How to Fully Understand a VC Term Sheet
Originally published: 06/11/2017 17:23
Last version published: 07/11/2017 11:48
Publication number: ELQ-90568-2
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How to Fully Understand a VC Term Sheet

Full descriptions of each aspect that makes up a VC term sheet.

descriptionsexplanationterm sheetventure capital

Introduction

Term Sheet Series Wrap Up

Jason and I hope you enjoyed reading our term sheet series at least as much as we enjoyed writing it. While we won’t be competing with our friend Jack Bauer for any drama awards (I tried to make it 24 posts, but could only get to 20), we’ve tried to take a balanced and pragmatic approach to explaining the mysterious “VC term sheet.” Remember – we’re not lawyers (ok – Jason is) and this isn’t legal advice so you should not rely on it for anything, yada yada standard disclaimers follow. In other words, use at your own risk.

  • Step n°1 |

    Price

    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.


    Alternatively:



    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.

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  • Step n°2 |

    Liquidation Preference

    I’ve written about liquidation preferences (and participating preferred) before, as have most of the other VC bloggers (and several entrepreneur bloggers.) However, for completeness, and since liquidation preferences are the second most important “economic term” (after price), Jason and I decided to write a post on it. Plus – if you read carefully – you might find some new and exciting super-secret VC tricks.



    The liquidation preference determines how the pie is shared on a liquidity event. There are two components that make up what most people call the liquidation preference: the actual preference and participation. To be accurate, the term liquidation preference should only pertain to money returned to a particular series of the company’s stock ahead of other series of stock. Consider for instance the following language:


    Liquidation Preference: In the event of any liquidation or winding up of the Company, the holders of the Series A Preferred shall be entitled to receive in preference to the holders of the Common Stock a per share amount equal to [x] the Original Purchase Price plus any declared but unpaid dividends (the Liquidation Preference).


    This is the actual preference. In the language above, a certain multiple of the original investment per share is returned to the investor before the common stock receives any consideration. For many years, a “1x” liquidation preference was the standard. Starting in 2001, investors often increased this multiple, sometimes as high as 10x! (Note, that it is mostly back to 1x today.)


    The next thing to consider is whether or not the investor shares are participating. Again, note that many people consider the term “liquidation preference” to refer to both the preference and the participation, if any. There are three varieties of participation: full participation, capped participation and non-participating.


    Fully participating stock will share in the liquidation proceeds on a pro rata basis with common after payment of the liquidation preference. The provision normally looks like this:


    Participation: After the payment of the Liquidation Preference to the holders of the Series A Preferred, the remaining assets shall be distributed ratably to the holders of the Common Stock and the Series A Preferred on a common equivalent basis.


    Capped participation indicates that the stock will share in the liquidation proceeds on a pro rata basis until a certain multiple return is reached. Sample language is below.


    Participation: After the payment of the Liquidation Preference to the holders of the Series A Preferred, the remaining assets shall be distributed ratably to the holders of the Common Stock and the Series A Preferred on a common equivalent basis; provided that the holders of Series A Preferred will stop participating once they have received a total liquidation amount per share equal to [X] times the Original Purchase Price, plus any declared but unpaid dividends. Thereafter, the remaining assets shall be distributed ratably to the holders of the Common Stock.


    One interesting thing to note in the section is the actually meaning of the multiple of the Original Purchase Price (the [X]). If the participation multiple is 3 (three times the Original Purchase Price), it would mean that the preferred would stop participation (on a per share basis) once 300% of its original purchase price was returned including any amounts paid out on the liquidation preference. This is not an additional 3x return, rather an addition 2x, assuming the liquidation preference were a 1 times money back return. Perhaps because of this correlation with the actual preference, the term liquidation preference has come to include both the preference and participation terms. If the series is not participating, it will not have a paragraph that looks like the ones above.


