How to Evaluate Startup Offers for Software Engineers

Software Engineering
Michael SmitMichael SmitLast updated
This article is part of our series on Software Engineering. For even more help and resources, check out our complete Software Engineering Interview Course.

You’ve got multiple offers from startups engineering positions, but how do you choose which one to take? It’s the wild west out there. What do you do if one offers a higher salary but another offers more equity? How about if one is in an industry you love but another is in a location you love?

The right choice usually isn’t as simple as signing up with whoever throws the highest paycheck your way. With so many factors to consider, this article aims to compile the most important factors into one easy-to-read resource for software engineers evaluating startup offers.

Salary and equity

Generally, salary is the bottom line. A high salary can make all the other factors feel like non-issues. An hour-long commute feels like a lot less than an hour when the company is paying you well. is a great resource for helping software engineers learn what a fair salary is in the industry.

Additionally, you’ll find that plenty of those offers come with equity options. Companies are more willing to bump up your equity options than your salary. You already have more than one offer, so you’re in a position to negotiate. Asking your prospects for more equity is a good place to start.

When you’re looking at those equity options, consider your long-term plan. Will this job be a stepping stone for you, or are you looking to settle in for the long haul? If you’ll move on from the company before four or so years, then don’t put much value in that equity.

When evaluating equity, think about how much you expect the company to grow. That equity you have in your startup company will only convert to cash when the startup sells or becomes public. So look at the companies from the perspective of an investor. If the company has a promising future, then so does your equity.

Startup or established company

You’ve got offers from startups, but are startups a right fit for you? Take a moment to consider the pros and cons of working for a startup compared to working for a well-established company.

In short: startups often have a more exciting and challenging atmosphere, while established companies can offer you more stability. This is a generalization, so it won’t apply to every company or every team in a company, but it’s generally the right idea.

Teams at startups are smaller, so you might be pulled to help in different departments. This allows you to develop skills you might not otherwise get to experience. On top of that, the small team environment means that your impact matters more. And of course, the sky’s the limit if you end up working for the right startup early on and accept an offer with equity.

Still, there’s a lot of good to be said for stability. The swim or die atmosphere with startups can be exciting, but also exhausting. Larger, established companies have already worked through their problems, and they’re more interested in retaining talent. You’ll still develop skills and there’s still room for growth, but it’ll be easier to develop life outside of work when the office isn’t moving at a breakneck speed.

The right industry

Working in an industry you care about is satisfying. Consider which of your offers puts you in a position to eventually work in the field of your dreams.

If there’s no industry that you’ve got your heart set on, then it’s good advice to choose a software engineering job at a company where their main product is software.

Evan Chen previously worked as an engineer for one of Silicon Valley’s biggest tech companies before leaving to create his startup—Akia, a guest relations AI tool for hotels. Chen said:

“In general, I always say software engineers will have the best time at a company where the business's primary product is software.”

As an example, he said that a software engineer might have a tough time with the company culture if they pick up a job building back-end infrastructure at a bank, because that company’s main focus isn’t on the software.

Mentors matter

Don’t think of this position as just a job. Instead, think of it as one more step towards your ultimate career goals. With that in mind, which of your offers can better set you up for achieving those goals? The answer will be the one with an environment that can provide you with better mentorship.

Find out everything you can about the specific team you’ll be working on and the teams you’ll regularly interact with. Look for an environment that puts you in regular contact with senior engineers.

This is one of the greatest advantages to working at a major tech company like Google or Facebook. You will learn a lot by working with a large team of skilled engineers, and that quickly accelerates your career.


We go to work for the salary, but it’s a nice perk if the office puts us in a good mood. Therefore, ask questions to learn about the company culture.

This is easier said than done because it’s the company will put on a good face during the interview. Here’s three things you can do to go deeper and learn more about a company’s culture:

●       Ask questions - Simple advice, but often forgotten. Ask your interviewer what a day is like for someone in your position. Ask why the position is vacant. Ask them to describe the team you’ll work with.

●       Tour the office - Ask if you can walk around the office or if they’d mind giving you a tour. You’ll likely get a good understanding of the office culture, just by walking around.

●       Talk with employees - If you want to learn more, find a way to talk to current employees. You can ask the interviewer if they can connect you, or you can find current employees through social media. LinkedIn is great for this.

Also, be sure to find out if the job requires you to be in the office every day. Fabiola Cabrera has worked as a web developer for two different startups, and her current one—Ciaflo—allows remote work. She chooses to work in the office usually, but the flexibility is a comfort. She said:

“Find a job where you don’t have to be in the office to work. No one likes to be tied to a desk.”

Location, location, location

Location is huge. Do you know people in the area? Are you comfortable with the weather? Can you find a place to live near the workplace? These are issues that seem minor in the first few weeks at a job, but become major after months or years at a job. The location of where you work has a significant impact on your quality of life.

It can also have a significant impact on your budget. We mentioned before that salary is often the bottom line, but you have to compare salary to your cost of living. A $90,000 yearly salary is great in most places, but you’ll need to find a roommate if it’s in San Francisco.

Before accepting any offer, do your due diligence to research the cost of living. Numbero is a useful tool for cost of living adjustments.

In short

Salary is important, but do your homework and learn about all the other factors when you’re choosing between startup offers. Learn about the company culture, the work style of the team you’ll be on, and consider how well each offer will set you up for your future career goals. Also, it’s very important that you take cost of living into account when comparing salaries.

Still got questions? We’re happy to help. Visit Exponent’s Software Engineer Course for more tips.

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