Startup Equity: In Conclusion (Part 14 of a 14 part series)

Stickman Startup In ConclusionIt feels odd to be wrapping up this series on Startup Equity. I started the series almost six-months ago, and although I have written around 10,000 words, I still have nearly endless things that we can discuss.

My goal was to provide some insight into the variations, complexity, power and hurdles that come along with equity compensation focused specifically on startups and other private companies. The information available is often too unreliable, too high level and too inconsistent to be useful. I hope this series has given readers multiple different perspectives and can provide the start for better conversations, better plan designs, and more successful companies. I am going to follow through on the suggestions from readers and colleagues that I turn the series into an ebook. If you are interested in getting a copy of the ebook, please shoot me an email (dwalter@performensation.com).

  1. You should know that determining grant size can be a challenge and that traditional techniques used for cash compensation do not translate well to the more variable nature of equity compensation. Using more refined methods can create much better results. 1
  2. You should know that NO ONE agrees on the value of equity compensation. Not ever. But, that’s OK as long as each party communicates the reasoning for their valuation. 2
  3. I hope you a have better understanding of the concerns of Venture Capital firms and similar early investors. Also, that you can better explain your case for equity and how it can drive their goals as well as yours. 3
  4. You should have a better understanding of how to use equity as your currency. You must also be willing to embrace your equity uniqueness, and why you shouldn’t put too much focus on comparisons to other companies (especially publicly traded) 4
  5. You may be able to evaluate better when you can accomplish your equity compensation goals with only a synthetic instrument. Sometimes polyester can outperform silk. Knowing when and how is the key. 5
  6. You should have a better grasp of when it makes sense to give additional equity grants and when it may be a recipe for failure. Most importantly, you should be clear that other companies’, entrepreneurs’, or thought-leaders’ formulaic methods or proven processes are unlikely to work perfectly for your company.6
  7. You should be fully aware of the MOST COMMON MISTAKE startups make when using equity compensation. 7
  8. You should be confident that your employees don’t understand their equity compensation any better than politicians understand the Internet. 8
  9. You should know that the variables that have the most impact at startups are Vesting, Termination Rules and Change in Control provisions. If you get these right for your goals and timeline, you are more than halfway to success. 9
  10. Performance-based equity shouldn’t be that scary to you. Yes, there is more to it than time-based equity, but it can be far more effective at getting you to your destination. 10
  11. Staying private and using equity compensation in a world obsessed with IPOs should no longer seem crazy. Equity compensation is very a useful tool and can even offer significant design advantages if you are willing to explore the possibilities. 11
  12. Hopefully, you know more about the evolution of cash pay and equity compensation levels over the past decade or two. Equity may no longer give you the savings that it once did, but that can offset by its long-term competitiveness. 12
  13. You may better understand more technical issues like Rights of First Refusal, Tag Along Rights and Drag Along Rights. Not everyone goes public, and not everyone stays at your company forever. Proper planning and documentation can lead to less stress and angst. 13

You will notice that I have touched on some of the more commonly covered topics like accounting and taxation issues. I have barely talked about things like ISOs and NonQuals. And, I haven’t gotten into the final 12-18 months in the run-up to IPO. There are at least one hundred other topics that tend to only come up in very specific conversations, but I think the foundation has been laid and hope that you will share any other specific topics that you may want me to cover in the future. Thanks, and I hope you will come back and read my future articles whether or not they cover startup issues.

You are Not Lebron James (or Facebook, or Google)

6a0134836082f8970c01bb088b1ce3970d-800wiLebron James has just become the youngest person in NBA history to score 25,000 points in his career. He is not yet 31 years old. You are not Lebron James. It is an obvious fact. You are not 6’8”. You are not 250 lbs. of muscle. You cannot dribble a basketball while running faster than your neighbor being chased by a bear. You cannot leap 3 and half feet into air and gracefully land with a smile. You haven’t spent your entire life optimizing your skills and talents to be the best basketball player in the world. You know this.

Yes, you may be about 31 years old. Maybe you weigh 250 lbs. You might even be 6’8”. Even if these things were true, it would be a mistake to directly compare yourself to Lebron. Lebron is fun to watch, but at no point would you fool yourself into believing you can do what he does. Even those players who contend with him for the title of “best basketball player” don’t try to do things the way Lebron does.

Your company is also not Facebook or Google. Your product is Continue reading

How does HR contribute to an organization’s success?

Question: (org. on Quora)

Answer (by Dan Walter)

Whether you have an HR professional or not Human Resources is likely the single greatest contributor to your organizations success.

