About the Author
Dov S. Rosen is a JUSTLAW network attorney who represents private and publicly-traded companies in negotiating mergers, acquisitions, private placements, IPOs, and commercial contracts. He also has an active practice negotiating commercial real estate loans, property acquisitions, and commercial leases.
Dov graduated from Georgetown University Law Center in 2011 and, in 2020, founded The Law Offices of Dov S. Rosen.
He can be reached at [email protected].
(This article is the first in a multi-part series. Stay tuned to The Verdict for the next installments!)
You’ve got a winning idea. You have a business plan set up. Maybe you even have some investors lined up.
Congratulations – you’re on your way to starting your own business.
Part I: Cash 101
Cash is the lifeline of any business. And the key question for your business is how that cash flows in and how it may be expected to flow out. This leads us to the first big choices your business will make: how to raise money, whom to raise it from, and what to give up in return.
Early-stage startup investors will often include family and friends, “angel” investors (generally, high-net-worth individuals who are willing to invest in early-stage companies in exchange for preferred equity), and – for particularly promising new companies – venture capital firms. Nowadays, crowdfunding platforms like GoFundMe are also becoming increasingly popular for early-stage companies (we will explore the advantages and limitations of crowdfunding in a later installment). For startups later in their business lifecycle, institutional investors may play a greater role, and for more advanced companies the public equity markets may become relevant.
Each of these investors will have different expectations about what they will receive in return for their money. Typical forms of startup capital include common equity, preferred equity (often with the right to convert to common at a later time), and convertible debt (debt with a right to convert to equity at a later time). Other equity structures like simple agreements for future equity, or “SAFEs”, offer distinct advantages and disadvantages and are becoming more common. And for many businesses, business loans (including SBA loans for qualified borrowers) are a good option for providing initial capital – but with their own advantages and disadvantages. We will discuss these various types of startup capital later in our series.
A note on securities laws:
Our focus is on early-stage startups engaging in private offerings that are exempt from registration with the SEC or other state regulatory commissions. Securities laws are not just for public companies – any company that issues equity to raise money is potentially subject to them and must fall within an exemption avoid registration and reporting requirements. In later parts of this series, we will speak about the various exemptions from securities laws and
how to make sure you stay within the rules throughout your business lifecycle.
Cash will almost always come at a cost. To make your idea a reality, you will inevitably have to trade a piece of ownership over the idea you have created and often a degree of control over the business you are building. But that does not mean all equity raises will have the same impact on the future of your business. The choices you make early on can determine the evolution of your business for years to come, preserving your flexibility and a large degree of your control. Conversely, a sub-optimal equity structure, poor entity choice, or improperly drafted company agreement can hamstring your ability to raise cash, leave you stuck with a bad partner, and even cost you the control you need to make your business grow.
But making necessary trade-offs is a natural part of the growth cycle of every business. The key is to establish clear expectations and to structure investments in a way that respects the needs of investors while preserving your ability to grow the business. The trade-offs you will have to make will generally come in the following areas: keeping cash in the business, keeping the flexibility to raise more cash, and keeping control over business decisions