Future services seem like a great no-cost way to buy equity in a startup. In California, however, whether you legally can buy equity with future services depends on whether the startup is a corporation or a limited liability company (LLC).
Corporations Code Section 409(a)(1) specifies the types of “consideration” that can be paid for corporate shares. These include, for example, “money paid; labor done; [and] services actually rendered to the corporation or for its benefit or in its formation or reorganization”.
However, “neither promissory notes of the purchaser [subject to certain exceptions] nor future services shall constitute payment or part payment for shares of the corporation“. So a California corporation cannot grant shares in exchange for future services.
Accelerators offer entrepreneurs seed funding and one-to-one mentoring in exchange for an equity stake, making a profit when some of their startups receive institutional (VC) funding. However, according to a Wall Street Journal article published yesterday (Start-Ups Crowd ‘Accelerators’), most accelerators – especially those outside Silicon Valley, Boston and New York – are of doubtful value.
Congress is considering legislation by which the Securities and Exchange Commission would lift limits on private equity investments, letting companies sell equity interests to investors online (“crowd funding”). Today the Wall Street Journal published a debate on this topic (Should Equity-Based Crowd Funding Be Legal?).
This post is based on a Quora question in which a user who already had invested money in his corporation wanted to know how he can invest an additional amount. My answer, reproduced below almost verbatim, starts by summarizing the steps for an initial equity investment.
Let’s assume you did your startup paperwork properly: The board of directors approved issuing some or all of the corporation’s authorized shares to you in exchange of payment of certain consideration; you deposited that consideration into the corporation’s bank account; the secretary recorded your share ownership on the corporation’s share transfer ledger and issued a share certificate to you.
This post is based on (and is an edited version of) a Quora question and my answer. Q. How do you switch from a sole proprietorship to a corporation? You do, of course, want to keep all your intellectual property and brand and street cred and so on. Can you treat that as equity?
A. Yes, you can treat the assets of your sole proprietorship as the consideration for which your shares are issued. You need to create an agreement by which you (as an individual) assign those assets (including the intellectual property rights therein) to the corporation. This is, of course, a friendly transaction, so the assignment agreement can be simple – no need for endless pages of legal boilerplate to protect against litigation that never will occur.
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.
I recently answered an Avvo question about capital contributions and loans to an LLC. The question and answer are reproduced, in somewhat edited form, below.
Q: I am the sole member of an LLC. What is the best way to make capital contributions? Can I do this in the form of a loan? (more…)
First, we can pretty much dismiss basic income tax considerations. By default, an LLC is not taxed as a separate entity but a corporation is taxed separately. However, there are ways to override the default tax treatments. An LLC may elect to be taxed as a separate entity by filing IRS Form 8832. Subject to certain limitations, a corporation can avoid separate taxation (i.e., can become an “S corporation”) by filing IRS Form 2553. (Please note, however, that once a company is in business, certain types of transactions can have different consequences for LLCs than for corporations. Accordingly, every company should consult with a tax advisor both up-front and on an ongoing basis.)
Due diligence is a routine part of an investor’s decision whether to invest in a company. The company also should conduct its due diligence on the investor.
A couple of years ago, I worked with a company (“Client”) that provided e-mail security products. Previously, Client’s founder (“Founder”) had arranged for an equity investment by a company controlled by an individual in Southern California (“Investor”).
One of Founder’s huge mistakes was not seeking legal counsel to review the terms of the investment. Two of those terms proved to be disastrous for Founder: