Wanting to leave my startup, but can’t out of loyalty

My boss and I started at another company; I was his intern until he eventually quit his job to continue his families business. He immediately hired me on his team. I have been with this company for over 2 years now straight out of college.

Like many startups, our work environment is very unconventional with the pool table, flat screen TV’s, rock wall, funky furniture etc. Many dream of working here, I once did. My job was always fun and I enjoyed going to work each day. My boss created this culture of a team environment, where we have no titles and we are very independent. I consider my team, including my boss, who is the CEO, all to be really good friends. I’ve attended his family’s Christmas parties, funerals, and even was a part of his sisters wedding.

Being that we have less than 10 people on our team, I have to take on many roles. For example, I am the only tech person, the IT Department, the Web Developer, the Graphic Designer, an Event Coordinator, a Writer, the Sales Department, NonProfit Manager etc. I constantly have to be 5 different people at once, which leaves me overwhelmed. Playing different roles isn’t necessarily a bad thing, sometimes it keeps things interesting and I am always learning new things.

The problem I have is that I am very underpaid. I graduated with my degree in Computer Science, yet I make $15/hr, which doesn’t nearly cover my bills.

I have not asked my boss for a raise, because financially I know the company is struggling to break even. It’s hard to even bring the topic up when I hear my boss complain daily of not having enough money or when I hear that he only received half of a paycheck to make sure we all got paid (he doesn’t make much more than I do either). It would take years for me to get to the salary I deserve, but my expenses and student loans aren’t going to wait for that to happen.

If I leave, I would cripple the day-to-day operations and there aren’t going to be too many tech people willing to do the work I do for that amount of money. Maybe there could be, but I wouldn’t even know where to help them look. Furthermore, I feel like I would hurt them emotionally and I would be disloyal.

Even if I got a raise, the fact is that I have also lost passion for what I do. I dream daily of working for a more established tech company with health benefits, higher salary and more focus on my skills as a Computer Scientist. The financial struggle from being here is just too much for me now.

  • If you do not think you are paid enough why not ask for (more) equity in the business?

    I believe you should stick it out until the business is better off then resign, nicely, with your stock.

    • I say this respectfully, because I’ve been the founder that can’t afford to pay great people. Fuck that! If you are worth your salt, he knows he’s underpaying you. Granted, I’m sure he feels bad, and would feel even worse if you quit, but this is not about personal relationship. If he is mature he will understand that you need to go get paid what you’re worth. If a single employee leaving a business breaks it’s back, it will be a wake up call to the founder that he clearly isn’t on the right path. It will suck! But, in the long run it will be best for both he and you. Now get over hurting his feelings and be a good business person. To yourself right or no one else will. Excuse any typos, Siri…

      • Wow, thank you! You are absolutely right and it means that much more knowing you were a founder in that situation. I definitely need to treat this as a business situation and not personal. Again, thank you.

  • Agree with the first commenter. You need to talk about equity. Your boss may be making peanuts but if the company becomes successful he’ll now reap 100% of the upside. That’s not fair to you.

    However if you really want out. They you could help find convince your boss to give equity to whoever replaces you as an incentive. Many people would be willing to work for peanuts if the upside is promising enough.

    • They said they looked into giving us equity or stock in the company, but for whatever reason are deciding not to go that route. So I do not and will not have equity in the company in my foreseeable future.

      • Therefore you should tell your boss “for whatever reason” you’re taking the route of of that unappreciative company. Seriously what reason can you possibly come up with that makes it in any way fair for you to earn such a meagre wage?

      • quit being Mr. Nice guy. Get tough. Learn to negotiate and play the “game”. Business is a game, Don’t lose.

  • I say you should leave immediately. You didn’t go through all those years of college and incur all that student debt just so that you’d make $15 an hour. You have to look out for your own best interests. The stock is probably not worth much since they’ve been struggling for years.

  • You’re good peeps and you’re the type of person anyone would want on their team but it looks like it’s time for you to go. I think it can be done in an incredibly respectful manner. You can give a long notice. Also, and I’d recommend this, you can have an open conversation with your boss that you’re going to start looking for another position but as this can take a few months it would allow for a solid lead time for them to find your replacement, you train them and you move on. I only suggest this open dialogue because of the relationship you have with the company and I do agree that you’re seriously under compensated. As a founder I’d be sad to see someone like you go but I’d understand.

    • This is excellent advice. Just what I needed to hear. I was thinking of giving a long notice to allow for me to train someone. For once, I do not feel guilty about my decision. 🙂

  • Your boss is complaining about not having enough money because that’s their strategy. Think about it, why else would they do that? It has successfully knocked you off from asking for a raise for a long time.

  • Time to sell the pool table, flat screen TVs, rock wall and other BS. Pay people what they are worth, then invest in “fun” things. Not the other way around.

  • Time to go, you can easily make $60-80K in a non-SV area. You probably won’t impact operations as much as you think you will.

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