By John Sonmez February 9, 2015

How Matt Kremer Got 3 Five-Figure Raises in 3 Years

Matt Kremer's passion lies in developing and marketing web products. He works for a company that puts wireless access (such as WiFi, Bluetooth, Radio) into other peoples products. Matt's built web app companies from nothing to $1.2M/year in recurring revenue, and I also enjos working on side-projects such as his online collaborative code-editor Kobra.io.

Just try and ignore Matt Kremer.

Trust me, you can't.

Matt has figured out that the best way to get what you want in life is to go for it—and to do it relentlessly.

This is the the subject line of the first email, I ever got from Matt:

“I'm writing an entire eBook…TOMORROW. Help from the Entreprogrammers?”

Matt reached out to me and the rest of the Entpreprogrammers for some advice about a book he was going to write in a single day—yes, that's right.

Oh, and he did write that book, you can check it out here.

Anyway, when Matt told me the story about how he was able to get 3 five-figure raises in just 3 years, I thought it was too good to not share.

So, I decided to record a video interview with Matt, talking about his story, and I've asked him to condense it here as well.

Q: How did you get your start as a professional developer?

A: I’ve been programming since I was eight years old, but only started doing it as a “day-job” about three years ago. I had moved to Minneapolis after I got married with $1000 in my bank account, and two months later my wife and I had still not found jobs.

Shortly after I received a notice that if I didn’t pay my rent I was going to be evicted, a friend gave me a call and asked if I’d be interested in building a healthcare analytics web app with his company. Heck yes (at this point, I couldn’t even get a job at Applebees)!

The only problem? My starting wage would be $15/hour since I had no “real experience” and was a college dropout.

After I moved back to Wisconsin to take the job, I knew I had to get my salary up quick if we were going to start a family and buy a house. Just three years after almost getting evicted:

  • I’m making $70,000 a year (the equivalent of $115K in San Francisco)
  • I bought a house
  • I had my first child
  • We’re fortunate enough that my wife doesn’t need to work, and can stay home to take care of our son!

Q: How were you able to get your salary from $15/hour to $70k/year so quickly?

A: I actually used two very specific strategies in order to get three five-figure raises over the course of 3 years, effectively doubling my salary.

The first is to become a product champion.

Many companies view programmers or developers as a blue-collar jobs, and they assume that they’re just going to throw you in a dark corner and you’re going to write code all day.

I needed to break out of that stigma, and show that I could provide value to the company beyond just programming. I wanted to show them that I could champion a product.

So what does championing a product entail? It means that you have your hand is as many different verticals of that product as possible. When I was building the healthcare analytics app, I made sure that I was in the marketing meetings, I was in the sales meetings, I was in the product roadmap meetings. If someone threw out an idea for a feature and I knew how would could make it even better, I would sketch it up and show it to them.

You have to show the company that you are holding this product near and dear to your heart, and that you really want to help see it succeed. Instead of just “taking orders” from your non-programmer boss, you become a part of the overall team and driving force behind the product.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this takes a lot of work. Not only was I programming, but I was also handling customer support phone calls, I was giving demos of the product at trade-shows, I was helping write marketing materials, I was doing almost everything you could think of for this product.

What this allows you to do is actually breakout of the salary restrictions of a programmer. Many companies take your job title, description and years of experience, run it through a database, and that database pops out the salary that they should pay you. By helping the product in every vertical, you actually have the ability to counter your own job description.

In a salary negotiation you can say, “not only am I a developer on this product, but I’ve been helping you with sales, marketing, and support.” That alone is worth a pay raise by itself.

You are essentially becoming an “intreprenuer,” an entrepreneur inside of the company. By showing your bosses that you care about the future of the product and the company, they are going to value you even more.

The second strategy is assigning a specific dollar amount worth of value to yourself.

I want to use an analogy to explain this one first. Let’s say you need a new server and it’s going to cost $10,000. Walking into your boss’s office and asking for $10,000 to buy a new server is not going to go well.

But if you do your research first, and determine that your current server can only support five clients, and this new server can support twenty clients, and then you go talk to your boss the conversation can go much better.

“Hey boss, we need a new server and it’s going to cost $10,000, but it’s going to allow us to have four times the amount of clients on one server.”

Your boss is going to see the immediate value that the purchase brings, and she’s going to approve it. You can do the same exact thing when you’re in a salary negotiation by showing your boss exactly how much benefit their going to receive for your employment.

When I asked for a $15,000 raise (a 30% increase over what I was currently making), I waited until a week after our product had received $425,000 worth of checks in the mail.

Being that there were three full-time members on my team, I could assume that roughly a third of that $425,000 could be attributed to me. That’s a very specific dollar amount that I can show to my boss’s. At this point I can, with confidence, say that I am worth well above what I am making to the company. Having that concrete dollar value that I could apply to myself was what allowed me to walk into my boss’s office and ask for yet another five-figure raise.

It’s worth noting here that you can also use this tactic even if you are working on internal applications for your company. If you manage to increase the efficiency of a program that allows your company to enter 20 more orders a day, you can attribute that extra efficiency back to your own work.

So by becoming a product champion and assigning a very specific dollar-amount of worth to myself, I went from $15 an hour to $70,000 a year in only three years.

Q: Are there any other tips or tricks that you used along the way?

Above anything else, communication is the number one thing that is going to make this journey easier for you. Before I was a programmer, I served at Applebee’s and went out of my way to have conversations with everyone I could.

While many people think that “people skills” are something that you have or you don’t, I believe that you can definitely learn them. Not only will this help you if you start marketing or doing sales for your product, but it will also help you when you’re negotiating with your boss for a raise.

On top of that, I highly advise that everyone also blogs about their experiences and “markets themselves” online. Since I’ve started a blog, podcast, and written a book, I no longer send a resume to companies I’m interested in. I just send them to my site online, and nine times out of ten I wind up getting an in person interview with them.

Q: How about a book you'd recommend anyone interested in what you said here should read?

On this subject, that would have to be “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants” by Malcolm Gladwell.

About the author

John Sonmez

John Sonmez is the founder of Simple Programmer and a life coach for software developers. He is the best selling author of the book "Soft Skills: The Software Developer's Life Manual."