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Co-founder Equity Split: A New Framework to Objectively Divide Startup Ownership and Get Back to Building a Business

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We’ve just released our free Co-founder Equity Split tool. It’ll give you a fair and objective recommendation about how to divide your startup’s ownership, so you and your co-founders will have a sensible, real starting point for this notoriously hard, crucially important conversation.

Co-Founder Equity Split

Many startup founders find themselves lacking clarity and direction when it comes time to divide their new company’s ownership among co-founders. It’s a crucial step, and one that is very important to take seriously: in addition to having potentially massive effects on each person’s earning potential if the startup takes off, showing that your team (and CEO) can handle hard discussions is an important signal to potential investors. But finding and asking the right questions to split equity is difficult, and because your team is excited, new, and probably close, it’s tempting to avoid the issue, sidestep it, and take shortcuts.

For founders who do take on the responsibility head-on, there are many existing guides, blog posts, books, Quora answers, and rules of thumb recommending processes to split equity, but many founders run into difficulties actually applying these guidelines and frameworks. They usually require estimating obscure values and seemingly arbitrary percentages: “Founder B increases our value by 25% sometime in the future, so I should be willing to give them 1/(1-0.25) of the company.” To arrive at that answer, you’d have to be able to guess your venture’s current value, future value, and if the value would increase by a certain percentage from a certain person’s actions, without any context at all.

Our goal in building this Co-founder Equity Split tool was to consume all the different methods out there and build a framework that avoided their shortcomings but still appreciated the complexity of the question at hand. We found that, across all of these frameworks (and in our own experience), the most basic question co-founders need to answer is: “What are the venture’s needs, who is bringing value to the table, how much and what kind of value is each person bringing, and how can we make all these different kinds of contributions comparable?”

By value, we mean any attributes or effects that will be integral to building, growing, and managing the venture. While there are many kinds of value each co-founder can bring to the table, there are basically just two ways to assess value:

  • By looking backward: what background, skills, and experience is a co-founder bringing to the table?
  • By looking forward: what impact and commitment will a co-founder bring to the table in the future?

Given that startups split equity very early on, most companies going through this process have more future than they have history, so our framework puts more weight on the forward-looking framework than the backward-looking framework.

The forward-looking framework, which is the backbone of our methodology, essentially looks at the potential path and future of the venture in terms of challenges that the company will face and the value the company will create by overcoming those challenges. By looking at the venture’s future as a series of opportunities to create or lose value, it becomes possible to estimate the value each co-founder may individually create, based on their particular background, skills, and degree of commitment.

Our framework:

At Gust, we reviewed hundreds of equity ownership agreements between founders of successful ventures, analyzed various forms of businesses, and studied the frameworks available to allocate ownership. This research helped us develop our own framework for determining a co-founder equity split.

While analyzing these ventures, we found patterns in the types of skills that tend to lead to successful outcomes. Some ventures need founders with deep technological knowledge (think Google) while others require a balanced approach to technology, design, and hustle (think Airbnb). Most ventures require one entrepreneurial co-founder who can commit wholeheartedly to the company, serve as the primary spokesperson, be willing to forego work/life balance, and drive the venture to success. That person will usually act as CEO, but may well require a strong team of co-founders to complete the management team. Accordingly, we believe that you should view equity allocation as a function of:

  1. The type of venture you are pursuing (a big and difficult question that our tool can help you break down into several simple questions), and
  2. Which co-founders are bringing what kind of value to the table, what kind of value, and how much.

Based on responses to questions about your business and your co-founders’ backgrounds and contributions, as well as the level of commitment and personal responsibility they are willing to sign up for, we can produce a venture-specific recommendation about the proportional ownership of the company. This will help you decide how much founders stock is issued to whom in your startup’s initial cap table.

This framework doesn’t rely on figuring out your company’s current value, your company’s future value, or the benefits a founder is forgoing by joining the venture versus remaining on the market. In addition, it’s sensitive to what your venture is actually doing.

Thinking about equity in these terms—as portions of the overall value created by the team—helps co-founders avoid mis-valuing each team member based on superficial factors, like the order in which they joined, interpersonal relationships, or small amounts of initial personal funding. In particular, there are two very common, very understandable, but very serious errors that co-founders make:

1. Splitting equity 50/50 is rarely the right answer

While an even split may turn out to be the best answer, founders should not split the equity blindly. Investors look for CEOs who can have difficult conversations and resolve them sensibly and satisfactorily. The question of ownership between co-founders is one of the earliest of these difficult conversations, so it’s an important signal of the future CEO’s leadership and judgment for investors. Having a framework that helps co-founders discuss their individual relationships to the value the team must create as a whole, and the skills necessary to overcome future challenges, is key to considering each person’s role objectively.

