Uber IPO - Lessons for Negotiating Startup Equity Offers - Spring 2019 Newsletter - Stock Option Counsel, P.C. - Legal Services for Individuals

Stock Option Counsel, P.C. - Legal Services for Individuals.  Attorney Mary Russell counsels individuals on equity grants, executive compensation design, employment agreements and acquisition terms. She also counsels founders on their personal interests  at incorporation, financings and exit events. Please see this FAQ about her services or contact her at (650) 326-3412 or by email.

Hello Startup Community!

Uber's IPO is a great lesson for startup employees on negotiating their startup equity. Unicorn startup recruiters have been telling hires for the past few years to value the offered RSUs at many multiples, even 10X, of the most recent investor valuation in negotiating their compensation offers. Since Uber's value has not risen even 2X in that time, any hires who accepted offers based on this calculus have lost significant value compared to their opportunity cost.

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Individuals need negotiate for enough shares in a startup to balance their risk. The calculation for the right number of RSUs at a late-stage startup with a public-company-size valuation is the current investor value per share, not the potentialfuture value. 

Shira Ovide explored this issue in Bloomberg Opinion last week with input from Stock Option Counsel:

Uber's example shows that employees at startups – particularly those who come aboard when the company is more mature – often don't get rich, even when the companies are successful. Many workers are at the bottom rung of stock holders and tend to have less information about their company's value and prospects than just about anyone else who holds shares. ... Mary Russell of Stock Option Counsel, which advises employees on compensation at startups, said people evaluating job offers at more mature startups should analyze only what the proposed equity is worth at the time of negotiation, not what it could possibly be worth in a dreamy future. That’s not always easy, because Russell said startup recruiters sometimes suggest that a 10-fold increase in valuation in the past is an indication of what prospective employees can expect from their wealth.

For more on using current value to evaluate startup equity offers, see this video from the Stock Option Counsel blog

Stock Option Counsel, P.C. - Legal Services for Individuals. Thank you for your enthusiasm for my practice and for the Stock Option Counsel Blog! I will continue to send quarterly updates on important topics in the market for startup equity for individual founders, executives and employees. Please keep in touch. 

Best,

Mary

Mary Russell | Attorney and Founder
Stock Option Counsel, P.C. | Legal Services for Individuals

You are welcome to contact Stock Option Counsel, P.C. - Legal Services for Individuals for guidance on your startup equity, including:

  • Founder interests at incorporation, financings and exits

  • Job offers, equity grants and employment agreements

  • Executive compensation design

  • Acquisition terms and post-acquisition employment agreements

Or check out our blog and social media for great posts on startup equity for founders, executives and employees. 

The Good Stuff - Continuation Plans - How To Avoid the Juno Drivers' Fate of Cancelled RSUs in a $200 Million Acquisition

Stock Option Counsel, P.C. - Legal Services for Individuals.  Attorney Mary Russell counsels individuals on equity grants, executive compensation design, employment agreements and acquisition terms. She also counsels founders on their personal interests  at incorporation, financings and exit events. Please see this FAQ about her services or contact her at (650) 326-3412 or by email.

Josh Brustein @joshuabrustein of Bloomberg reported this week on the rescission of potentially valuable RSUs in Juno's $200 acquisition by Gett. He reported that Juno promised 50% of founders shares to drivers, but that it appears that the maximum portion of the acquisition price they could have received was 1.5%

This highlights a type of startup equity plan - a Cancellation Plan - that can dramatically limit the value of employee equity grants.

Some startup stock plans allow companies to cancel unvested equity in an acquisition. We'll call these Cancellation Plans. 

The standard for startup stock plans has been that unvested employee equity must be continued or substituted in an acquisition rather than cancelled without payment. We'll call these Continuation Plans. This means they must be replaced with either cash or equity awards with the same value as the deal consideration for the shares being cancelled. If they are not replaced for the deal value, their vesting will be immediately accelerated at the acquisition and paid the entire deal price for the vested and unvested shares. The replacement still must be earned over the original vesting schedule, so there's no guarantee of earning the unvested shares without also having single or double acceleration upon change of control protections.  However, this traditional requirement offered protection of value for employees. Those who stay at the acquiring company under a Continuation Plan will continue to earn the deal consideration for their shares in some other form. 

The Cancellation Plans that allow cancellation of in-the-money unvested equity without payment are grabbing value from employee shares. Unvested equity - RSUs, options, etc. - can be cancelled and replaced with $0. For example, if an employee's total number of RSUs were worth $200,000 at the acquisition price, and only 50% had vested at the acquisition, the employee would be paid $100,000 and the remaining $100,000 in value of RSUs would be cancelled without payment, continuation or substitution even if the employee stays as an employee after the acquisition.

