Founding a startup is a great idea, you may become as rich as Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg. Wait... or may not. It of course depends on your skills and perspiration they say. And some mention luck.

If we look at all the IT engineers who are employees in Silicon Valley (or better in the entire US, UK, or EU) and all the IT engineers who were brave to become a startup founder (failed or not) and calculate the average employee income and startup founder income. What would be that figures.

In other words, whether being an employee or being a startup founder gives you a higher average reward as an IT engineer. Statistically is it worth running after that carrot called own startup as opposed to sitting in the office chair 9 to 5?

Does anyone know about any available datasets around this?

Apologies if I posted it in the wrong stackexchange, in this case please point me to a right one.

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    Does it really matter if the average is higher? You've got a handful of billionaires in the startup realm that will significantly skew the average but that doesn't mean you're likely to make more with a startup. – Hart CO Oct 10 '20 at 15:33
  • How do you define average income? If you look at monthly income, there is a lot of churn and some selection bias, the people who are left a couple of years after founding a startup are those making money, the rest will have moved on one way or the other. The average at any one point in time doesn't necessarily tell you what you actually want to know. Lifetime income could be more relevant but creates its own difficulties: many startup founders were employees and founders of failed or moderately successful startups can become one again. – Relaxed Oct 10 '20 at 15:57
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    @HartCO On average, Bill Gates and I are Billionaires. – JohnFx Oct 10 '20 at 18:24
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    Income is not net worth. Most startups never get the to stage where they go public. Also when do we stop counting something as a startup? Are Apple, Intel, Microsoft, Google, Facebook still startups. Was Sprint a startup? It can trace back to the 1800's, and so can IBM and AT&T. – mhoran_psprep Oct 10 '20 at 18:31

There are something like 10-30 million programmers

In contrast there are a handful of "founders who made it" to the point of making a billion, and there's only a small number - a few thousand? - who made (say) 10s of millions.

Further, note that programmers are insanely well-paid. Unless you're a complete idiot, any programmer can build say $1m in wealth each working decade, if not much more.

I'm, uh, afraid to say I can't find any statistics but it would surely seem that "programmers en masse" beat "founders en masse"

Further issues,

  1. I'm not sure if you're asking the question this way - there's an incredibly low chance of going from "founder - trying" to "founder - made a pile". Did you mean "assuming that" the founder makes it?

  2. Don't forget there's the issue where very many programmers in fact collect a hit from options or similar instruments for being part of a startup. Many/most programmers work at a few startups along the way, collecting paper, and hoping one hits. This doesn't get you "founder money" but certainly many programmers collect the odd six figure or even much bigger bonus this way along the way. This probably factors in to your question.

  3. Note that there are "soft hits" as well, which programmers are exposed to. It's relatively common (I mean in terms of your "become a billionaire" question) for programmers to have a " 'small' " hit on an app store, stumble on to a tool that sells, or have a niche web site that's a hit for few years, and "merely" pick up the odd half million or couple million bucks from that. i think in the spirit of your question you're not including that, but it very much adds up on the "ordinary old programmer" statistics side.

Hence, attempting to answer the spirit of your question,

Statistically is it worth running after that carrot called own startup as opposed to sitting in the office chair 9 to 5?

Almost certainly not. Simply since programmers enjoy crazy pay, and, on top of that there are typical kickers along the way, all you have to do is be mediocre and show up for a couple decades, and you'll be "millionaire-next-door" rich very easily.

However, do please note that money is an illusion which means nothing. All that matters is enjoying the finest wine, having pointlessly expensive cars, incredibly attractive children, and designer accessories.



  • I like this answer because it actually applies well to quite a few professional level jobs. It's not difficult to have a 9-5 and supplement that income with high-margin side work and good old fashioned networking. It just takes work. – acpilot Oct 12 '20 at 4:07

I don't have any statistics (perhaps our sister site Open Data Stack Exchange is a better place to ask for them), but I wouldn't be surprised if the average is exactly the same. Entrepreneurship is all about taking (moderate or large) risks in order to get a bigger reward; that means you're more likely to fail than when you're an employee, but if you don't, you'll earn more as a startup / self-employed than when you're employed.

Of course, whether you can take that risk depends on a lot of factors, e.g. whether you have a spouse or parents who can take care of you if you don't earn any income for a prolonged period, or if you have saved enough to survive it.


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