As I watched 24 last night, I kept thinking to myself “Why the fuck does Jack have his cell phone ringer on – hasn’t he ever heard of vibrate?” immediately after his cell phone rang but right before he got shot at because the bad guys now knew where he was. I had a parallel thought this morning – “Why do we make all this term sheet stuff so long, verbose, and tedious.” The answer – word processers. If we had to type all this crap on a typewriter (or write it out by hand) it’d be a lot shorter. In both cases, technology is working against us. But – then again, we wouldn’t have blogs (and I can hear a few of you (and I know who you are) saying “and that would be a bad thing because?”)
While there is a lot to negotiate in a term sheet (as you can see from the series of posts on term sheets that Jason and I have written), a term sheet is simply a step on the way to an actual deal. Term sheets are often either non-binding (or mostly non-binding), and most investors will load them up with conditions precedent to financing. Entrepreneurs glance over these – usually because they are in the back sections of the term sheet and are typically pretty innocuous, but they occasionally have additional “back door outs” for the investor that the entrepreneur should watch out for, if only to better understand the current mindset of the investor proposing the investment.
A typical conditions precedent to financing clause looks as follows:
“Conditions Precedent to Financing: Except for the provisions contained herein entitled “Legal Fees and Expenses”, “No Shop Agreement”, and “Governing Law” which are explicitly agreed by the Investors and the Company to be binding upon execution of this term sheet, this summary of terms is not intended as a legally binding commitment by the Investors, and any obligation on the part of the Investors is subject to the following conditions precedent: 1. Completion of legal documentation satisfactory to the prospective Investors; 2. Satisfactory completion of due diligence by the prospective Investors; 3. Delivery of a customary management rights letter to Investors; and 4. Submission of detailed budget for the following twelve months, acceptable to Investors.”
Notice that the investor will try to make a few things binding – specifically (a) that his legal fees get paid whether or not a deal happens, (b) that the company can’t shop the deal once the term sheet is signed, and (c) that the governing law be set to a specific domicile – while explicitly stating “there are a bunch things that still have to happen before this deal is done and I can back out for any reason.”
There are a few conditions to watch out for since they usually signal something non-obvious on the part of the investor. They are:
1. “Approval by Investors’ partnerships” – this is super secret VC code for “this deal has not been approved by the investors who issued this term sheet. Therefore, even if you love the terms of the deal, you still may not have a deal.
2. “Rights offering to be completed by Company” – this indicates that the investors want the company to offer all previous investors in the company the ability to participate in the currently contemplated financing. This is not necessarily a bad thing – in fact in most cases this serves to protect all parties from liability – but does add time and expense to the deal.
3. “Employment Agreements signed by founders as acceptable to investors” – beware what the full terms are before signing the agreement. As an entrepreneur, when faced with this, it’s probably wise to understand (and negotiate) the form of employment agreement early in the process. While you’ll want to try to do this before you sign a term sheet and accept a no-shop, most VCs will wave you off and say “don’t worry about it – we’ll come up with something that works for everyone.” Our suggestion – at the minimum, make sure you understand the key terms (such as compensation and what happens on termination).
There are plenty of other wacky conditionals – if you can dream it, it has probably been done. Just make sure to look carefully at this paragraph and remember that just because you’ve signed a term sheet, you don’t have a deal.
Suddenly the blogosphere is talking about the need for a standardized first round term sheet. The latest iteration of this seems to have blossomed when TheFunded Founder Institute released a “Plain Preferred Term Sheet” (developed with WSGR). According to the article in TechCrunch, the goal is to (a) protect founders and (b) reduce legal fees. Kudos for yet another shot at this – between all the blog posts that have been written about this over the past few years, term sheets are no longer a mysterious thing to an entrepreneur.
However, let me suggest that the problem is not “the idea first round term sheet.” We now have a bunch of these – the YCombinator one, the TechStars one, the NVCA model docs, and several from law firms (WSGR did the YCombinator one, Cooley did the TechStars one.)
