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March 7, 2024

What is a Founding Account Executive: job overview and salary

John Kim
Co-founder @ Paraform

One of the most crucial hires a startup will make is its first sales hire, A Founding Account Executive (FAE).

An FAE plays a vital part in scaling a startup, as they're tasked with getting quick wins while setting up a sales roadmap for success for all future sales hires.

Here we’ll go over everything you need to know about the role of a Founding Account Executive in a startup and what you should offer them.

What is a Founding Account Executive?

Founding Account Executives are the very first sales hires in a startup. They’re tasked with establishing the initial customer base and building a solid foundation for future sales growth.

FAEs take on the full cycle of a sales rep, where they source their own leads like an SDR, manage the sales process, and close deals–all while building the company’s sales playbook.

What does a Founding Account Executive do?

Founding Account Executives create the playbook for generating new business, manage existing accounts, and make sure that clients are satisfied with the products or services you provide.

In a startup, they usually take on the duties of an SDR, VP of Sales, and Customer Success person all in one. Their role, in short, involves creating a plan, finding leads, selling your product via cold emails, calls, and messages, and doing demos.

Some of their key responsibilities will be:

  • Creating a detailed business plan to reach sales targets and bring in new customers
  • Managing the entire sales cycle from finding a client to securing a deal
  • Discovering new business opportunities through market research, networking, and finding leads
  • Selling and negotiating with potential clients/customers
  • Doing product demos
  • Onboarding new customers and providing continued support
  • Negotiating agreements and keeping records of sales and data

Founding AEs are entrepreneurial and build the manual for sales success.

They select the technology, tools, and create an Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) to form an outbound sales process. On top of this, as you scale, they’ll be in charge of building a team around them.

What skills should a Founding Account Executive have?

44% of startups fail because they run out of cash. So deciding who to task with bringing in more revenue, especially if you’re a sales-led growth startup, is quite a big deal (no pressure!).

A successful FAE hire at a startup looks something like this:

Knowledge of your product through and through (obviously)

Granted, they’re not going to automatically know everything there is to know about your product in the beginning but they will be able to quickly understand what your product is, what problem you’re solving, and how it benefits the end user–and convey that excellently to prospects.

SaaS Sales experience

While it’s not necessary to have experience within your specific niche, i.e. Account Software for Lawyers, an FAE will have experience in the full sales cycle of selling a SaaS product and a proven track record in doing so.

Leadership skills

An FAE should have experience in hiring Account Executives or Sales Development Representatives and be able to train and lead a team. They will have often started as an SDR themselves and climbed the ladder.

Technical expertise

While they won’t be the most tech-savvy person in the business (the engineers usually win this trophy), they will have outstanding knowledge of CRM software (i.e. Salesforce or Hubspot), LinkedIn Sales Navigator, Cognism, and contact finder tools like Bullhorn or ZoomInfo.

FAEs will also be capable of identifying and resolving customer issues related to your product integration or application.

Career path

While degree requirements are set to become obsolete, Account Executives tend to hold an undergraduate degree in business, marketing, accounting, or a related field.

Most FAEs will have started as entry-level SDRs.

From there, they worked their way up to an Account Executive role, where they took on the responsibility of managing their own portfolio of clients.

As they gained experience and built relationships with clients, they were promoted to Senior Account Executive or a team lead role, where they managed a team of account executives or SDRs.

After a few years of experience, and success in sales, they would have continued to climb the ladder to a more senior role, VP of Sales or CEO.

Some then pivot to join a startup and build a startup's sales function from scratch.

Although everyone’s path is different, this is usually the career journey to becoming a Founding Account Executive.

Salary and compensation

An FAE usually takes a base salary and gets bonuses on sales targets, also known as On Target Earnings (OTE).

The average salaries in 2024 are: $112k average, with top of the market making $191k (based on 4-6 years of experience) $152,636 per year

Built In: $94,226 base, $191,049 total compensation

Bravado: $89k base, $151k total compensation $105,994

Although it widely depends on your location and the skills and experience of the candidate, if you’re hiring a Founding Account Executive, you’re roughly looking at around $112k base salary, $40k-$60k OTE, and equity around .05 and .5%.

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