One of the pivotal decisions I made at CCAW was to hire other high-level thinkers in critical areas. We hired people to lead operations, technology, and product. CCAW was bootstrapped, so we didn’t have tons of cash available to attract the caliber of talent we needed. After much thought and many discussions, I decided to offer some of them equity compensation in the form of stock options. If we achieved certain milestones, their equity compensation would vest and they would have the opportunity to own part of CCAW. This was a good way to align all our interests. We worked toward the same goals.
Equity compensation is a very powerful tool. It can help you land high-caliber talent you otherwise couldn’t afford. When I chose to offer it, I created an employee equity pool. This meant that a certain percentage of CCAW ownership was available for the company to use to compensate employees. Before that, I was the 100% owner of the company. After creating the equity pool, I owned less of the company. I was OK with that.
Founders who want to build big companies will likely need to compensate talent with equity (unless they have substantial cash with which to offer market-rate salaries). Founders who are considering the equity route should research how much equity compensation is appropriate for the stage of the company and the experience level of each candidate. Offer too little equity, and the candidate might reject your offer. Offer too much, and you may not have enough equity left to offer other critical hires.
Company equity is complicated, but it’s something founders should consider understanding sooner rather than later.