I think the focus should be on standardizing the docs and having a handful of fill in the blank terms for a first round financing. I’ve done my share of financings with a set of bullet points in email (I just proposed one today) and I’ve stated that the only things people should care about in the first round financing is (a) valuation and (b) the amount raised. That said, there will always be a handful of other things to argue about in a first round investment – most notably vesting dynamics, change of control issues, and option pool size (which is really just valuation). However, you should be able to do this off of a one page checklist that everyone understands.
But let’s get back to the real issue – standardizing the docs. I read through the protective provisions in TheFunded Founder Institute (TFFI) term sheet and they are a version that leaves a few things out that are important to me. I like a tighter version.
First is the TFFI version:
“So long as 25% of the aggregate number of Preferred shares issues in the financing are outstanding, consent of at least 50% of the then-outstanding Preferred will be required to (i) alter the certificate of incorporation if it would adversely alter the rights of the Preferred; (ii) change the authorized number of Preferred Stock; (iii) authorize or issue any senior or pari passu security; (iv) approve a merger, asset sale or other corporate reorganization or acquisition; (v) repurchase Common Stock, other than upon termination of a consultant, director or employee; (vi) declare or pay any dividend or distribution on the Preferred Stock or Common Stock; or (vii) liquidate or dissolve.”
Following is the standard we use in all of our financings:
“For so long as any shares of Series A Preferred remain outstanding, consent of the holders of at least a majority of the Series A Preferred shall be required for any action, whether directly or through any merger, recapitalization or similar event, that (i) alters or changes the rights, preferences or privileges of the Series A Preferred, (ii) increases or decreases the authorized number of shares of Common or Preferred Stock, (iii) creates (by reclassification or otherwise) any new class or series of shares having rights, preferences or privileges senior to or on a parity with the Series A Preferred, (iv) results in the redemption or repurchase of any shares of Common Stock (other than pursuant to equity incentive agreements with service providers giving the Company the right to repurchase shares upon the termination of services), (v) results in any merger, other corporate reorganization, sale of control, or any transaction in which all or substantially all of the assets of the Company are sold, (vi) amends or waives any provision of the Company’s Certificate of Incorporation or Bylaws, (vii) increases or decreases the authorized size of the Company’s Board of Directors, (viii) results in the payment or declaration of any dividend on any shares of Common Preferred Stock, (ix) issues debt in excess of $100,000, (x) makes any voluntary petition for bankruptcy or assignment for the benefit of creditors, or (xi) enters into any exclusive license, lease, sale, distribution or other disposition of its products or intellectual property.”
Details, but important ones. The protective provisions in the TFFI term sheet include the word “adversely” in section (i) – this is simply “lawsuit bait” if it ever comes to pass as an issue. I also want a protective provision to disallow increases in Common Stock. And – given the board size, I want a protective provision that doesn’t allow the board to be increased without my consent. Finally, I want a protective provision against making an exclusive deal or license for the assets – this is another way of selling the company out from under the investor.
Now, I guess I’ll negotiate on these, but I can’t imagine why anyone would struggle with any of this. Except for the lawyers. Remember – we are still in the term sheet – just wait until the lawyers expand this into the actual financing documents. I’m sure the WSGR lawyers might have a different point of view, as might my lawyers, or any other lawyer that looks at this. Or, if the WSGR lawyer is on the other side of the deal (representing the VC) he might have an issue with the TFFI version.
Standardizing the deal documents would solve a huge part of this. Also, if the lawyers acknowledged that they aren’t adding much value at this level (e.g. it’s a simple negotiation and a straightforward thing to document), you could get to a place where lawyers should be able to do this for a low fixed price (say, $10,000). However, this has to be done at the legal level, or you don’t really solve the fundamental issue. Sure – you theoretically can streamline the process by starting with a better “form” that has been “pre-negotiated” (e.g. take it or leave it), but until you standardize the legal stuff behind the deal, you are always going to have lawyers armed with word processors redlining things.