First. Unless your company is really large, HR controls more of your revenue than any other department.  At small and mid-sized company as much as 65-75% of revenue is used to pay staff and provide their benefits. This means that even small improvements in HR can result in material budget increases for other departments. Improvements in this area are often simply viewed as controlling pay or limiting staff. But, even better improvements may be gained by improving the perception of pay or creating a work environment where people actually do their best, instead of operating at three quarters of their potential.

Second. The best strategy and tactical planning in the world cannot be well executed by incompetent, uninterested or unmotivated people. Human Resources first goal is making sure you have the right people. Without them you will fail, 100% of the time.

Third. They protect you from the problems that come from the mercury poisoning of disgruntled employees and lawsuits that come (mostly) from disgruntled ex-employees. Whether it is mediating disputes, motivating personal and professional growth or simply documenting and enforcing policies that keep people from becoming injured, a good HR department has your back, by being out in front of things.

Fourth. Great HR build your company culture and communicate your company strategy. (poor HR departments may not do either.) Your company culture or personality drives employee (and often investor) perceptions. Perceptions are reality for most people. Every company’s strategy is clear to its founders. But communicating this strategy and how it will become reality requires a broader vision and understanding of human dynamics. The task of communication usually falls to HR. So your HR department is in charge of how your employees define reality and how you make it better.

This most could stretch many pages. It should also be noted that failure in each of the above items can directly lead to your company’s failure or stagnation.

eHarmony Gets It! It’s About Professional Relationships

12 pillars sunset square (2)In today’s news, eHarmony announced that they are planning to expand from personal to professional matchmaking. Performensation has long held that finding the right people to work for your company is attuned to online dating. Like finding your true love, every employee wants to work at a company that “gets him or her”.

In the past, many employers held the power position. Companies believed that if they were providing jobs that paid a fair wage with decent working conditions, then people should be happy to work for them.  In today’s world, this is no longer enough. Just like Continue reading

Sales Compensation in a World of Solutions

Sales Comp in a World of SolutionsMany companies today know that customers are looking for more value. Haven’t you found that selling a simple product or service just doesn’t feel like “enough” anymore? Are you wondering how to adjust your strategy to increase your future success? With technology becoming increasingly complex, your customers need additional help understanding how things fit together.

As a case in point, Continue reading

Is Your Company Lying About Pay?

untitled3David Larcker and Anastasia Zakolyukina did some research in 2012 for the Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University. Luckily, it recently made its way back into circulation. The paper, “Detecting Deceptive Discussions in Conference Calls”, attempts to predict the level of deception or truthfulness of CEO communications to shareholders. They found “that the answers of deceptive executives have more references to general knowledge, fewer non-extreme positive emotions, and fewer references to shareholder value. In addition, deceptive CEOs use significantly more extreme positive emotion and fewer anxiety words.”

1)     Less truthful CEOs tend to Continue reading

HR Can’t Afford to Ignore Compensation

whiteboard lightbulb dollarsign (2)A generous person gave three business partners $1 million and said they could use it however they wanted. The only caveat was that the business plan allocated 70% of the money to predetermined overhead. This could be reduced to as little as 55% if the partners planned and executed carefully. While all three individuals agreed to accept the money, they had very different ideas on what to do with it. Continue reading

There are Only Two Pay Philosophies

untitledWe, the compensation professionals of planet earth, work hard to define the whys and hows of our pay programs. We build out details on our objectives for pay levels, definitions of peers, pay mix and plan details. We define the purpose of each pay element and its alignment to the company, shareholders, individuals and in some cases, the world itself. We put all of this together into words, rules, charts and slides and call it our compensation philosophy. I have been, for as long I have worked in this profession, a huge advocate of great compensation philosophies.

Like many of you, Continue reading

I’m leaving a startup. How much co-founder equity should I get?

Question: (org. on Quora)

As a grad student, I worked 5M part-time (25% of total time) with a co-founder, who came up with, funded and executed the idea. We were supposed to split 50/50 if I become full-time. However, we missed a  milestone & I’m leaving to look for a full-time job. We never had a formal discussion with a contract, details on vesting schedule, etc.
I want to be compensated in equity for the work I put in. How much equity should I ask? What % equity is fair?

Answer (by Dan Walter)

culture. Learn more at www.performensation.com. My expertise includes equity compensation programs.

Develop Grow Achieve – 3 Tiers for P4P

stockPay for performance continues to rise. However, the failure of pay for performance is rising almost as fast. As the discussion about best practices continues, I thought I would provide a few thoughts about an approach that may work for your employees.

Usually the drive for pay for performance comes from the top of the company. “We need to have people be more productive.” “I don’t want to have to pay people that much, unless they are REALLY doing a great job.” While these are valid concerns, we must Continue reading