I've been involved in a job search for CTO positions, primarily targeting central European startups that are a little bit past early stage (either self funded with revenue or Series A+).
I think I've developed a great relationship and chemistry throughout the interview processes with one of the companies that I'm in the final interview stages with.
During our last call we discussed some feedback (positive), and proceeded to discuss compensation. My own expectations are based on thorough research on both market value, as well as living costs in that area. We got into a rather strange negotiation process that has me feeling devalued, and doubting whether I want the job.
If they felt that my expectations are too high (100k), I expected a reasonable counter-offer. Instead, I've been asked if I'm willing to trade off part of that salary for a potential future ESOP. That some employees are willing to completely give up on their salary just for that ESOP, stressing how much more valuable this is.
I was then asked if I would accept a low base salary, and a performance based payout to reach the final number, which I think is wrong because a CTO might be incentivised to make wrong decisions just to get to his max salary, so I refused.
Then I was told that living costs in their city are cheaper than I think (not according to my research)and that while I'm waiting for an offer or rejection I should let them know if I'm willing to drop my price in exchange for ESOP. I instead asked for a counter-offer.
Long story short, I now feel that the company must be struggling financially, and worry what such employment tactics must mean for the quality of their employees.
I really don't understand why they would undermine the effort and relationship we built during a long interview process, all over a really small amount of money for such a company (+/- 30k a year?).
Was this all a test, to see if I can stand my ground? I really like the company and the people, but this step was so destructive, I still can't get my head around it...
Is this a normal practice for this position, or maybe in this part of the world?