If I Lie To My Lawyer, Will It Save Me Money?

Not a chance. Even so, I occasionally find a client or prospect holding back important information, presumably because they think it will complicate the project and cost them more money. But that’s exactly why it should cost more money – because it makes things more complicated. Let’s see it in action…

First Call

Prospective Client: Hi, I’m working on a startup with a cofounder, and we are ready to move forward. We think the idea is viable. We formed an LLC about a year ago, and now we want to form a Delaware corporation. What will it cost to incorporate with two cofounders?

Lawyer 1: You’ll need to convert the LLC to a corporation. If you are lucky, and you formed the LLC in a state that allows conversion, forming a new corporation and converting the LLC into it will cost $2000, plus about $350 in filing fees. If you formed the LLC in a state that does not allow for conversion, we’ll have to do a merger. That will cost between $2500 and $3000, plus about $500 in filing fees.

Prospective Client: Wow, that’s a lot of money. We’ll have to discuss it and get back to you.

Second Call

Prospective Client: Hi, I’m working on a startup with a cofounder, and we are ready to move forward. We think the idea is viable. We want to form a Delaware corporation. What will it cost to incorporate with two cofounders? [Notice how the client left out that information about the existing LLC?]

Lawyer 2: It will cost you $1500 to incorporate, plus $150 in filing fees.

Prospective Client: Sounds good, let’s do it!

Now let’s flash forward 6 months, when the startup is trying to raise money from investors. They’ve signed a term sheet for an $800,000 investment, and the investors are doing their due diligence check on the company. During the due diligence, the investors discover that a year and a half earlier, the cofounders had formed an LLC, which they neglected to mention to Lawyer B. They also discover that there had originally been three cofounders, and one of them left on bad terms within the first 3 months. Now she’s moving around various hippy beach communities in Thailand, and doesn’t even have a cellphone. Even worse, it isn’t clear whether everyone signed intellectual property assignments, and Gone Girl happened to have developed the most important part of the code that is the startup’s product. Making a bad situation worse, the cofounders used Legalzoom to form their LLC, and even if they got an operating agreement, there isn’t a chance in Hell that it contains vesting provisions that would allow them to recapture Gone Girl’s unvested ownership interest in the LLC.

Here’s what it all adds up to:

  • The corporation doesn’t own most of the software code and other IP that is the core of the business. That belongs, at best, to the LLC, if everyone signed IP assignments.
  • If everyone signed IP assignments, that’s not going to help much, because they still need to convert (or merge) the LLC into the corporation. But they need Gone Girl’s approval to do so, and she was last seen on a beach in Bora Bora, smoking weed with an actor who may or may not have been in Titanic.
  • If there are no IP assignments, then it really doesn’t matter whether they can convert the LLC into the corporation, because Gone Girl owns the core of the business. And when word gets out that the business is worth $1.2 billion, guess who’s going to show up with some very mean lawyers in tow?

Of course, the truth of the matter is, that company will never be worth $1.2 billion, because the cofounders were too cheap to do things right. They thought that if they withheld important information from their lawyer, they could save a few hundred dollars. Instead, that little lie is going to cost them $5000 to $10000, at best, in legal fees to try and sort out the mess. At worst, the lie will cost these guys the $800,000 they were hoping to get from the investors, who are now walking away and looking to invest in a business run by someone with brains.

So the moral of the story is, keeping information from your lawyer will not save you money, it will cost you much much more.

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Anatomy of a Term Sheet 7 — Conversion

Welcome back for another installment of our Anatomy of a Term Sheet series. We are taking the model Series A term sheet from the NVCA, and analyzing the various terms in depth. The goal is to give startup founders a solid understanding of the complex provisions of the term sheet. The next items in our Anatomy of a Term Sheet series are the terms for mandatory and optional conversions of preferred stock into common stock.A typical mandatory conversion term looks like this:

Each share of Series A Preferred will automatically be converted into Common Stock at the then applicable conversion rate in the event of the closing of a [firm commitment] underwritten public offering with a price of [___] times the Original Purchase Price (subject to adjustments for stock dividends, splits, combinations and similar events) and [net/gross] proceeds to the Company of not less than $[_______] (a “QPO”), or (ii) upon the written consent of the holders of [__]% of the Series A Preferred.

“QPO” is shorthand for Qualified Public Offering. 

With this term, the preferred stock converts automatically if there is an IPO at a specified level, or if a specified percent of the preferred stockholders consents. There are two triggers for an IPO mandatory conversion – the amount raised and the price per share. The amount raised is typically set at a high enough level to ensure that it is a legitimate IPO. This protects the Series A investors in the case of an IPO that raises very little money, because there is probably not going to be a very liquid market for the stock.

In negotiating the price per share trigger, the founders should push for a lower multiple, such as 2X or 3X, to give them more flexibility with an IPO. Also, “gross proceeds” of the IPO is more favorable to the founders than “net proceeds.”

Optional conversion looks like this:

The Series A Preferred initially converts 1:1 to Common Stock at any time at option of holder, subject to adjustments for stock dividends, splits, combinations and similar events and as described below under “Anti-dilution Provisions.”

There may be situations where it is more advantageous for the preferred stockholders to convert their shares to common stock. For example, assume that the Series A investor has a $2 million investment in the company with a 2X non-participating liquidation preference, representing 30% of the outstanding stock. If the company is sold for $50 million, the investor gets $4 million off the top due to the liquidation preference, and the remaining $46 million is distributed among the common stockholders. If the Series A investor chooses to convert its preferred stock to common, giving up its liquidation preference, it gets $15 million. The optional conversion term is designed to give the Series A investors this flexibility.

Next time we will look at the anti-dilution provisions. 

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