For an earlier employee (not C level title), is it common to pay via option instead of real stock equity?
Assume both need to suffer from 4 year vesting schedule with 1 year cliff.
Answer is - depends. Best startups will do grants for the early team and options for the later team. Others will do straight options from day one. I, personally, never worked with or in a startup where early team did not get grants. If founders won't do grants, I consider them unappreciative of their early team, which is often a failure in leadership.