HM Revenue & Customs at Mevagissey Harbour

HM Revenue & Customs at Mevagissey Harbour (Photo credit: Cross Duck)

How do you issue the right number of shares/options to an employee or an advisor? by Carlos Eduardo Espinal @cee

Most founders have desire to share their equity with people that helped them along the way, both as a thank you, but also as a motivation tool. However, how to share is always a big question mark for every Founder. The two most frequently asked question is, “How much equity should I assign an advisor?”, which is shortly followed by “How do I know when to issue shares to new employees and how much do I give them?”.

So, let’s take step back and look at why we are doing this in the first place.

Motivating employees and or advisors is a key part of having a productive workforce. One key element to unlock this productivity is by creating a culture of fairness. In his book titled ‘Drive’, Daniel H. Pink talks about how an employee’s productivity can be binary provided that the right results-oriented work environment is created AND they are treated fairly from a compensation point of view. Effectively, if you don’t create a feeling of fairness in terms of compensation, relative to the market, employees will simply not be ‘open’ to be fully motivated as they will feel slighted. It’s a simple concept on paper, harder to implement in practice.

Therefore, the word ‘fairness’ is what’s important here.. how do you define the fairness culture in your startup?

Let’s start with advisors:

Advisors need to commit some time to your company to ‘earn’ their equity. The first thing to do is to define what kind of role this advisor is going to take. Is he going to provide board-level feedback and help or just operational help (marketing, for example). Is she going to meet with you once a week or once a month?

Then, define a time period for this relationship before you review it for extension. As in, Joe, your marketing advisor, will work with you once a week for 9 months, at which point you can review your working relationship to see if he is needed any further or if it is working out.

It’s really quite simple, find someone that can help you, narrowly define expectations you have of each other and for how long, and then find an equity amount that is in line with the market and that makes them happy.

For the USA, the Founder Institute has come up with some guidelines on numbers, and you can read about those here:

They also include an agreement you can sign with your advisor to narrowly define the engagement. For the UK, I’ll be linking to one soon… stay tuned.

Onto Employees (which is a bit trickier and I’ll include the topic of valuations as a bonus):

Back to the topic of Fairness… Fairness is defined by having the total compensation of your employee meet his or her expectations as defined by the market. As such, you need to think of your employee’s total compensation (cash + equity) as something that is within the boundaries of the market norm for his or her role. Deviate too much and not only is hiring hard(er), but you will have inherently unmotivated employees. Total compensations at startups usually have low or no salary, so that fairness is established by assigning equity.

So in order to quantify the value of the equity portion of the total compensation of an employee, one important thing to consider is that the total value of the option package issued, is a function of both the total number given, but also the strike price they have. The two go hand in hand.

But before we go any further, a quick definition check on Strike Price:

An option’s strike price is the fixed price assigned to an option for the purchasing of the underlying share (typically ordinary shares) in the company. In effect, you have to pay the [strike price x the options] you’ve been granted, to exercise your right to buy the underlying shares. Once you’ve ‘exercised’, you own the shares.

Pricing strike prices is a bit of a pain. In the USA, you have to do 409A valuations. More on that from Fred Wilson here:

Pricing in the UK is both simpler and more difficult. More difficult because it isn’t as clear as the USA, but simpler, because there is more flexibility.

Here is the exact language from HMRC (

If EMI options in an unquoted company are granted the company can, if it wishes, agree the market value of the shares with HMRC Shares and Assets Valuation (SAV). To agree a market value with them the company will need to propose a value for the shares and provide background information to support the proposal. It will need to complete form Val 231 for EMI options. The form outlines the information needed to support the proposed valuation. When it is complete, it should be sent it to HMRC Shares and Assets Valuation (SAV). If the form is not used or the company does not supply all the information requested, it may be asked to supply the missing information before a valuation can begin. This could delay the agreement of the valuation. When HMRC Shares and Assets Valuation (SAV) receive your completed form, they will tell you within ten working days if they need any further information. Asking HMRC to agree a valuation is not the same as:

This language does give you some flexibility on how you want to value and define your company’s value at the time you are setting the strike price. Book an appointment with someone like to discuss how you might go about setting this, or with your lawyers. Getting this right is important because if you don’t get it right, it will have serious tax implications for your employees or any other option recipients.