In a Continuation Plan, an employee would receive the $100,000 deal consideration for the vested shares and a substitution or continuation award in exchange for the $100,000 in unvested value. That might be in the form of cash to vest over time, continuing awards in the acquired company if it survives the merger, or substitute value of the acquiring company's equity, such as RSUs worth $100,000 in value of the acquiring company. Any such replacements would continue to vest over the original remaining vesting schedule.

There is a fantastic example of this from today's news. Juno, a ride-sharing app which promised 50% of its founders shares to drivers in the form of RSUs, was acquired by Gett for $200 million. As part of the acquisition, Juno reportedly rescinded the all the RSUs it had awarded and promised to drivers. The merger terms were not made public, but it appears that Juno had a Cancellation Plan allowing the company the right - which they exercised - to cancel unvested RSUs. All RSUs would have been unvested as the drivers reportedly had to work for 30 months to time-vest any of their RSUs and less than a year had passed between the grants and the acquisition. 

The drivers instead received a one-time payment, which appears to be dramatically lower than the RSUs would have been valued in the acquisition. It was reported that the maximum portion of the acquisition price they could have received was 1.5%. It's not entirely clear that this is the case, as drivers report that they were never notified of their percentage ownership in the company at the time of the acquisition. But if the paltry payouts - one example was $250 to a driver - were actually at the deal consideration for the deal, it would mean that the original awards were such a low percentage of the company that they would have crossed into absurdity. Therefore, it safe to assume that Juno had a Cancellation Plan and it used it to cut its drivers out of a $200 million acquisition, less than a year after promising its drivers 50% of the company's equity. Ouch. 

So if you're negotiating a startup equity offer, ask for the good stuff - a Continuation Plan.

Stock Option Counsel, P.C. - Legal Services for Individuals.  Attorney Mary Russell counsels individuals on equity grants, executive compensation design, employment agreements and acquisition terms. She also counsels founders on their personal interests  at incorporation, financings and exit events. Please see this FAQ about her services or contact her at (650) 326-3412 or by email.

 

Will this Seed Stage Company Become a Unicorn?

Stock Option Counsel, P.C. - Legal Services for Individuals.  Attorney Mary Russell counsels individuals on equity grants, executive compensation design, employment agreements and acquisition terms. She also counsels founders on their personal interests  at incorporation, financings and exit events. Please see this FAQ about her services or contact her at (650) 326-3412 or by email.

Wondering if your seed stage startup will become a unicorn? Here's a great illustration of your chances from Dustin Moskovitz's presentation, Why to Start a Startup from Y Combinator's Startup School

Startup Value

Stock Option Counsel, P.C. - Legal Services for Individuals.  Attorney Mary Russell counsels individuals on equity grants, executive compensation design, employment agreements and acquisition terms. She also counsels founders on their personal interests  at incorporation, financings and exit events. Please see this FAQ about her services or contact her at (650) 326-3412 or by email.

Founders: Kurt Vonnegut's Caution on Corporate Attorneys

Stock Option Counsel, P.C. - Legal Services for Individuals.  Attorney Mary Russell counsels individuals on equity grants, executive compensation design, employment agreements and acquisition terms. She also counsels founders on their personal interests  at incorporation, financings and exit events. Please see this FAQ about her services or contact her at (650) 326-3412 or by email.

Kurt Vonnegut, Author

Kurt Vonnegut, Author

If you are a founder with some suspicions about the motivations and allegiances of your company's law firm, you may appreciate the wisdom of Kurt Vonnegut.

Vonnegut has a great bit in God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater about the worst motivations of corporate lawyers. 

The book is about money, sort of. Here's the opening line:

 

 

 

 

 

A sum of money is a leading character in this tale about people, just as a sum of honey might properly be a leading character in a tale about bees.
— Kurt Vonnegut, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

The Rosewater family had a great fortune. It was held by The Rosewater Foundation, for the benefit of the family's heirs, and managed by a law firm called McAllister, Robjent, Reed and McGee. An associate of the firm, Norman Mushari, was Vonnegut's embodiment of the worst motivations of corporate lawyers.

No one ever went out to lunch with Mushari. He took nourishment alone in cheap cafeterias, and plotted the violent overthrow of the Rosewater Foundation. He knew no Rosewaters. What engaged his emotions was the fact that the Rosewater fortune was the largest single money package represented by McAllister, Robjent, Reed and McGee. He recalled what his favorite professor, Leonard Leech, once told him about getting ahead in law. Leech said that, just as a good airplane pilot should always be looking for places to land, so should a lawyer be looking for situations where large amounts of money were about to change hands.