I’m not unhappy about the effort to simplify this – quite the opposite – I’m delighted even more people like TheFunded are getting in the mix. However, I encourage everyone, especially the lawyers, to recognize the value in standardization of the underlying docs (with the appropriate “fill in the blank negotiated terms”). I’m not sure how to get this to a standard point, but it’s got to be easier than figuring out if universal healthcare is possible and – if so – solving for it.
A the end of the year, I completed a financing that was much more difficult than it needed to be. As Jason Mendelson (our general counsel) and I were whining to each other we decided to do something about it. At the risk of giving away more super-top-secret VC magic tricks, we’ve decided to co-author a series of posts on Term Sheets.
We have chosen to address the most frequently discussed terms in a venture financing term sheet. The early posts in the series will be about terms that matter – as we go on, we’ll get into the more arcane and/or irrelevant stuff (which – ironically – some VCs dig in and hold on to as though the health of their children depended on them getting the terms “just right.”) The specific contract language that we refer to (usually in italics) will be from actual term sheets that are common in the industry. Ultimately, we might put this into a Wiki, but for now we’ll just write individual posts. Obviously, feel free to comment freely (and critically.)
In general, there are only two things that venture funds really care about when doing investments: economics and control. The term “economics” refers to the end of the day return the investor will get and the terms that have direct impact on such return. The term “control” refers to mechanisms which allow the investors to either affirmatively exercise control over the business or allow the investor to veto certain decisions the company can make. If you are negotiating a deal and an investor is digging his or her feet in on a provision that doesn’t affect the economics or control, they are probably blowing smoke, rather than elucidating substance.
Obviously the first term any entrepreneur is going to look at is the price. The pre-money and post-money terms are pretty easy to understand. The pre-money valuation is what the investor is valuing the company today, before investment, while the post-money valuation is simply the pre-money valuation plus the contemplated aggregate investment amount. There are two items to note within the valuation context: stock option pools and warrants.
Both the company and the investor will want to make sure the company has sufficiently reserved shares of equity to compensate and motivate its workforce. The bigger the pool the better, right? Not so fast. While a large option pool will make it less likely that the company runs out of available options, note that the size of the pool is taken into account in the valuation of the company, thereby effectively lowering the true pre-money valuation. If the investor believes that the option pool of the company should be increased, they will insist that such increase happen prior to the financing. Don’t bother to try to fight this, as nearly all VCs will operate this way. It is better to just negotiate a higher pre-money valuation if the actual value gives you heartburn. Standard language looks like this:
Amount of Financing: An aggregate of $ X million, representing a __% ownership position on a fully diluted basis, including shares reserved for any employee option pool. Prior to the Closing, the Company will reserve shares of its Common Stock so that __% of its fully diluted capital stock following the issuance of its Series A Preferred is available for future issuances to directors, officers, employees and consultants.
Price: $______ per share (the Original Purchase Price). The Original Purchase Price represents a fully-diluted pre-money valuation of $ __ million and a fully-diluted post money valuation of $__ million. For purposes of the above calculation and any other reference to fully-diluted in this term sheet, fully-diluted assumes the conversion of all outstanding preferred stockof the Company, the exercise of all authorized and currently existing stock options and warrants of the Company, and the increase of the Companys existing option pool by [ ] shares prior to this financing.
Recently, another term that has gained popularity among investors is warrants associated with financings. As with the stock option allocation, this is another way to back door a lower valuation for the company. Warrants as part of a venture financing – especially in an early stage investment – tend to create a lot of unnecessary complexity and accounting headaches down the road. If the issue is simply one of price, we recommend the entrepreneur negotiate for a lower pre-money valuation to try to eliminate the warrants. Occassionally, this may be at cross-purposes with existing investors who – for some reason – want to artificially inflate the valuation since the warrant value is rarely calculated as part of the valuation (but definitely impacts the future allocation of proceeds in a liquidity event.) Note, that with bridge loan financings, warrants are commonplace as the bridge investor wants to get a lower price on the conversion of their bridge into the next round – it’s not worth fighting these warrants.