Some schools of thought suggest that an even split is necessary to prove or preserve mutual respect between founders. In some situations, this is a sensible move—if the founders have access to a large pool of possible co-founders where they can find mutually complementary skills and ability to create equal value. In most cases, though, these conditions aren’t met. Equity isn’t a portion of a company’s respect, it’s a portion of a company’s value. Not all founders deliver equal value, and that’s okay. Founders that don’t recognize this reality are already demonstrating their inability to act in the best interest of the venture by putting themselves or their co-founders first and the venture second.

In addition to these concerns, there is also the relationship between equity and leadership. Most ventures hinge on the direction and drive of one co-founder in particular—generally the CEO—who will be the one to break tie votes, make the hardest calls, and probably sleep least. Because this person will be the primary focus of investors and partners, and thus the person on whose shoulders responsibility for the company’s performance ultimately rests, it is rational, reasonable and will be expected by investors that this person have a larger equity share than other cofounders.

2. Early-stage founder contributions should not be quantified in dollars or equated to salaries

There are a plethora of reasons why pegging each founder’s contribution to a target dollar amount is a bad idea. Here are some:

•   Valuations are effectively risk-adjusted and time-adjusted future possible values, expressed in today’s terms. Adjusting for a future value and adjusting for risks is difficult even for a public company (despite being given all the identical data available about any public company stock, 20 analysts will produce multiple different opinions about its value). Doing the same for a new, pre-revenue startup in an emerging market is even less likely to produce a consensus estimate.

•   A company’s valuation is not a single data point. It’s a distribution of values, with more-likely and less-likely scenarios. With startups, the spread of distribution is so wide (any given company could yield either a 0x return or 1000x return) that using a distribution as the basis of a conclusion about the dollar value of equity would amount to a wild guess at best.

•   Despite the appealing simplicity of the concept, the fact is that value created by a member of a venture is not the same as the price of that person’s labor on the market. Take a simple three-person structure (hacker, hustler, and designer). The hacker could be making $200K as a consultant, the hustler may be making $120K base with a $100K commission at a fortune 500 company, and the designer may be making $180K as a VP of design at a Series D startup + 20,000 shares that he’ll have to forgo if he joins. But these figures are related to the value of their work for their employers, not their contributions to the new venture. Because equity represents the value each founder creates, not the price of hiring the founder, trying to peg the amount of equity a person receives to the amount of money they would otherwise make is a misuse of the concept. Take a more complicated scenario: a professional athlete who is making $5M a year, but is interested in the soft-drink industry and wants to use her star-power and fame to help launch a new venture. She finds a co-founder with entrepreneurial ability and technical knowledge that allow the venture to develop the product, but who makes $150K at her current job. The $5M salary that the athlete makes doesn’t represent a contribution to the venture that is 33 times more important than that of her co-founder, who is actually going to be driving the company, so structuring equity around their “market value” is neither fair nor sensible.

Complicated questions rarely have simple answers, but these same complicated questions can be answered with intelligent approaches. We have found that the questions that will inform an equity split can be broken out into smaller, digestible steps.

The resulting framework: Gust’s Co-founder Equity Split tool. We hope you enjoy it.

Source: http://blog.gust.com/cofounder-equity-split-framework-objectively-divide-equity/

Aerospace

Boston startups expand region’s venture capital footprint

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This year has shaken up venture capital, turning a hot early start to 2020 into a glacial period permeated with fear during the early days of COVID-19. That ice quickly melted as venture capitalists discovered that demand for software and other services that startups provide was accelerating, pushing many young tech companies back into growth mode, and investors back into the check-writing arena.

Boston has been an exemplar of the trend, with early pandemic caution dissolving into rapid-fire dealmaking as summer rolled into fall.

We collated new data that underscores the trend, showing that Boston’s third quarter looks very solid compared to its peer groups, and leads greater New England’s share of American venture capital higher during the three-month period.

For our October look at Boston and its startup scene, let’s get into the data and then understand how a new cohort of founders is cropping up among the city’s educational network.

