31 posts categorized "Emerging Companies"

Secondary Sales and An Investor Covenant You Don’t Want To Miss

Dear Readers: This is a post I co-wrote with Joe Wallin, who has published the almost identical post here.

If you are investing in early stage companies, there are certain deal terms you want.

Most you probably know already: if it’s a round of convertible notes, you want a discount and a cap; if it’s a priced round, you want a liquidation preference. Etc.

But there is a new thing you need to add to your list of “must haves.”

You now want your investment documents to include a Section 4(a)(7) covenant.

What the heck is Section 4(a)(7)?

Section 4(a)(7) is a new federal securities law that basically says, it’s OK for you to sell your investment in a private company, as long as you don’t generally advertise the securities for sale, sell to another accredited investor, and the company cooperates with certain information requirements.

The new federal law trumps state law. So state law won’t hold you up.

Unlike the existing resale exemption most commonly used, there is no holding period required under this new law.

What is a Section 4(a)(7) covenant?

This new law is great—but you need the company’s assistance to access it, because the law requires the company to provide certain information to the purchaser.

So, get this covenant in your investment documents, and it may be easier for you to later sell your shares.

You can find draft covenants to include in your securities purchase agreements here.

And if you’re a founder or exec, don’t despair: Section 4(a)(7) will work for you, too. For a longer, in depth discussion of the new law, see this article in TechCrunch.

$20k Soon to Be the New Standard Minimum Angel Investment?

$25,000 is a common minimum investment in startup financings, at least for those conducted offline (not through an accredited crowdfunding platform).

I wonder if that will change, if new SEC staff recommendations for the accredited investor definition are adopted. 
CaptureThe SEC staff recommendations are broad and potentially positive for the startup financing ecosystem: they call for expansion of the means by which an investor may qualify as accredited, which may mean more individuals may eventually be eligible to participate as angels.
However, on preserving the existing financial thresholds for natural persons to qualify as accredited, the recommendations are muddy. Granted, the staff state that the existing thresholds should stay in place; but they also recommend that the current standards should be indexed to inflation, going forward, and that investors be limited in how much they can invest, unless they meet significantly higher financial qualification thresholds.
Here's a quote from the report on the concept for limiting how much the typical angel may invest:
"The Commission could consider leaving the current income and net worth thresholds in the accredited investor definition in place, but limiting investments for individuals who qualify as accredited investors solely based on those thresholds to a percentage of their income or net worth (e.g., 10% of prior year income or 10% of net worth, as applicable, per issuer, in any 12-month period)."
If the investment cap for the majority of angels ends up being 10% per issuer per year, then I'd predict we'll see downward pressure on the $25,000 minimum rule of thumb, and possibly find $20,000 will become a new de facto standard minimum.
I derive that figure from the $200,000 income threshold. Ten percent of that minimum threshold is $20,000. Though if you go with the $1M net worth standard (as refined by Dodd-Frank), you get $10,000.
What will happen is, the issuer will ask the angel, "unless you are super accredited, what is the maximum you can invest, under either the income or net worth tests?" And the investor will say, "none of your business; I meet the standard, that's all you need to know, here's $20k (or $10k) accordingly - don't ask what my income (net worth) is." This reaction hurts startups insofar as it lowers the average investment, but helps in terms of transaction costs insofar as it bypasses (presumably?) any verification requirement that new rules might impose to enforce individual angel investing limits.

Three longer reads for where we are after General Solicitation Day

We are now living in the second day after General Solicitation Day. All trying to take stock of what has happened, and how the landscape is different.

And there is no shortage of media coverage! (Here, from a news angle, is a good overview from the Wall Street Journal: General Solicitation Brings Startups Capital, Risks. I was interviewed for this article and love the quote they got from me: "The government is doubling down on the idea that accredited investors can fend for themselves.")

PhotoBut today I wanted to call out three different, longer-form pieces of writing, each published within the last week. Each, in a different way, lends a deeper perspective on where we in the startup financing ecosystem are now.