The best way for an entrepreneur to negotiate price is to have multiple VCs interested in investing in his company – (economics 101: If you have more demand (VCs interested) than supply (equity in your company to sell) then price will increase.) In early rounds, your new investors will likely be looking for the lowest possible price that still leaves enough equity in the founders and employees hands. In later rounds, your existing investors will often argue for the highest price for new investors in order to limit the existing investors dilution. If there are no new investors interested in investing in your company, your existing investors will often argue for an equal to (flat round) or lower than (down round) price then the previous round. Finally, new investors will always argue for the lowest price they think will enable them to get a financing done, given the appetite (or lack thereof) of the existing investors in putting more money into the company. As an entrepreneur, you are faced with all of these contradictory motivations in a financing, reinforcing the truism that it is incredibly important to pick your early investors wisely, as they can materially help or hurt this process.
As an entrepreneur, the way to get the best deal for a round of financing is to have multiple options. If you’ve been a studious reader of our term sheet series, you are painfully aware that there are many other terms – beside price – that help define what “the best deal” actually is. However, there comes a point in time where you have to choose your investor and shift from “search for an investor” mode to “close the deal” mode. Part of this involves choosing your lead investor and negotiating the final term sheet with him.
A “no shop agreement” is almost always part of this final term sheet. Think of it as serial monogamy – your new investor to be doesn’t want you running around behind his back just as you are about to get hitched. A typical no shop agreement is as follows:
“No Shop Agreement: The Company agrees to work in good faith expeditiously towards a closing. The Company and the Founders agree that they will not, directly or indirectly, (i) take any action to solicit, initiate, encourage or assist the submission of any proposal, negotiation or offer from any person or entity other than the Investors relating to the sale or issuance, of any of the capital stock of the Company or the acquisition, sale, lease, license or other disposition of the Company or any material part of the stock or assets of the Company, or (ii) enter into any discussions, negotiations or execute any agreement related to any of the foregoing, and shall notify the Investors promptly of any inquiries by any third parties in regards to the foregoing. Should both parties agree that definitive documents shall not be executed pursuant to this term sheet, then the Company shall have no further obligations under this section.”
At some level the no shop agreement – like serial monogamy – is more of an emotional commitment; it’s very hard to “enforce a no shop agreement” in a financing, but if you get caught cheating, your financing will probably go the same way as the analogous situation when the groom or the bride to be gets caught in a compromising situation.
At some level, the no shop agreement reinforces the handshake that says “ok – let’s get a deal done – no more fooling around looking for a better / different one.” In all cases, the entrepreneur should bound the no shop by a time period – usually 45 to 60 days is plenty (and you can occasionally get a VC to agree to a 30 day no shop.) This makes the commitment bi-directional – you agree not to shop the deal; the VC agrees to get things done within a reasonable time frame.
I’m going to keep tonight’s term sheet post short and sweet, especially since I’m still reeling from the horrifyingly bad War of the World movie I just saw. Jason and I are almost done with the term sheet series (yeah, we know we keep promising that) but – like the Spielberg tragicomedy I just watched, it’s not over until it’s over (sorry – that cliche just snuck its way in – I was helpless against it – the aliens made me do it.)
Occasionally a term sheet will have – buried near the back – a short clause concerning “founders activities.” It usually looks something like:
“Founders Activities: Each of the Founders shall devote 100% of his professional time to the Company. Any other professional activities will require the approval of the Board of Directors.”
This should be no surprise to a founder that your friendly neighborhood VC wants you to be spending 100% (actually 120%) of your time and attention on your company. If this paragraph sneaks its way into the term sheet, the VC has either been recently burned or is suspicious and / or concerned that one or more of the founders may be working on something besides the company in question.
Of course, this is a classic no-win situation for a founder. If you are actually working on something else at the same time and don’t disclose it, you are violating the terms of the agreement (and – breaching trust before you get started – not a good thing as it’ll eventually come to light.) If you do disclose it – or push back on this clause (hence signaling that you are working on something else), you’ll reinforce the concern that the VC has. So – tread carefully here. Our recommendation – unless of course you are working on something else – is simply to agree to this (why wouldn’t you, unless you don’t believe in the thing you are asking the VC to fund?)
