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How Many Shares Should a Startup Company Have?

by | Mar 1, 2024 | Startups | 0 comments

When starting a new company, one of the critical decisions founders must make is determining the number of shares to authorize and issue. Shares play a vital role in attracting investors, generating funds, and providing employee stock options. Finding the right balance between share issuance and ownership is essential for a startup’s success.

Importance of Shares in a Startup Company

Attracting Investors and Generating Funds

Shares are a crucial tool for startup companies to attract investors and generate the necessary funds to grow and scale their business. By offering equity in the company, startups can entice investors to provide capital in exchange for a portion of ownership. This influx of funds allows startups to hire employees, develop products, and expand their operations.

Investors are more likely to invest in a startup if they believe in the company’s potential and see a clear path to a return on their investment. Offering shares in the company is a way to align the interests of investors with those of the founders and employees, creating a shared incentive to drive the company’s success.

Providing Employee Stock Options

Employee stock options are another important reason for startups to have shares. By offering employees the opportunity to own a piece of the company, startups can attract and retain top talent, even if they can’t offer high salaries initially. Stock options also provide a sense of ownership and motivation for employees to work hard and contribute to the company’s success.

Employee stock options typically vest over time, meaning that employees earn the right to purchase shares at a set price (the strike price) as they continue to work for the company. This helps to ensure that employees are committed to the long-term success of the startup and are incentivized to stay with the company as it grows.

Types of Shares in a Startup

Authorized, Allotted, Issued, and Restricted Shares

When it comes to types of shares, there are several key terms to understand:

  • Authorized shares: The total number of shares that a company is legally allowed to issue, as specified in its certificate of incorporation.
  • Allotted shares: Shares that have been set aside for specific purposes, such as an employee stock option pool, but have not yet been issued.
  • Issued shares: Shares that have been distributed to shareholders, such as founders, investors, or employees.
  • Restricted shares: Shares that come with certain restrictions, such as a vesting schedule or transfer limitations.

Common Shares vs Preferred Shares

Startups typically issue two main types of shares: common shares and preferred shares. Common shares are the basic form of equity ownership and are usually held by founders, employees, and some investors. Preferred shares, on the other hand, come with additional rights and privileges and are usually issued to investors in exchange for significant capital investments.

Preferred shares may have liquidation preferences, meaning that investors get paid back first in the event of a sale or liquidation of the company. They may also have voting rights, dividend preferences, or anti-dilution provisions to protect their ownership stake. In contrast, common shares are typically subordinate to preferred shares in terms of payout and may not have the same level of voting rights or other privileges.

Recommended Number of Shares for a Startup

The 10 Million Share Recommendation

A common recommendation for startups is to authorize 10 million shares when they first incorporate. This provides a good balance between having enough shares to distribute to founders, investors, advisors, and an employee stock option pool, while not being an overwhelming number of shares to manage.

According to this recommendation, a typical share distribution might look something like:

Category Percentage Number of Shares
Founders 50% 5,000,000
Employee Stock Option Pool 20% 2,000,000
Investors 25% 2,500,000
Advisors & Others 5% 500,000
Total 100% 10,000,000

Advantages of Having 10 Million Shares

Having 10 million shares offers several advantages for startups. First, it allows for easy division and visualization of ownership percentages. For example, if an employee is granted 100,000 shares, it’s easy to see that they own 1% of the company (assuming all 10 million shares are issued).

Second, having a large number of authorized shares gives startups the flexibility to issue employee stock options and bring on new investors without having to go through the legal and regulatory process of authorizing additional shares. This can save time and money, and make the company more agile in its early stages.

Factors Influencing the Number of Shares

Founders and Employee Pool Considerations

While 10 million shares is a good starting point, the actual number of shares a startup authorizes will depend on several factors. One key consideration is corporate structuring, which includes the number of founders and the size of the employee pool.

If a startup has multiple founders, they may need to authorize more shares to ensure that each founder has a meaningful ownership stake. Similarly, if the startup plans to hire a large number of employees and offer them stock options, they may need to allocate a larger portion of shares to the employee pool.

Setting Aside Additional Reserves

Another factor to consider when determining the number of shares is the need for additional reserves. Startups may want to set aside a portion of their authorized shares for future fundraising rounds, strategic partnerships, or acquisitions. By having these shares available, startups can avoid the need to go through the legal and regulatory process of authorizing new shares down the road.

A startup might choose to authorize 12 million shares instead of 10 million, with the extra 2 million shares set aside as additional reserves. This gives the company the flexibility to issue these shares as needed without diluting the ownership stakes of existing shareholders.

Balancing Share Issuance and Ownership

Avoiding Excessive Ownership Dilution

One of the challenges startups face when issuing shares is balancing the need to bring on investors and employees while avoiding excessive ownership dilution. Each time a startup issues new shares, the ownership percentage of existing shareholders decreases.

To avoid diluting the founders’ ownership stake too much, startups need to be strategic about when and how they issue shares. This may involve negotiating with investors to find a mutually agreeable valuation and ownership percentage, or structuring employee stock options in a way that aligns with the company’s long-term goals.

Using Shares to Attract Talent

While it’s important to be mindful of ownership dilution, startups also need to use shares strategically to attract talent. Employee stock options can be a powerful tool for recruiting and retaining top performers, especially in the early stages when cash compensation may be limited.

By offering employees the opportunity to own a piece of the company, startups can create a sense of ownership and align employee incentives with the long-term success of the business. This can help to foster a strong company culture and drive innovation and growth.

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