Each will be a reference piece in the weeks and months to come.

1. Paul Spinrad's take on where we are, how we got here, and how all the different pieces fit together.

Here is an article that Paul Spinrad published on a PBS website: Online Platforms Give the First Public Look at Private Equity. As I said on Twitter yesterday, Paul's is the best written, broadest article yet on general solicitation and the changes to private financing rules.

Among the delights of Paul's well written survey are: an explanation of how public offerings came to be squeezed into a private exemption framework; the balance or contrast of considerations when approaching policy for accredited and non-accredited crowdfunding; and how private equity platforms are rolling out new features to facilitate the new rule set.

On Monday in GeekWire, I tried, not very effectively, to point out some of the new features on some of the leading online platforms. Paul's take on the same topic is far more accomplished. And that topic is only one facet of his survey.

2. Trent Dykes', Megan Muir's and Kiran Lingam's whitepaper on do's and do not's at demo days and pitch events.

This one, Demo Days, Pitch Events and the New Reg D, is controversial. I've had an earful from several people already on how this whitepaper may get one or another thing wrong.

But I greatly admire the ambition and timeliness of it. The question that the rest of us hem and haw about – am I automatically generally soliciting if I show up at a demo day or pitch event? - they tackle.

Whether or not you agree with the protocols and checklists they lay out, Dykes, Muir and Lingam are calling out the right factors to consider and giving laypeople the means to educate themselves about general solicitation.

3. The Gunderson law firm's comment letter to the SEC on the proposed Reg D rules.

This is a letter published on the SEC's received comments page, signed by a Gunderson partner, Sean Caplice.

There are a ton of comment letters on the proposed rules, none too few from big law firms.

What's remarkable about the Gunderson letter is that it provides answers to all 101 "requests for comment" posed by the SEC in its proposing release.

Most commentators either cherry pick which of the SEC's questions they want to answer, or skip the agency's questions altogether and comment from the perspective of the commentators' own agenda or frames of reference. For tackling all 101 requests for comment, and for that reason alone, I think the Gunderson comment letter is a touchstone. (Kudos to Joe Wallin for pointing the letter out to me.)

Liquidation preferences matter!

Today's post is a shout-out to a piece by Trent Dykes on The Venture Alley.

Trent gives us the up-shot of a much-watched case having to do with the legal duties faced by directors in approving the sale of a company where the preferred shareholders will receive proceeds, but the common shareholder will receive nothing.

5486734383_26a5db3611_zIn this particular case, In re Trados Incorporated Shareholder Litigation, the directors were found to have not breached duties to common shareholders.

Big picture, the case is a reminder that liquidation preferences really do matter. Directors will have duties to all shareholders, of course, when considering whether or not to sell a venture. But it's also quite possible, and not at all uncommon, for a company to be sold in circumstances where the preferred shareholders will see a return and the common shareholders will receive . . . nothing.

I find this excerpt from Trent's post to be particulary instructive:

"Private equity and venture-backed company can sometimes find themselves in the difficult situation where the timing of the major investors’ need for liquidity (due to such investors’ investment time horizon) does not align with the company’s ability to obtain an optimal liquidity event (either in time or value)."

That's the tension, isn't it.

Almost all venture investors want liquidity at some point, but some venture investors have institutional imperatives for it. That's a critical factor to consider, not just when constructing liquidation preferences but in choosing what investors to let in.

Photo: schmechf / Flickr.

Boldly embracing one's vowel-deficient ways

I saw somebody on Twitter quote the comedian Albert Brooks, to the effect that Yahoo should next spend some money to buy a vowel (Tumblr being a second, prominent acquisition of a company that lacked the letter "e" in its name; Flickr being the first).

CaptureSo I thought this Flickr ad, which I got by mail today, was especially funny.

If you don't got it, flaunt your lack of it!