So back to strike pricing and its effect on the value you give to your employees:

If you have a very high strike price, you affect the employee’s total return on an exit. In a simplified equation (that isn’t designed to give you the present value of your options (Black–Scholes), but rather just the mechanics of cashing out), the value of the options will be:

(Share Price at Exit * Options you have) – (Strike Price you have * Options you have) = value to employee in cash at exit

You can see where to match employee 100, who comes in when the company is worth a lot more, with employee 10, who came in early, you’d have to issue employee 100 many more shares to ‘equal’ the same given to Employee 10. Try explaining all that to your hundredth employee and also to your first few, who might feel slighted that someone has more ‘shares’ than they do for the same job function.

Also, here is an interesting point to consider: different exercise prices for fully vested employees will cause them to behave differently. An employee who has 100 shares to buy, but only at $1 each will act differently (buy the shares and be a passive shareholder) vs an employee that has 100 shares at $100 (more likely to make a calculated decision as to whether to exercise (or not) the options upon a departure). Remember, if you set an exercise period after someone leaves the company, the question is, do you want them to keep the shares as a bet (low price) or only keep them if they really believe in the company (high price)? Again, no right answer as you balance between equity you give out.

So how much equity to give them?

After the above exercise, you see the challenge between articulating fairness mathematically, but also in terms of how employees chat between themselves and can sometimes get the wrong impressions based on not having all the facts.

Transparency is very useful in the early stages of a business, but as you grow, you may choose to just share the basic information of your company’s equity buckets, or strata. It’s really up to you and how you want to stratify the different kinds of employee equity issuances, for example: director level, supervisory level, and admin level.

The trick here, is really in how to ‘define’ who is what. I’d say that the important strata are:

Then, you define what’s a fair total comp bucket value for each of these, and then use the math equations to give you the relative values of equity for each strata.

As with most things of this nature, however, there are more than one way to slice the onion.

Fred Wilson’s post below on what to issue each strata is useful as a guide for both an equation to calculate absolute numbers, but also to help understand the different tiers of employees.

And here is Guy Kawasaki’s suggested split (via @brandid):

Lastly, here is another version of how to divide things ‘fairly’ between everyone (via @gosimpletax):

Once you’ve chosen your preferred method, one mistake to avoid is to promise early employees ‘percentages’. Meaning, don’t say, I’ll give you 2%, but rather say, I’m giving you 2,000 shares which represent 2% of our current cap table. The reason is that if you leave it verbally at 2%, you may inadvertently make them believe that at the next round the will continue to have 2%. Don’t assume all employees understand the mechanics of financing rounds and/or dilution.

Another mistake to avoid is not including a vesting period. Without a vesting period, your employees have full access to what you’ve promised them, whether they’ve spent time to ‘earn it’, it is dangerous for the company to not have one. Read here an explanation of why that’s important:

In the end, this is more of an art, and you will get it wrong at least once, and don’t be afraid to experiment, but as long as you have a process, I believe you will have less issues going forward, particularly when the company grows larger, than if you leave things entirely open-ended.

Seedcamp Paris Demos

Seedcamp Paris Demos (photo credit: @vicky_stoyanova)

Our visit to Paris was the last trip for the Seedcamp team in 2012. After 10 successful events all across the world, a huge US Trip in the spring, and an amazing Seedcamp Week in September, it turned out to be the picture perfect finish to the year.

Our friends at Orrick hosted us, like in the previous two years, at their beautiful Paris office. Besides great teams from all over Europe, we had an impressive line up of successful mentors – no doubt because of leWeb happening just after. We heard well polished pitches by all teams in the morning, and jumped straight into a Master Class by three Seedcamp founders who shared insights and secrets of their entrepreneurial journeys.

