Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Seed Money - Keep It Simple

Money is money.  People use the terms pre-seed, seed, and first round to describe different type of financings. There is supposed to be some correlation between the stage of the company and the type of financing.  It doesn't always work like that.

Many times, I have seen people use these terms to describe the size of the round.  So pre-seed round would generally be up to $300,000-$500,000, seed round would be between $300,000-$1,000,000, and round A would be above $1,000,000.

The size usually also determines the type of equity/securities being issued.  So if it is a pre-seed round or seed round, you should expect to issue a convertible promissory note, which is a debt convertable to shares in the next round of financing.  If it is not a convertible note, it would likely be common stock.  As the amount of the investment increases you may see a right to appoint a director and limited veto rights, but not necessarily.

If it is a round A, you should expect to see all the usual suspects such as preferred stock, anti-dilution protection, veto rights, etc.

The problem is that there are a lot of variations out there.  You could see small investors who would ask to get preferred stock on a $150,000 investment.  You may see professional VCs, who would invest $500,000 without asking for any veto right, except for an oversize preemptive right, just to be there if the startup becomes successful.  You may see a serial entrepreneur who is able to raise $5,000,000 with just a powerpoint presentation.   Try to stick to the usual structures.  If you raise $200,000, you need to keep it simple.  Keep your creativity for the technology, not the legal structures that are more expensive than the round, and will take an hour to explain in the next round.

There are also no rules for valuations.  The only rule I see is that if this is not your first company and you had a great exit before, you will get better valuation on your idea.  A great idea is wonderful, but sophisticated investors know that startups evolve all the time and the initial idea is rarely the end product.  The ability to adjust and adapt is more important than the idea itself and is based, among other things, on experience  You always get more value if this is not your first time.  It is a waste of time to fight it.

Finally, who should you raise it from?  Most people (if not all) who tell me that they don't want to raise from a VC cannot raise from a VC.  If you can raise from a first tier VC go for it.  I know all the stories.  If you cannot raise from a VC go to raise money from angels.  Your family should always be the last resort.  Obviously, if you can get a super angel involved from day one, that's great, but a real-estate mogul who is now interested in social networking because his daughter told him that google+ is great, should not be your first choice, even if the valuation he is offering is higher than that of a VC.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Starting from basic

So what is it all about? Well nothing really.  I am a corporate lawyer, a partner in one of the largest law firms in Israel.  I am focused on technology clients.  From startups to late stage to public companies.  I see new companies and entrepreneurs all the time.  I love technology and love to see new stuff.   I think I have some knowledge about how to do it right, at least from the law side of things.  Let's start with basic stuff.  The first blog is about incorporation.

First rule - keep it simple.  Stick with ordinary normal corporation.  Forget about LLC, LLP or other structures.  If you want to raise money from VCs or angels, stick with what they know.  If you need to spend 5 minutes explaining why your structure is the best tax structure ever invented, you already lost the war.  There are only certain circumstances where the more complex structures make sense - trust me when I say it - you are not one of them, irrespective of what your father's tax advisor told you.  After you sell 3 companies and you feel you can sell an ice machine to a VC let's talk about it again, okay?

Second rule - don't start developing your company when you are working for someone else. I know this one is a tough one. People usually come up with the idea for their new startup while working for someone else. I get it, but do they really need to incorporate while they work for someone else? They don't. Do they need to file a PCT or a patent application when they work for someone? Not really. Don't register a trademark or a website, before you leave your position. Don't use your current employer laptop or facilities. This will get you in trouble later on.

Third rule - be nice to your old employer before you leave.  Don't piss them off.  You may think that once you left your old company, you don't have to be nice to anybody.  The problem is that there are many cases where you will have to go back to your employer and ask to get a waiver, clarification or something else that your investor will sometime ask as a condition for the investment.  They may not help, but at least you should be in a position to ask.

Fourth rule - if you are starting to work with the other founder before you have a founders agreement in place, at least make sure you guys have signed some document that assigned your IP to the startup. Many founders separate even before they start.  If you had someone write code, make sure he signed a paper that simply said that it is yours.  It will cost you a lot if you don't do it on time.

Fifth rule - don't wait for the first investor to set you straight.  If you don't have an employment agreement, founders agreement, IP assignment form, restricted stock agreement, when the VCs invest, I can promise you that the terms set by the VC will be much tougher than what you could have set by yourself.

That's it for now.  This was not legal advice.