A strong Q3, a strong 2020

Boston’s third quarter was strong, effectively matching the capital raised in New York City during the three-month period. As we head into the fourth quarter, it appears that the silver medal in American startup ecosystems is up for grabs based on what happens in Q4.

Boston could start 2021 as the number-two place to raise venture capital in the country. Or New York City could pip it at the finish line. Let’s check the numbers.

According to PitchBook data shared with TechCrunch, the metro Boston area raised $4.34 billion in venture capital during the third quarter. New York City and its metro area managed $4.45 billion during the same time period, an effective tie. Los Angeles and its own metro area managed just $3.90 billion.

In 2020 the numbers tilt in Boston’s favor, with the city and surrounding area collecting $12.83 billion in venture capital. New York City came in second through Q3, with $12.30 billion in venture capital. Los Angeles was a distant third at $8.66 billion for the year through Q3.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2020/10/23/boston-startups-expand-regions-venture-capital-footprint/

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Private Equity

Alternative investments: Stronger than steel. Able to stop a speeding bullet. It’s super wood.

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Simple processes can make wood tough, impact-resistant—or even transparent. — https://getpocket.com/explore/item/stronger-than-steel-able-to-stop-a-speeding-bullet-it-s-super-wood?utm_source=emailsynd&utm_medium=social

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Source: https://sincityfinancier.wordpress.com/2020/10/20/20-october-2020-1336/

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Key Microsoft dealmaker jumps to PE

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Ant Group gets OK for Hong Kong IPO; Conoco set for $9.7B shale deal; Lee Fixel’s Addition raises $1.4B fund; Cerberus downsizes SPAC expectations
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Tech deals buoy private equity as the crisis recovery continues
Thanks to the coronavirus crisis, the rate of US private equity dealmaking in 2020 continues to lag well behind past years. But there are reasons to think the market is beginning to bounce back after bottoming out during the second quarter—a recovery that’s been driven in part by a stream of tech buyouts that not even a pandemic could halt.

Sponsored by UMB Fund Services and ON Partners, PitchBook’s Q3 2020 US PE Breakdown examines the industry’s insatiable appetite for tech deals, plus 2020’s ongoing SPAC frenzy and other trends defining this time of transition across private equity. Key takeaways include:

  • PE firms have capitalized on a swift recovery for public equity markets with a string of multibillion-dollar exits via IPO
  • New government guidelines and a potential change to the tax code could lead to an uptick in dealmaking
  • Current signs point to a feverish finish to the year for PE fundraising
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Key Microsoft dealmaker jumps to EQT
Swedish private equity giant EQT has hired seasoned tech dealmaker Marc Brown as a partner and head of its new growth unit, the latest sign of the firm’s ambitions for diversification in the wake of its initial public offering last year.

Brown was previously a vice president of corporate development at Microsoft, where he led more than 185 acquisitions for the tech colossus, including its $26.2 billion acquisition of LinkedIn in 2016 and its $7.5 billion takeover of GitHub in 2018. More recently, Brown was involved in Microsoft’s ill-fated negotiations to acquire TikTok‘s US assets, according to Bloomberg.

EQT and some of the other biggest private equity firms in the world continue to display a building interest in both venture investments and tech deals, chasing the sorts of superior returns that earlier-stage investments can produce. In another notable recent hire, in August, Blackstone brought on Christine Feng as a senior managing director focused on tech investments; Feng had previously been a senior executive at Amazon focused on M&A.

For more on PE’s growing appetite for tech, check out our latest analyst note.

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Iterative design to transform internal talent marketplaces
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Companies like yours are exploring a concept referred to as “the internal talent marketplace.” This relatively new talent operating model offers an innovative and flexible approach to talent acquisition, mobility and management. It connects employees with both internal and external opportunities, enables managers to promote varied roles, and helps organizations quickly deploy, motivate, develop and retain employees.

Done right—through iterative design—the internal talent marketplace can deliver a broad range of benefits across talent acquisition, mobility and management, transforming the workforce and improving organizational agility.

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Conoco expands shale footprint with $9.7B Concho deal
A ConocoPhillips refinery in Ponca City, Okla.
(John Elk III/Getty Images)
ConocoPhillips has agreed to purchase fellow oil and gas company Concho Resources in an all-stock deal that values Concho at $9.7 billion and would create a combined entity with an enterprise value of about $60 billion. Investors will receive 1.46 Conoco shares for each Concho share, representing a 15% premium to Concho’s closing stock price on Oct. 13.