In situations where I’ve worked with a founder that already has other obligations or commitments, I’ve always appreciated him being up front with me early in the process. I’ve usually been able to work these situations out in a way that causes everyone to be happy and – in the cases where I can’t get there – I’m glad that the issue came up early so that I didn’t waste my time or the enterpreneurs’ time.
While there are situations where VCs get comfortable with entrepreneurs working on multiple companies simultaneously (usually with very experienced entrepreneurs or in situations where the VC and the entrepreneur have worked together in the past), they are the exception, not the norm.
Earlier this week I did a brief post on the “no shop agreement” that is a common feature in a term sheet. I compared signing a no shop to the construct of serial monogamy in a relationship. I had a couple of comments (one that was intellectual, one that was a little harsher and painted VCs as “duplicitous.”) I was mulling over my obviously (in hindsight to me) asymmetric view when Tom Evslin very clearly and coherently articulated why my analogy was really unilateral monogamy (e.g. the VC isn’t signing up for serial monogamy – only the entrepreneur is.)
Tom – and the comments I received – are correct (although I don’t agree with the generalization that “VCs are duplicitous.”) After reading Tom’s post, I thought about my own behavior (at least my perception of my own behavior) vs. the general case and realized I’ve mixed the two up. I’ve been on the giving and receiving side of unilateral no shops many times and – when on the receiving side – have usually been sensitive to why the other party wouldn’t sign a reciprocal no shop. In most cases, I simply don’t put a lot of weight behind the no shop due to the ability to bind it with time (30 – 45 days), plus whenever I’m on the receiving end, I’ve done my best to test commitment before signing up to do the deal.
In addition to Tom’s post, Rick Segal wrote up his thoughts in a post titled “The Handshake Clause” where he makes the point that his firm doesn’t sign a term sheet until they are committed to doing a deal. His explanation of how he approaches this is useful, but it is important to acknowledge that there is a wide range of behavior among VCs – the group that doesn’t put a term sheet down until they are committed are at one end of the spectrum; the group that puts down a term sheet to try to lock up a deal while they think about whether or not they want to do it is at the other. I’d like to think that we are at the “good” end of this spectrum (e.g. we won’t issue a term sheet unless we are ready to do a deal.) Obviously, your mileage will vary with the VCs you are dealing with – hence the value of doing your own due diligence on your potential future partners.
As I mulled this over, I came up with a couple of examples in the past 10 years where the no shop had any meaningful impact on a deal in which I was involved. I could come up with an edge case for each situation, but this was a small number vs. the number of deals I’ve been involved in. In addition, when I thought about the situations where I was a VC and was negatively impacted by not having a no shop (e.g. a company we had agreed with on a term sheet went and did something else) or where I was on the receiving end of a no shop and was negatively impacted by it (e.g. an acquirer tied me up but then ultimately didn’t close on the deal), I actually didn’t feel particularly bad about either of the situations since there was both logic associated with the outcome and grace exhibited by the participants. Following are two examples:
- We signed a term sheet to invest in company X. We didn’t include a no shop in the term sheet – I don’t think there was a particular reason why. We were working to close the investment (I think we were 15 days into a 30–ish day process) and had legal docs going back and forth. One of the founders called us and said that they had just received an offer to be acquired and they wanted to pursue it. We told them no problem – we’d still be there to do the deal if it didn’t come together. We were very open with them about the pros and cons of doing the deal from our perspective and – given the economics – encouraged them to pursue it (it was a great deal for them.) They ended up closing the deal and – as a token – gave us a small amount of equity in the company for our efforts (totally unexpected and unnecessary, but appreciated.)