    Liquidation preferences are usually easy to understand and assess when dealing with a series A term sheet. It gets much more complicated to understand what is going on as a company matures and sells additional series of equity as understanding how liquidation preferences work between the series is often mathematically (and structurally) challenging. As with many VC-related issues, the approach to liquidation preferences among multiple series of stock varies (and is often overly complex for no apparent reason.) There are two primary approaches: (1) The follow-on investors will stack their preferences on top of each other: series B gets its preference first, then series A or (2) The series are equivalent in status (called pari passu – one of the few latin terms lawyers understand) so that series A and B share pro-ratably until the preferences are returned. Determining which approach to use is a black art which is influenced by the relative negotiating power of the investors involved, ability of the company to go elsewhere for additional financing, economic dynamics of the existing capital structure, and the phase of the moon.


    Most professional, reasonable investors will not want to gouge a company with excessive liquidation preferences. The greater the liquidation preference ahead of management and employees, the lower the potential value of the management / employee equity. There’s a fine balance here and each case is situation specific, but a rational investor will want a combination of “the best price” while insuring “maximum motivation” of management and employees. Obviously what happens in the end is a negotiation and depends on the stage of the company, bargaining strength, and existing capital structure, but in general most companies and their investors will reach a reasonable compromise regarding these provisions. Note that investors get either the liquidation preference and participation amounts (if any) or what they would get on a fully converted common holding, at their election; they do not get both (although in the fully participating case, the participation amount is equal to the fully converted common holding amount.)


    Since we’ve been talking about liquidation preferences, it’s important to define what a “liquidation” event is. Often, entrepreneurs think of a liquidation as simply a “bad” event – such as a bankruptcy or a wind down. In VC-speak, a liquidation is actually tied to a “liquidity event” where the shareholders receive proceeds for their equity in a company, including mergers, acquisitions, or a change of control of the company. As a result, the liquidation preference section determines allocation of proceeds in both good times and bad. Standard language looks like this:


    A merger, acquisition, sale of voting control or sale of substantially all of the assets of the Company in which the shareholders of the Company do not own a majority of the outstanding shares of the surviving corporation shall be deemed to be a liquidation.


    Ironically, lawyers don’t necessary agree on a standard definition of the phrase “liquidity event.” Jason once had an entertaining (and unenjoyable) debate during a guest lecture he gave at his alma mater law school with a partner from a major Chicago law firm (who was teaching a venture class that semester) that claimed an initial public offering should be considered a liquidation event. His theory was that an IPO was the same as a merger, that the company was going away, and thus the investors should get their proceeds. Even if such a theory would be accepted by an investment banker who would be willing to take the company public (no chance in our opinion), it makes no sense as an IPO is simply another funding event for the company, not a liquidation of the company. However, in most IPO scenarios, the VCs “preferred stock” is converted to common stock as part of the IPO, eliminating the issue around a liquidity event in the first place.

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  • Step n°3 |

    Board of Directors

    In our series of posts on Term Sheets, Jason and I thought we’d take on a relatively easy one today. In our previous posts on Price and Liquidation Preferences, we discussed the key economic terms that VCs care about. In this post, we tackle one of the two primary “control terms” that matter to VCs.


    VCs care about control provisions in order to keep an eye on their investment as well as – in some cases – comply with certain federal tax statutes that are a result of the types of investors that invest in VC funds. One of the key control mechanisms is the election of the board of directors.


    There is no secret science in the board of director election paragraph – it simply spells out how the board of directors will be chosen. The entrepreneur should think carefully about what they believe the the proper balance should be between investor, company, founder and outsider represenation should be on the board. There are many existing VC (and entrepreneur) posts concerning the value of a board, the desired composition of the board, and what a board is responsible for. This post doesn’t delve into those issues – we are simply addressing how the board is selected.


