The High-touch Legal Services® Blog…for Startups!

© 2009-2014 Dana H. Shultz, Attorney at Law

What Happens if the Board Doesn’t Approve My Stock Options?

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This post is adapted from a question I answered on OnStartups. Q. I’ve been working for a large private company, and my offer letter said I would receive X number of options as long as the board approved it. It’s been a year and I’ve been stonewalled on the option plan. I’ve sent multiple emails to HR and the controller and the CFO. HR has gotten back to me, but their hands are tied. Can I send a letter and a check to the CFO with $100 to force the issue of exercising some amount of shares and determining the strike price that way?

A. Unfortunately, “subject to board approval” is a common contingency for stock option grants. At this point, I’m not sure there is much you can do about it.

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Accelerated Vesting may Mean Little if Your Employer is Acquired

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This post is adapted from a question that I answered on Quora. Q. How can an acquirer make an employee with single-trigger vesting commit to a “lock-up” period to receive all his shares? Say you’re an engineer at a just-acquired startup with 0.5% of the old company, and your shares fully vested upon acquisition. The acquirer’s terms were that current employees get 50% of their payout up front, and 50% if they stay on board for 5 years. How is that possible, legally?

A. It is difficult to provide a definitive answer without looking at the relevant documents. However, I suspect that this situation is possible because 50/50 pertains to shares in the acquiring company rather than the acquired company.

In my experience, acquired companies will put some effort into converting employee equity interests directly into comparable interests in the acquiring company, but there is no guarantee this will happen.

So you may (I can’t be sure, not having reviewed the documents) have a choice: Keep your 0.5% fully-vested interest in the acquired company (which is likely to have little, if any, market value in the foreseeable future), or accept the 50/50 conversion to an equity interest in the acquiring company.

Dana H. Shultz, Attorney at Law? +1 510 547-0545? dana [at] danashultz [dot] com
This blog does not provide legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you need legal advice, please contact a lawyer directly.

Which Financial Information Must a Private Company Provide to Employees with Vested Stock Options?

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This post is based on a Quora question that I answered (Q and A are somewhat edited). Q. Which financial information must a private company provide to employees with vested stock options?

A. In California, Corporations Code Sections 1500 and 1501 specifies records that must be kept by each corporation. Shareholders’ rights to inspect records are set forth in Sections 1600 and 1601.

I know of no comparable statutory provisions with respect to holders of vested options, however. Unless the stock option plan grants you such rights, the easiest way for you to gain such rights would be to exercise your option with respect to one share and, then, exercise your rights as a shareholder.

Related post: Which Financial Information Must a Corporation Provide to its Shareholders?

Dana H. Shultz, Attorney at Law? +1 510 547-0545? dana [at] danashultz [dot] com
This blog does not provide legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you need legal advice, please contact a lawyer directly.

Watch Out for “You Don’t Own It until You Pay”

A start-up entrepreneur recently told me about the agreement he signed with the developer of his website. The agreement has what I consider, from the entrepreneur’s perspective, a most pernicious provision: Ownership of the website, and its intellectual property rights, does not pass from the developer to his client until the fee is paid in full.

I understand why developers like this type of provision: It gives them extra leverage to ensure that they are paid. (more…)

Rewarding Key Personnel: Restricted Stock or Options?

Sotck price graph, symbolizing restricted stockAs I write this post, I am in the process of helping an early-stage client develop a stock-based compensation plan for a key officer. The principal choice was between a stock option and restricted stock.

A stock option is the right to purchase a specified number of shares at a specified price at some point in the future. The option typically “vests” over a period of years. The longer the individual stays with the company, the greater the portion of the option s/he has the right to exercise. At the end of the vesting period, the individual has the right to purchase all of the shares specified in the option.

With restricted stock, shares are granted to the individual immediately but are subject to “reverse vesting”. If the individual leaves the company, a specified portion of the stock is forfeited to the company, if the individual paid nothing for the shares. Or it is subject to repurchase by the company at the price the individual paid. The portion that is subject to forfeiture or repurchase declines to zero over a specified number of years.

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