- I was an existing investor in a company that was in the process of closing an outside led round at a significant step up in valuation. The company was under a no shop agreement with the new VC. Within a week of closing, we received an acquisition overture from one of the strategic investors in the company. We immediately told the new lead investor about it who graciously agreed to suspend the no shop and wait to see whether we wanted to move forward with the acquisition or the financing. We negotiated with the acquirer for several weeks, checking regularly with the new potential investor to make sure they were still interested in closing the round if we chose not to pursue the acquisition. They were incredibly supportive and patient. The company covered their legal fees up to that point (unprompted – although it was probably in the term sheet that we’d cover them – I can’t recall.) We ended up moving forward with the acquisition; the new investor was disappointed in the outcome but happy and supportive of what we did.
As I said earlier, these are edge cases – in almost all of my experiences the no shop ended up being irrelevant. But – as both of these example show – the quality and the character of the people involved made all the difference. Near the end of his post, Tom makes the point that it’s “good negotiating advice to make sure that every clause which can be mutual is mutual.” I completely agree.
Jason and I are feeling the need for closure on our term sheet series as we’ve started gearing up on our next series (M&A). So – we’re going to knock out the balance of the standard term sheet terms this week. We’re still in the “terms that don’t matter much zone” so we’re including Voting Rights and Employee Pool for completeness.
“Voting Rights: The Series A Preferred will vote together with the Common Stock and not as a separate class except as specifically provided herein or as otherwise required by law. The Common Stock may be increased or decreased by the vote of holders of a majority of the Common Stock and Series A Preferred voting together on an as if converted basis, and without a separate class vote. Each share of Series A Preferred shall have a number of votes equal to the number of shares of Common Stock then issuable upon conversion of such share of Series A Preferred.”
Most of the time voting rights are simply an “FYI” section as all the heavy rights are contained in other sections such as the protective provisions.
“Employee Pool: Prior to the Closing, the Company will reserve shares of its Common Stock so that __% of its fully diluted capital stock following the issuance of its Series A Preferred is available for future issuances to directors, officers, employees and consultants. The term “Employee Pool” shall include both shares reserved for issuance as stated above, as well as current options outstanding, which aggregate amount is approximately __% of the Company’s fully diluted capital stock following the issuance of its Series A Preferred.”
The employee pool section is a separate section in order to clarify the capital structure and specifically call out the percentage of the company that will be allocated to the option pool associated with the financing. Since a cap table is almost always included with the term sheet, this section is redundant, but exists so there is no confusion about the size of the option pool.
I had good intentions earlier this week to try to crank out the balance of the term sheet series, but it turned into a busy week. Since I’m still muddling through the set of terms that either don’t matter much and/or are hard to negotiate away (e.g. chose you battles wisely), I didn’t expect anyone would be waiting on the edge of their seats for these. However, for completeness, it’s worth going through the stuff that shows up on the last few pages of a standard VC term sheet. Jason and I aren’t quite done, but with this post, we are one (tedious) step closer.
Almost every term sheet we’ve ever seen has a “Restrictions on Sales” clause in it that looks something like:
“Restrictions on Sales: The Company’s Bylaws shall contain a right of first refusal on all transfers of Common Stock, subject to normal exceptions. If the Company elects not to exercise its right, the Company shall assign its right to the Investors.”
Management / founders rarely argue against this as it helps control the shareholder base of the company which usually benefits all the existing shareholders (except possibly the one who wants to bail out of their private stock.) However, we’ve found that the lawyers will often spend time arguing how to implement this particular clause. Some lawyers feel that putting this provision in the bylaws is the wrong way to go and prefer to include such a provision in each of the company’s option agreements, plans and stock sales. Personally, we find it much easier to include in the bylaws.
Next up is the ubiquitous proprietary information and inventions agreement clause.
“Proprietary Information and Inventions Agreement: Each current and former officer, employee and consultant of the Company shall enter into an acceptable proprietary information and inventions agreement.”