    A typical term sheet looks as follows:



    Board of Directors: The size of the Company’s Board of Directors shall be set at [n]. The Board shall initially be comprised of ____________, as the Investor representative[s] _______________, _________________, and ______________. At each meeting for the election of directors, the holders of the Series A Preferred, voting as a separate class, shall be entitled to elect [x] member[s] of the Company’s Board of Directors which director shall be designated by Investor, the holders of Common Stock, voting as a separate class, shall be entitled to elect [x] member[s], and the remaining directors will be [Option 1: mutually agreed upon by the Common and Preferred, voting together as a single class.] [ or Option 2: chosen by the mutual consent of the Board of Directors].


    If a subset of the board is being chosen by more than one constituency (e.g., two directors chosen by the investors, two by founders / common holders and one by “mutual consent”), you should consider what is best: (a) chosen my mutual consent of the board (one person, one vote) or (b) voted upon on the basis of proportional share ownership on a common-as-converted basis.


    VCs will often want to include a board observer as part of the agreement either instead of or in addition to an official member of the board. This is typical and usually helpful, as many VC partners have an associate that works with them on their companies. While there’s rarely any contention about who attends a board meeting, most VCs will want the right to have another person from the firm at the board meeting, even if they are non-voting (an “observer”).


    Many investors will mandate that one of the common-stockholder chosen board members be the then-serving CEO of the company. This can be tricky if the CEO is the same as one of the key founders – often you’ll see language giving the right to a board seat to one of the founders and a separate board seat to the then CEO – consuming two of the common board seats. Then – if the CEO changes, so does that board seat.


    While it is appropriate for board member and observers to be reimbursed for their reasonable out-of-pocket costs for attending board meetings, we rarely see board members receive cash compensation for serving on the board of a private company. Outside board members are usually compensated with stock options – just like key employees – and are often invited to invest money in the company alongside the VCs. 

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  • Step n°4 |

    Protective Provisions

    As Jason and I continue to work our way through a typical venture capital term sheet, we encounter another key control term – the “protective provisions.” Protective provisions are effectively veto rights that investors have on certain actions by the company. Not surprisingly, these provisions protect the VC (unfortunately, not from himself.)



    The protective provisions are often hotly negotiated. Entrepreneurs would like to see few or no protective provisions in their documents. VCs – in contrast – would like to have some veto-level control over a subset of actions the company could take, especially when it impacts the VC’s economic position.


    A typical protective provision clause looks as follows:



    “Protective Provisions: 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 though 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, or (viii) results in the payment or declaration of any dividend on any shares of Common or Preferred Stock, or (ix) issuance of debt in excess of $100,000.”


    Subsection (ix) is often the first thing that gets changed by raising the debt threshold to something higher, as long as the company is a real operating business rather than an early stage startup. Another easily accepted change is to add a minimum threshold of preferred shares outstanding for the protective provisions to apply, keeping the protective provisions from “lingering on forever” when the capital structure is changed – either through a positive or negative event.


    Many company counsels will ask for “materiality qualifiers” (e.g. that the word “material” or “materially” be inserted in front of subsections (i), (ii) and (vi), above.) We always decline this request, not to be stubborn (ok – sometimes to be stubborn), but because we don’t really know what “material” means (if you ask a judge, or read any case law, they will not help you either) and we believe that specificity is more important that debating reasonableness. Remember – these are protective provisions – they don’t “eliminate” the ability to do these things – they simply require consent of the investors. As long as things are “not material” from the VC’s point of view, the consent to do these things will be granted. We’d always rather be clear up front what the rules of engagement are, rather than having a debate over “what material means” in the middle of a situation where these protective provisions might come into play.


    When future financing rounds occur (e.g. Series B – a new “class” of preferred stock), there is always a discussion as to how the protective provisions will work with regard to the new financing. There are two cases: (a) the Series B gets its own protective provisions or (b) the Series B investors vote alongside the original investors as a single class. Entrepreneurs almost always will want a single vote for all the investors (case b), as the separate investor class protective provision vote means the company now has two classes of potential veto constituents to deal with. Normally new investors will ask for a separate vote, as their interests may diverge from those of the original investors due to different pricing, different risk profiles, and a false need for overall control. However, many experienced investors will align with the entrepreneur’s point of view of not wanting separate class votes as they do not want the potential headaches of another equity class vetoing an important company action. If your Series B investors are the same as your Series A investors, this is an irrelevant discussion, and it should be easy for everyone to default to case b. If you have new investors in the Series B, be wary of inappropriate veto rights for small investors (e.g. consent percentage required is 90% instead of a majority (50.1%), so a new investor who only owns 10.1% of the financing can effectively assert control over the protective provisions through his vote.)