The deal expands Houston-based Conoco’s footprint in the Permian Basin and would result in the production of more than 1.5 million barrels of oil equivalent per day. The combination would also represent the largest US oil deal since the pandemic began affecting the energy markets, and would create the largest independent oil company in the country, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Conoco’s planned acquisition of Concho follows a string of energy company consolidations amid low oil prices and weak demand. Chevron closed a $5 billion all-stock deal for Noble Energy earlier this month. And, in late September, Devon Energy agreed to buy WPX Energy for a price tag of $2.6 billion.

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Pretium, Ares value home-rental business at $2.4B
Partners Group set for $2.4B Telepass deal
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HIG to buy hospice provider from Vistria
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Ant Group gets approval for Hong Kong listing
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VC Deals
Hyperscience hauls in $80M Series D
New York-based startup Hyperscience has raised $80 million in a round led by Tiger Global, with Bond and Bessemer Venture Partners also participating. The company makes software to automate routine business tasks. Earlier this year, Hyperscience raised a $60 million Series C and announced a threefold year-over-year increase in revenue.
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Unit21 picks up $13M
Unit21, the creator of an API-based platform that helps companies identify and investigate money laundering and fraud, has raised $13 million in a round led by A.Capital Ventures. Other participating investors include Gradient Ventures, Core VC and South Park Commons. Founded in 2018, the San Francisco-based company’s customers include Coinbase, Intuit and Gusto.
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Solarea Bio collects $11M+ Series A
Solarea Bio, a developer of microbiome-based therapeutics that use bacteria, fungi and prebiotic fibers to help treat inflammatory diseases, has raised more than $11 million in a round co-led by S2G Ventures and Bold Capital Partners. Founded in 2017 and based near Boston, the biotech company is valued at around $20 million, according to PitchBook data.
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Gisev Family Office, Viking Global
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Pretium, Ares value home-rental business at $2.4B
Investors Pretium and Ares Management have agreed to acquire Front Yard Residential in a deal valued at $2.4 billion, with the price of $13.50 per share representing a nearly 36% premium to Front Yard’s closing share price on Friday. Based in the US Virgin Islands, Front Yard is an owner of single-family rental homes that currently manages more than 40,000 properties.
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Partners Group set for $2.4B Telepass deal
Swiss investor Partners Group has agreed to buy an equity interest in Telepass, giving the Italian provider of toll-collection services an enterprise valuation of around €2 billion (about $2.4 billion). Partners Group will assume a 49% stake, according to Bloomberg, taking joint ownership of the business alongside current backer Atlantia, an Italian infrastructure specialist. Telepass processes some €7 billion worth of annual transactions across 14 European nations.
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I Squared inks $2.15B infrastructure pact
Infrastructure investor I Squared Capital has agreed to purchase the infrastructure division of Virginia-based cloud networking specialist GTT Communications for $2.15 billion. The unit provides fiber network and data-center infrastructure services to clients across Europe and North America.
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HIG to buy hospice provider from Vistria
HIG Capital has agreed to purchase St. Croix Hospice, a Minnesota-based provider of hospice care services in the US Midwest. The deal is worth some $580 million, according to PE Hub. Vistria Group has owned St. Croix Hospice since 2017.
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Kainos set to scoop up Nutrisystem
Kainos Capital has agreed to acquire direct-to-consumer weight management company Nutrisystem from Tivity Health for $575 million. Kainos teamed with MSD Partners on the transaction, which comes less than two years after Tivity acquired Philadelphia-based Nutrisystem in a deal worth $1.3 billion.
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Thoma Bravo invests in financial software
Thoma Bravo has acquired a controlling stake in AxiomSL, a developer of risk management and regulatory software for bankers, investment managers and other financial professionals. Based in New York, AxiomSL raised prior backing from TCV in 2017.
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Portfolio Companies
Nextdoor mulls options for going public
Nextdoor is exploring options to go public, which include an IPO, direct listing or a reverse merger with a SPAC, according to Bloomberg. The social network for neighbors is reportedly seeking a valuation of $4 billion to $5 billion. Nextdoor was valued at $2.1 billion in 2019 after raising $170 million, according to PitchBook data; its investors include Benchmark Greylock Partners, Kleiner Perkins and Tiger Global.