This paragraph benefits both the company and investors and is simply a mechanism that investors use to get the company to legally stand behind the representation that it owns its intellectual property. Many pre-Series A companies have issues surrounding this, especially if the company hasn’t had great legal representation prior to its first venture round. We’ve also run into plenty of situations (including several of ours – oops!) where companies are loose about this between financings and – while a financing is a good time to clean this up – it’s often annoying to previously hired employees who are now told “hey – you need to sign this since we need it for the venture financing.” It’s even more important in the sale of a company, as the buyer will always insist on clear ownership of the IP. Our best advice here is that companies should build these agreements into their hiring process from the very beginning (with the advice from a good law firm) so that there are never any issues around this, as VCs will always insist on it.
Finally, a co-sale agreement is pretty standard fare as well.
“Co-Sale Agreement: The shares of the Company’s securities held by the Founders shall be made subject to a co-sale agreement (with certain reasonable exceptions) with the Investors such that the Founders may not sell, transfer or exchange their stock unless each Investor has an opportunity to participate in the sale on a pro-rata basis. This right of co-sale shall not apply to and shall terminate upon a Qualified IPO.”
If you are a founder, you are probably asking why we did not include the co-sale section in the “really matter section.” The chance of keeping this provision out of a financing is close to zero, so we don’t think it’s worth the battle to fight it. Notice that this only matters while the company is private – if the company goes public, this clause no longer applies.
My partner Jason Mendelson and I are psyched to announce that our book – Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist – has been published and is now available. We are also relaunching AskTheVC – the companion website to the book that we maintained for several years, went dormant for a while, but is alive with content once again.
The book originated in 2005 when Jason and I wrote a long series of posts on this blog about a typical Venture Capital term sheet. It took us a year or so to get all the way through it, but it was fun and generated an enormous amount of positive feedback from entrepreneurs (and would be entrepreneurs) who told us how helpful it was for them to understand how a VC term sheet actually worked.
People regularly suggested that we turn the blog series into an actual book. Until about a year ago we’d simply encourage people to PDF up the posts and do whatever they wanted with them. We got great feedback from students and entrepreneurs all over the world who said they were on the receiving end of the posts, that the posts had been used as the curriculum for a class, or that they had simply referred to them during a negotiation and they were “more helpful than their lawyer.”
After I wrote Do More Faster: TechStars Lessons to Accelerate Your Startup with David Cohen (the CEO of TechStars), Jason and I decided to write Venture Deals. We knew the term sheet series would only be a small part of the book and would have to be re-written, so we just got to work. Once again, it feels amazingly good to “ship the book” – it’s remarkably hard work to get from “an idea for a book” to an actual book.
For those who think this is just a reprint of the blog posts, they make up less than 20% of the book and have been completely rewritten. The table of contents gives you a feel for this.
- The Players
- How to Raise Money
- Overview of the Term Sheet
- Economic Terms of the Term Sheet
- Control Terms of the Term Sheet
- Other Terms of the Term Sheet
- The Capitalization Table
- How Venture Capital Funds Work
- Negotiation Tactics
- Raising Money the Right Way
- Issues at Different Financing States
- Letters of Intent – The Other Term Sheet
- Legal Things Every Entrepreneur Should Know
While it’s a chewy topic, we’ve tried to keep it light, fun, and enjoyable. But we’ve also tried to make it a must read for any entrepreneur, or would be entrepreneur, or student interested in entrepreneurship, or junior lawyer that is working on deals, and our parents. We’ve created a dynamic companion site at AskTheVC, are working on a teaching guide, and have a few entertaining surprises up our sleeve that will be launched in early September.
Since I’m a shameless book salesman, you’ll be hearing plenty more from me on this blog. But for now, go take a look at Fred Wilson’s wonderful review titled Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist.
As our term sheet series unfolds (almost as exciting as 24, eh? – if you’ve been reading the last few days I bet you figured out that I recently had a 7 hour plane ride with a laptop battery that was in pretty good shape) we now shift gears from nuclear meltdown situations (also known as “things that matter a lot”) to economic terms that can matter, but aren’t as important (e.g. “why doesn’t Kim have a job at CTU anymore?”)
