the strife and politics over pay adjustment has come down to a battle over principles and how to compensate fairly. Should it be based on the market or should it be based on a theory written about by a WWII era organizational psychologist? Regardless, the debate has stalled action for months.
So today I sent an email, at the prompt of our COO, to our CEO (he now lives in a different time zone) and it was probably one of the bluntest things I’ve ever said. In short: I’m tired of hearing talk about this, this isn’t complicated, here are 7 job listings for similar jobs at similar companies that include how much they pay - I trust you to pick a reasonable number.
So now I wait. Timezones be damned. But you know what? All I really want is a beat up Miata.