    Some investors that feel they have enough control with their board involvement to ensure the company does not take any action contrary to their interests, and as a result will not focus on these protective provisions. During a financing, this is the typical argument used by company counsel to try to convince the VCs to back off of some or all of the protective provisions We think this is a short-sighted approach for the investor, for as a board member, an investor designee has legal duties to work in the best interests of the company. Sometimes the interests of the company and a particular class of shareholders diverge. Therefore, there can be times whereby an individual would legally have to approve something as a board member in the best interests of the company as a whole and not have a protective provision to fall back on as a shareholder. While this dynamic does not necessarily “benefit” the entrepreneur, it’s good governance, as it functionally separates the duties of a board member from that of a shareholder, shining a clearer lens on a area of potential conflict.


    While one could make the argument that protective provisions are at the core of the “trust” between a VC and entrepreneur, we think that’s a hollow and inappropriate statement. When an entrepreneur asks “don’t you trust me – why do we need these things?”, the simple answer is that it is not an issue of trust. Rather, we like to eliminate the discussion about who ultimately gets to make which decisions before we do a deal. Eliminating the ambiguity in roles, control, and rules of engagement is an important part of any financing – the protective provisions cut to the heart of some of this.

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  • Step n°5 |

    Drag Along

    As Jason and I continue to wind our way through a typical VC term sheet, we thought we’d tackle the infamous “drag-along agreement.” This is one of those terms that has recently increased in importance to VCs due to the all the financing and exit dynamics that occurred during the downturn of 2001 – 2003. A typical drag-along agreement is short and sweet and looks as follows:


    “Drag-Along Agreement: The [holders of the Common Stock] or [Founders] and Series A Preferred shall enter into a drag-along agreement whereby if a majority of the holders of Series A Preferred agree to a sale or liquidation of the Company, the holders of the remaining Series A Preferred and Common Stock shall consent to and raise no objections to such sale.”


    As transactions started occurring that were at or below the preferred liquidation preferences, entrepreneurs and founders – not surprisingly – started to resist doing these transactions since they often weren’t getting anything in the deal. While there are several mechanisms to address sharing consideration below the liquidation preferences (e.g. the “carve out” – which we’ll talk more extensively about some other time), the fundamental issue is that if a transaction occurs below the liquidation preferences, it’s likely that some or all of the VCs are losing money on the transaction. The VC point of view on this varies widely (and is often dependent on the situation) – some VCs can deal with this and are happy to provide some consideration to management to get a deal done; others are stubborn in their view that since they lost money, management shouldn’t receive anything.


    However, in all of these situations, the VCs would much rather control their ability to compel other shareholders to support the transaction being considered. As more of these situations appeared, the major holders of common stock (even when they were in the minority of ownership) began refusing to vote for the proposed transaction unless the holders of preferred waived part of their liquidation preferences in favor of the common. Needless to say, this “hold out technique” did not go over well in the venture community and, as a result, the drag-along became more prevalent.


    I’ve heard founders and early shareholders say a variety of things with regard to a drag-along, but the most inane is “it’s not fair – I want to be able to vote my stock however I want to.” Remember that this term is one of a basket of terms that are part of an overall negotiation associated with injecting money into your company. There are tradeoffs in any negotiation and nothing is standard – so “fair” is an irrelevant concept – if you don’t like the terms, don’t do the deal.