Philippe Laval, the founder of the successful address book update service, shared how the company moved from a broad offering of various email services to their current laser sharp focus based on a religious concentration on customer feedback and tracking. Nicolas Steegman, the founder of video editing service Stupeflix, talked about his approach to hiring and building the company: the company only hired the absolute experts in their field and focused on maintaining a very good cultural fit. Andreas Klinger, cofounder of Lookk‘ took a different approach: his highly entertaining talk covered some do’s and dont’s from his experience and was a good way to reflect on a lot of critical decisions that are relevant for many startups.

The afternoon was spent in mentoring sessions – as always, highly engaging and with a clear focus on connecting the startups with the world’s best startup mentors, investors, and entrepreneurs. Some of the highly rated mentors of the day were Jeff Clavier (Softtech VC), Jim Franklin (CEO, Sendgrid), Gabriel Hubert (CEO, teleportd), David Bizer (HackFWD), Steven Willmott (CEO, 3Scale), Ivan Farneti (Partner, DHTV), Colette Ballou (Founder, BallouPR), Craig Forrest (ex Apple). In total we had more than 100 participants on the day.

Three new Seedcampers

Out of the teams that attended, we were especially intrigued by a few companies that we selected for subsequent investment. We made a total of three investments out of Seedcamp Paris. All these companies are joining us in London at Google Campus and will be part of the US trip to Boston, New York, and the Valley in spring 2013:

Thanks for all the support!

Our gratitude goes to our event partner, Orrick, for their support and for hosting us in their Parisian office. We would also like to thank our event sponsors, SoftLayer and Yammer, who make it possible for us to host such a great event, and of course not forgetting our yearly sponsors: GoogleMicrosoft BizSpark and Qualcomm Ventures. Sendgrid graciously stepped in as a sponsor for the evening drinks organised by teleportd, and made sure the evening went well, too.

Last but certainly not least, we want to thank the mentors who took part in Seedcamp Paris for their time and hard work of getting the companies on track with their products, strategy, and fundraising efforts. Not just at Seedcamp Paris, but throughout the year, we are incredibly grateful for your support.

Read more about our US trip in 2013 – why we’re going, where we’re going, who we’re meeting.

Below are the teams attending the Seedcamp USA Trip 2013:

Applications for Seedcamp London are officially open

Seedcamp Week 2012

Seedcamp Week 2012

On January 30/31 of 2013, Seedcamp London will be bigger than ever. Applications are already open and we hope to see the best internationally minded European companies applying. Deadline is January 8th, 2013.

As always, we are expecting London to be one of the biggest events of the year in terms of applications. As always, we are also looking forward to draw some of our best international mentors to London for our first Seedcamp in 2013 – which is why we are adding an additional day to the event.

January 30th & 31st

During Seedcamp Week 2012, we had some of the best mentoring sessions with people from product, marketing, and entrepreneurial backgrounds. The most positive feedback we get from startups is the praise for the actionable advice they get from mentorship from Europe’s best operators, with international representations from the likes of Spotify, Skype, Soundcloud, Google, and Facebook, and local heroes such as, Seatwave, Mind Candy, and Wonga. We want to focus our mentoring sessions at Seedcamp London on exactly that. That’s why the first day will be full of mentoring sessions with Europe’s best entrepreneurs, product and design folks, and marketers.

In the same spirit, we see a very strong uptick in interest  to meet our new and existing Seedcamp companies by the best European and international venture firms and mentors. This is why we have decided to add an additional day to our agenda for Seedcamp London to have new and existing companies have a chance to highlight their recent progress. We feel this will be more valuable for both entrepreneurs and investors, and drive some great interaction between the two groups. Stay tuned for Seedcamp London, January 30th & January 31st!

How can you get involved?

As an entrepreneur: Apply now and make sure you you are showing off your product, tell us why you’re the right team, and give efficient and thoughtful answers to all questions. Be mindful that the deadline is on January 8th. As an investor: If you haven’t been at a Seedcamp before, please register your interest here and we’ll be in touch.

We’re looking for a big year 2013, and can’t wait to kick it off with Seedcamp London!

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