Wilson Sonsini's 2012 private financing report

The new Wilson Sonsini report on private company financing trends is out, and it's even more interesting than usual.

In addition to keeping tabs on median valuations by round and other trends in VC preferred stock investment terms, the 2012 report is now tracking convertible note terms.

You've always been able to go the latest WSG&R report to buttress your argument, say, that pari passu liquidation preferences were normative and trending stronger. Well, now you can go to the report and confirm that a 20% discount on a pre-Series A convertible note is normal.

And there is new, useful, graphic rendering of historical data in the report.


This chart, from the report, shows the impact of first-round equity deals, in which Wilson Sonsini has been involved for the past five years, on the relative equity split between founders and investors. Among other things, it shows that founders keep more of the company post Series-A.

But the founders' line includes the option pool. This passage from the report explains:

"Many founders assume that the split in ownership between investors and founders in the first financing is about even. Since the option reserve almost always comes out of the founders' share, this would result in an approximate split of 50%/30%/20% among investors, founders, and employee stock option plans. The study, however, shows that founders actually have done considerably better than this at almost all times during the past five years. Except for a relatively short period during mid-2009, founders' and investors' percentages have varied in opposition in a narrow band between 45%/35% in favor of investors and 45%/35% in favor of founders through the end of 2011 (again, with a constant 20% for the option reserve)."

Chart from the Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati Entrepreneurs Report 2012.

The 1202 Planning Opportunity

Since Joe Wallin first broke the news nationally (best I can tell) that the fiscal cliff bill included revival of a previously expired 100% exclusion from capital gains tax for certain holdings in QSB stock, people have been wondering on Twitter why no branded financial or tech media outlet has picked up the story.

1202It's a fair question, particularly when you consider that big media properties have been reporting on other "tax extenders" in the fiscal cliff bill. 

A partial answer may be that there is nothing outrageous or scandalous about the QSB exclusion. Whereas the tax breaks in the fiscal cliff legislation for Hollywood movie production, for electric scooter manufacturing, for NASCAR race tracks, and the like, are laughable, or tragic, or both, and so more fun to talk about. (See for example this entertaining piece by Brad Plumer in the Washington Post, From NASCAR to rum, the 10 weirdest parts of the ‘fiscal cliff’ bill.)

A better answer may be that the exclusion for QSB stock is so difficult to explain.

Here's a paragraph from a post Joe wrote in the summer of 2010, summarizing what QSB stock is:

In general, 'qualified small business stock' is stock in a C corporation acquired by a taxpayer at its original issue if as of the date of issuance such corporation was a 'qualified small business,' and during substantially all of the taxpayer’s holding period for such stock, the corporation met certain active business requirements and was a C corporation. A 'qualified small business' in general means a business with less than $50 million in gross assets. The active business requirements require that at least 80 percent (by value) of the assets of the corporation be used by the corporation in the active conduct of 1 or more 'qualified trades or businesses.'

Much to chew on there, and you must also slog through the analysis of whether or not you are dealing with one of the "qualified trades or businesses."

Get those fundamentals settled, and you're still not done: you have to hold the stock for 5 years. And the exclusion from capital gains tax applies *only* to your initial $10 million in gain.

Among the planning opportunities this fiscal cliff tax benefit affords:

  • A chance to weigh whether a C corp makes more sense for the structure of your new business than an LLC or other alternatives;
  • Whether you should convert your LLC into a C corp before the benefit expires at the end of 2013;
  • From the investor perspective, whether you can negotiate reps and covenants in your investment documents to give you and others in the deal a fair shot at meeting the requirements of the exclusion; and
  • From the perspective of an employee, whether you should exercise a stock option in a timely way.

This is complicated stuff. Even if you master the rules in the abstract, you are likely to yet need advice from a good accountant and/or a tax lawyer. But it may be worth the effort.

Here are some references to help us all get (re)started (caution, all of these were prepared in the context of the exclusion in prior incarnations):

Photo: Tom Magliery / Flickr.

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