Dividends are up first. While private equity guys love dividends (e.g. I guarantee you that when Bain Capital buys the NHL and renames it the “BHL”, the deal will have dividends in it), many venture capitalists – especially early stage ones – don’t really care about dividends (although some do – especially those that come from a pure financial focus and have never had a 50x+ return on anything). Typical dividend language in a term sheet follows:
“Dividends: The holders of the Series A Preferred shall be entitled to receive [non-]cumulative dividends in preference to any dividend on the Common Stock at the rate of [8%] of the Original Purchase Price per annum[, when and as declared by the Board of Directors]. The holders of Series A Preferred also shall be entitled to participate pro rata in any dividends paid on the Common Stock on an as-if-converted basis.”
For early stage investments, dividends generally do not provide “venture returns” – they are simply modest juice in a deal. Let’s do some simple math. Assume a typical dividend of 10% (dividends will range from 5% to 15% depending on how aggressive your investor is – we picked 10% to make the math easy). Now – assume that you are an early stage VC (painful and yucky – we understand – just try for a few minutes). Success is not a 10% return – success is a 10x return. Now, assume that you (as the VC) have negotiated hard and gotten a 10% cumulative (you get the dividend every year, not only when they are declared), automatic (they don’t have to be declared, they happen automatically), annual dividend. Again – to keep the math simple – let’s assume the dividend does not compound – so every year you simply get 10% of your investment as a dividend. In this case, it will take you 100 years to get your 10x return. Since a typical venture deal lasts 5 to 7 years (and you’ll be dead in 100 years anyway), you’ll never see the 10x return from the dividend.
Now – assume a home run deal – assume a 50x return on a $10m investment in five years. Even with a 10% cumulative annual dividend, this only increases the investor return from $500m to $505m (the annual dividend is $1m (10% of $10m) times 5 years).
So – while the juice from the dividend is nice, it doesn’t really move the meter in the success case – especially since venture funds are typically 10 years long – meaning as a VC you’ll only get 1x your money in a dividend if you invest on day 1 of a fund and hold the investment for 10 years. (NB to budding early stage VCs – don’t raise your fund on the basis of your future dividend stream from your investments).
This also assumes the company can actually pay out the dividend – often the dividends can be paid in either stock or cash – usually at the option of the company. Obviously, the dividend could drive additional dilution if it is paid out in stock, so this is the one case where it is important not to get head faked by the investor (e.g. the dividend simply becomes another form of anti-dilution protection – although in this case one that is automatic and simply linked to the passage of time).
Of course – we’re being optimistic about the return scenarios. In downside cases, the juice can matter, especially as the invested capital increases. For example, take a $40m investment with a 10% annual cumulative dividend in a company that was sold at the end of the fifth year to another company for $80m. In this case, assume that there was a straight liquidation preference (e.g. no participating preferred) and the investor got 40% of the company for her investment (or a $100m post money valuation). Since the sale price was below the investment post money valuation (e.g. a loser, but not a disaster), the investor will exercise the liquidation preference and take the $40m plus the dividend ($4m per year for 5 years – or $20m). In this case, the difference between the return in a no dividend scenario ($40m) and a dividend scenario ($60m) is material.
Mathematically, the larger the investment amount and the lower the expected exit multiple, the more the dividend matters. This is why you see dividends in private equity and buyout deals, where big money is involved (typically greater than $50m) and the expectation for return multiples on invested capital are lower.
Automatic dividends have some nasty side effects, especially if the company runs into trouble, as they typically should be included in the solvency analysis and – if you aren’t paying attention – an automatic cumulative dividend can put you unknowingly into the zone of insolvency (a bad place – definitely one of Dante’s levels – but that’s for another post).
Cumulative dividends can also annoying and often an accounting nightmare, especially when they are optionally in stock, cash, or a conversion adjustment, but that’s why the accountants get paid the big bucks at the end of the year to put together the audited balance sheet.
That said, the non-cumulative when declared by the board dividend is benign, rarely declared, and an artifact of the past, so we typically leave it in term sheets just to give the lawyers something to do.