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I think we need to coin a new term like: "early employee valley of death" [1]

Post founding, there's this time period where the early employees are expected to work pretty much like founders (long hours, wildly high expectations), but with a greatly reduced salary and the promise of large option grants.

This unfortunately places the employee in a really bad negotiating position with respect to salary increases, etc. as their starting point was so bad. I've been in this spot and a couple years on had to _fight_ just to get a market rate.

1 - Hat tip: Gail Goodman and the long slow SAAS ramp of death - http://businessofsoftware.org/2013/02/gail-goodman-constant-...

It's pretty common advice that you want to be the last founder and not the first employee for this exact reason.

So many times this. The startup I was working for was exactly as you described.

In the end they ran out of money and all the employees got laid off, getting nothing.

Here I am though, working for another startup. This one actually makes money, though.

Yes totally agree with this. I've been there, but with my eyes open. It's still a good experience being employee #1 or #2, as long as one doesn't expect any financial upside for it. Therefore, the key is to put a time limit on your involvement.

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