    If you are faced with a drag-along, your ownership position will determine whether or not this is a relevant issue for you. An M&A transaction does not require unanimous consent of shareholders (these rules vary by jurisdiction, although the two most common situations are either majority of each class (California) or majority of all shares on an as converted basis (Delaware)), although most acquirers will want 85% to 90% of shareholders to consent to a transaction. So – if you own 1% of a company, while the VCs would like you to sign up to a drag-along, it doesn’t matter that much (unless there are 30 of you that own 1%.) Again – make sure you know what you are fighting for in the negotiation – don’t put disproportionate energy against terms that don’t matter.


    When a company is faced with a drag along in a VC financing proposal, the most common compromise position is to try to get the drag along to pertain to following the majority of the common stock, not the preferred. This way – if you own common – you are only dragged along when a majority of the common consents to the transaction. This is a graceful position for a very small investor to take (e.g. I’ll play ball if a majority of the common plays ball) and one that I’ve always been willing to take when I’ve owned common in a company (e.g. I’m not going to stand in the way of something a majority of folks that have rights equal to me want to do.) Of course, preferred investors can always convert some of their holding to common to generate a majority, but this also results in a benefit to the common as it lowers the overall liquidation preference.

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  • Step n°6 |

    Anti-Dilution

    It has been a while since I put up a term sheet post so I thought I’d tackle a hard one today. While it’s fun to tease lawyers about math (and – actually – about anything), my co-author on this series Jason Mendelson (a lawyer) often reminds me that lawyers can do basic arithmetic (and occasionally have to resort to algebra). The anti-dilution provision demonstrates this point.


    Traditionally, the anti-dilution provision is used to protect investors in the event a company issues equity at a lower valuation then in previous financing rounds. There are two varieties: weighted average anti-dilution and ratchet based anti-dilution. Standard language is as follows:



    Anti-dilution Provisions: The conversion price of the Series A Preferred will be subject to a [full ratchet / broad-based / narrow-based weighted average] adjustment to reduce dilution in the event that the Company issues additional equity securities (other than shares (i) reserved as employee shares described under the Company’s option pool,, (ii) shares issued for consideration other than cash pursuant to a merger, consolidation, acquisition, or similar business combination approved by the Board; (iii) shares issued pursuant to any equipment loan or leasing arrangement, real property leasing arrangement or debt financing from a bank or similar financial institution approved by the Board; and (iv) shares with respect to which the holders of a majority of the outstanding Series A Preferred waive their anti-dilution rights) at a purchase price less than the applicable conversion price. In the event of an issuance of stock involving tranches or other multiple closings, the antidilution adjustment shall be calculated as if all stock was issued at the first closing. The conversion price will also be subject to proportional adjustment for stock splits, stock dividends, combinations, recapitalizations and the like.


    Full ratchet means that if the company issues shares at a price lower than the Series A, then the Series A price is effectively reduced to the price of the new issuance. One can get creative and do “partial ratchets” (such as “half ratchets” or “two-thirds ratchets”) which are a less harsh, but rarely seen.


    While full ratchets came into vogue in the 2001 – 2003 time frame when down-rounds were all the rage, the most common anti-dilution provision is based on the weighted average concept, which takes into account the magnitude of the lower-priced issuance, not just the actual valuation. In a “full ratchet world” if the company sold one share of its stock to someone for a price lower than the Series A, all of the Series A stock would be repriced to the issuance price. In a “weighted average world,” the number of shares issued at the reduced price are considered in the repricing of the Series A. Mathematically (and this is where the lawyers get to show off their math skills – although you’ll notice there are no exponents or summation signs anywhere) it works like this (note that despite the fact one is buying preferred stock, the calculations are always done in as-if-converted to common stock basis):


    NCP = OCP * ((CSO + CSP) / (CSO + CSAP))


    Where:


    NCP = new conversion price


    OCP = old conversion price


    CSO = common stock outstanding


    CSP = common stock purchasable with consideration received by company (i.e. “what the buyer should have bought if it hadn’t been a ‘down round’ issuance”)


    CSAP = common stock actually purchased in subsequent issuance (i.e., “what the buyer actually bought”)


    Recognize that we are determining a “new conversion price” for the Series A Preferred . We are not actually issuing more shares (you can do it this way, but it’s a silly and unnecessarily complicated approach that merely increases the amount the lawyers can bill the company for the financing). Consequently, “anti-dilution provisions” generate a “conversion price adjustment” and the phrases are often used interchangeably.
    Got it? I find it’s best to leave the math to the lawyers.