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Exits & IPOs
Ant Group gets approval for Hong Kong listing
Ant Group has received the go-ahead from Chinese regulators for the Hong Kong portion of its dual IPO, according to reports. Approval for the Chinese fintech company’s Shanghai registration is still outstanding, although a decision is expected soon, according to Bloomberg. Ant Group is reportedly seeking a $280 billion valuation and hopes to raise some $35 billion with the dual listing, potentially resulting in the largest-ever IPO.
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Networking companies connect with $450M deal
California-based Juniper Networks has agreed to pay $450 million for 128 Technology, a fellow networking specialist. Based near Boston, 128 Technology has raised prior funding from investors including G20 Ventures and Montlake Capital, reaching a valuation of nearly $166 million in 2018, according to PitchBook data.
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Cerberus reduces expectations for telecom SPAC
A special-purpose acquisition company sponsored by Cerberus Capital Management has downsized plans for its coming IPO, now aiming to raise $300 million instead of the $400 million target it initially registered. The blank-check company, called Cerberus Telecom Acquisition Corp., still plans to use the proceeds of the listing to conduct a reverse merger with a target in the information and communications technology sector.
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Billtrust to go public in SPAC deal
Billtrust, a payments software provider, has agreed to a reverse merger with South Mountain Merger, a special-purpose acquisition company. The deal values the combined business at $1.3 billion; upon closing, the company will change its name to BTRS Holdings and trade on the Nasdaq.
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Vestar set for Woodstream exit
Vestar Capital Partners has agreed to sell Woodstream, a maker of various products focused on pest control, animal containment and lawn care, to Bansk Group, a private investment firm that targets growth companies. Based in Pennsylvania, Woodstream has been part of Vestar’s portfolio since 2015.
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Fundraising
LLR Partners sees 50% size step-up
LLR Partners has closed its sixth flagship fund on $1.8 billion, with plans to use the capital to pursue lower-middle-market deals in the healthcare and technology sectors. The fund will chiefly target investments of between $25 million and $100 million. LLR Partners closed its fifth fund on $1.2 billion in 2018.
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Lee Fixel’s Addition lands $1.4B
Addition, the venture firm formed by Tiger Global veteran Lee Fixel, has brought in a $1.4 billion fund, according to the Financial Times, less than four months after Addition raised $1.3 billion for a separate vehicle. The firm’s portfolio includes Lyra Health and Snyk. Last year, Fixel departed Tiger Global to branch out on his own after more than a dozen years with the firm.
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Eureka tops $200M
Eureka Equity Partners has closed its fourth flagship buyout fund with a little more than $200 million in commitments, surpassing a predecessor that closed on $175 million in 2014. Based in Philadelphia, Eureka primarily pursues investments in the business and healthcare services, manufacturing and consumer products sectors.
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Investors
Colonial Consulting rebrands as Crewcial Partners, CEO steps down
Colonial Consulting, an investment advisory firm for philanthropies and other nonprofit investors, has rebranded itself as Crewcial Partners. The New York firm, which was founded in 1980, also announced that chief executive Charlie Georgalas will step down. Dine Grullon, the firm’s chief operations officer, was named interim CEO.
Corporate M&A
Alibaba lines up $3.6B supermarket deal
Alibaba has agreed to take a majority stake in Sun Art Retail Group, an operator of supermarkets and hypermarkets in China. The Chinese tech giant will acquire a nearly 71% interest in A-RT Retail, which owns 51% of Sun Art’s equity interest, valuing A-RT at approximately HK$28 billion (about $3.6 billion). Alibaba will control a roughly 72% stake in Sun Art upon the deal’s completion.
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EU nears approval of Google’s Fitbit deal
Google has made new concessions designed to alleviate European antitrust concerns related to its planned $2.1 billion purchase of Fitbit, adjustments that should allow the deal to win approval from the EU, according to Reuters. The EU’s regulatory arm has also reportedly delayed its deadline for approving the deal from Dec. 23 to Jan. 8. It has been nearly a year since Google and Fitbit first announced plans for a takeover.
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Chart of the Day
“Breaking down activity via region shows the UK & Ireland continued to account for the lion’s share of capital raised and fund count proportions, accounting for 66.6% and 39.1%, respectively, with London dominating fund locations.”

Source: PitchBook’s Q3 2020 European PE Breakdown

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