Sick Money: Candidate Edition

Have you ever heard someone talk about earning "sick money" in the tech industry and wondered what it actually means? 

The phrase "sick money" refers to an impressive salary that someone earns, usually in the tech industry. But what exactly makes someone's salary impressive is subjective and varies from person to person.

As a search firm representing talent across Product, Design, Sales, and Marketing, we can confirm that some people in the tech industry earn "sick money." But, the definition of "sick money" is different for everyone and is often related to specific reasons.

In this blog, we'll take a closer look at the salaries of real-life candidates we’ve met. They all work in the tech industry and earn what some might consider "sick money." We'll also examine the factors that contribute to their impressive salaries.

Larry the Lifer

  • Larry is a Product Manager based in Canada.
  • He's a "lifer" at the company he joined 14 years ago.
  • Since then, the company IPO’d, was taken private, acquired, and then divested. It's been a roller coaster, but Larry has stuck it out.
  • Larry is one of the few original employees and, for that reason, is one of the few people who knows everything there is to know about the product.
  • That product generates $40M in annual revenue and has large global clients.
  • There isn't a lot of investment being made into that product; in fact, it's still an ONPREM product, so Larry's job is to make sure the large customers continue to use it, even if it means doing bespoke customizations from time to time.
As an individual contributor Product Manager, Larry earns $235K USD + 20% bonus. His annual earnings in Canadian dollars range between $360-$425K.

Paula the Principal 

  • Paula is a Principal Product Manager based in Canada.
  • Paula works for a company most people know, and many aspire to work for.
  • Although the company attracts a modern, youthful persona who seeks out a 'digital nomad' lifestyle of work, Paula has been around for a while. She pumps it out from a home office in a small community.
  • The dot-com boom & bust was her training ground, so she's a combination of optimism and skepticism.
  • Paula has worked for startups that no longer exist and for big software companies that are perceived as "legacy."
  • Paula got hired at her current employer by a former boss who knew he could count on her, and she hasn't let him down.
  • She owns the platform. It requires being part strategy PM, part technical PM, and a master of cross-functional everything.
  • Paula has engineering credibility (she has a Master's in Computer Science), and even the CEO knows who she is. She's at the top of her game. 
Paula earns $300K base CDN + 20% bonus + RSP matching + RSUs. In an average year, she earns $550K. In a good year, a lot more.

Willie the Winner

  • Willie is a CPO by title, reporting to a Founder/CEO.
  • He's based in the US and works for a modern B2B SaaS startup whose revenues are approx $4M ARR.
  • Willie graduated from University 5 years ago with a business degree.
  • This company hired him after graduating. Willie started in sales, moved into presales, then assumed a product role three years ago, and now he has the CPO title.
  • Willie loves his job and is passionate about the company and its people.
  • He's almost done writing his self-published book and is ready to start developing his personal brand.  
  • He leads a team of two: one is a BA, and the other is a Product Owner. 
Willie earns a base of $150K USD. There's no bonus because they are a startup, but his stock options could be worth many millions one day. Willie feels like he's "living the dream" and thinks he makes "sick money." 

Compensation is not a simple topic for any candidate or employer to navigate. Context around market conditions, candidate experience, funding, revenue, location, the magnitude of the problem that needs solving, size of market opportunity, and currency of compensation are just a few factors that contribute to a compensation plan and what someone could earn.

When considering whether someone earns "sick money," it's essential to remember these factors and recognize that what's impressive to one person may not be to another.

If you’re looking for more real-world compensation insights, see our Salary Insight series or talk with one of our Recruiters about your salary and see how it compares.