    You might note the term “broad-based” in describing weighted average anti-dilution. What makes the provision a broad-based versus narrow-based is the definition of “common stock outstanding” (CSO). A broad-based weighted average provision includes both the company’s common stock outstanding (including all common stock issuable upon conversion of its preferred stock) as well as the number of shares of common stock which could be obtained by converting all other options, rights, and securities (including employee options). A narrow-based provision will not include these other convertible securities and limit the calculation to only currently outstanding securities. The number of shares and how you count them matter – make sure you are agreeing on the same definition (you’ll often find different lawyers arguing over what to include or not include in the definitions – again – this is another common legal fee inflation technique).


    In our example language, we’ve included a section which is generally referred to as “anti-dilution carve outs” (the section (other than shares (i) … (iv)). These are the standard exceptions for share granted at lower prices for which anti-dilution does not kick in. Obviously – from a company (and entrepreneur) perspective – more exceptions are better – and most investors will accept these carve-outs without much argument.


    One particular item to note is the last carve out: (iv) shares with respect to which the holders of a majority of the outstanding Series A Preferred waive their anti-dilution rights. This is a carve out that started appearing recently which we have found to be very helpful in deals where a majority of the Series A investors agree to further fund a company in a follow-on financing, but the price will be lower than the original Series A. In this example, several minority investors signaled they were not planning to invest in the new round, as they would have preferred to “sit back” and increase their ownership stake via the anti-dilution provision. Having the larger investors (the majority of the class) “step up” and vote to carve the financing out of the anti-dilution terms was a huge bonus for the company common holders and employees who would have suffered the dilution of additional anti-dilution from investors who were not continuing to participate in financing the company. This approach encourages the minority investors to participate in the round in order to protect themselves from dilution.


    Occasionally, anti-dilution will be absent in a Series A term sheet. Investors love precedent (e.g. the new investor says “I want what the last guy got, plus more”). In many cases anti-dilution provisions hurt Series A investors more than prior investors if you assume the Series A price is the low watermark for the company. For instance, if the Series A price is $1.00, the Series B price is $5.00, and the Series C price is $3.00, then the Series B is benefited by an anti-dilution provision at the expense of the Series A. However, our experience is that anti-dilution is usually requested despite this as Series B investors will most likely always ask for it and – since they do – the Series A proactively asks for it anyway.


    In addition to economic impacts, anti-dilution provisions can have control impacts. First, the existence of an anti-dilution provision incents the company to issue new rounds of stock at higher valuations because of the ramifications of anti-dilution protection to the common stock holders. In some cases, a company may pass on taking an additional investment at a lower valuation (although practically speaking, this only happens when a company has other alternatives to the financing). Second, a recent phenomenon is to tie anti-dilution calculations to milestones the investors have set for the company resulting in a conversion price adjustment in the case that the company does not meet certain revenue, product development or other business milestones. In this situation, the anti-dilution adjustments occur automatically if the company does not meet in its objectives, unless this is waived by the investor after the fact. This creates a powerful incentive for the company to accomplish its investor-determined goals. We tend to avoid this approach, as blindly hitting pre-determined (at the time of financing) product and sales milestones is not always best for the long-term development of a company, especially if these goals end up creating a diverging set of goals between management and the investors as the business evolves.


    Anti-dilution provisions are almost always part of a financing, so understanding the nuances and knowing which aspects to negotiate is an important part of the entrepreneur’s toolkit. We advise you not to get hung up in trying to eliminate anti-dilution provisions – rather focus on (a) minimizing their impact and (b) building value in your company after the financing so they don’t ever come into play.

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