”In every big transaction,” said Leech, “there is a magic moment during which a man has surrendered a treasure, and during which the man who is due to receive it has not yet done so. An alert lawyer will make that moment his own, possessing the treasure for a magic microsecond, taking a little of it, passing it on. If the man who is to receive the treasure is unused to wealth, has an inferiority complex and shapeless feelings of guilt, as most people do, the lawyer can often take as much as half the bundle, and still receive the recipient’s blubbering thanks.
— Kurt Vonnegut, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

Vonnegut's wisdom is a good reminder to founders that their company's attorneys may be representing the company's money rather than its founders.

Stock Option Counsel, P.C. - Legal Services for Individuals.  Attorney Mary Russell counsels individuals on equity grants, executive compensation design, employment agreements and acquisition terms. She also counsels founders on their personal interests  at incorporation, financings and exit events. Please see this FAQ about her services or contact her at (650) 326-3412 or by email.

 

Skype Repurchase Rights = Vampire Capitalism

I agree that it is unethical as it goes against the expectation of employees as to how their contributions are valued. If they don't know about it before they choose the company, they are making a choice without an essential term of the deal.

And it goes against the most idealistic ethic of Silicon Valley – that capitalism should be used by groups to organize and cultivate their own creative efforts rather than as a tool of vampires.

But it is not illegal. And I've seen worse in my Stock Option Counsel practice (twice this month alone). Congratulations on paying attention.

Read More

Negotiation Rhythms #3: Sales & Threats

Stock Option Counsel, P.C. - Legal Services for Individuals.  Attorney Mary Russell counsels individuals on equity grants, executive compensation design, employment agreements and acquisition terms. She also counsels founders on their personal interests  at incorporation, financings and exit events. Please see this FAQ about her services or contact her at (650) 326-3412 or by email.

Negotiation Sales and Threats.jpg

Mary Russell counsels individual employees and founders to negotiate, maximize and monetize their stock options and other startup stock. She is an attorney and the founder of Stock Option Counsel. You are welcome to contact Stock Option Counsel at info@stockoptioncounsel or (650) 326-3412.

There are two ways to increase or decrease another party’s limit in a negotiation – sales and threats.[1] The picture above takes some of the mystery out of the salesman and the thug -- they're both just working as negotiators to change the perception of the current offer in comparison to the other party's BATNA – Best Alternative to Negotiated Agreement.

Selling improves the perception of the quality of the present offer so that the outside alternatives are unattractive by comparison. Threats decrease the attractiveness of outside offers or the possibility of making no deal and sticking with the status quo.

Threats

An ongoing employment lawsuit over no-hire agreements among Silicon Valley companies featuring Steve Jobs provides a strangely relevant example of the power of threats. 

Edward Colligan, former CEO of Palm, has said in a statement that Jobs was concerned about Palm’s hiring of Apple employees and that Jobs “proposed an arrangement between Palm and Apple“ [2] to prohibit either party from recruiting the others' employees.

That would have been a simple offer of an agreement (however illegal that arrangement might have been) if Colligan had access to the undisturbed alternative of not participating and keeping the status quo.

But Colligan has said that Jobs’ next negotiation move was to make the alternative of nonparticipation very unappealing with the threat of patent lawsuits that would cost Palm and Apple a great deal of money. Jobs followed this threat with a reminder of just how unpleasant such litigation would be for Palm, considering the fact that Apple had vast resources to endlessly pursue the lawsuits: "I’m sure you realize the asymmetry in the financial resources of our respective companies …."[2]

Even though most of us don’t use threats in a negotiation, it’s part of the logic of negotiation rhythms. 

Selling

Selling is the more common (and generally legal) way to address the fact that the other party has choices outside the present negotiation. As we discussed in the prior posts, a party's price or terms limits are defined by his or her best alternative outside of making an agreement in the present negotiation. Selling moves the limit when it can make the present offer more appealing than what had been perceived as an outside alternative.

Many people resist “selling themselves” in a salary negotiation because they are embarrassed to discuss their “value.” The logic of BATNA and negotiations provides some relief from this embarrassment, for it reframes “selling” from bluffing and puffing to describing and distinguishing one’s past experience and intended role in the organization.

Since the employer’s limit is not defined by an individual’s value, but by the employee’s differentiation from the field of candidates, the task of negotiating becomes more fact-based and less fear-driven. This logic encourages progress from the attitude of “Oh, they see who I am and hate me,” toward the sales approach of “Oh, it seems they need more information about what I offer in terms of my past experience and my role going forward.”

As an employee’s offer of services becomes distinguishable from the employer’s alternatives, the employer’s perception of the BATNA will change.

Consider an employer who believes there’s an equal candidate available for $120,000 and is entertaining another’s proposal to perform the role for $140,000. Without “selling” the offer of one’s services, the employer has no information with which to make a distinction between the two alternatives. The process of selling oneself to the employer is not to prove one’s inner worthiness at $140,000, but to show and tell that the employer is choosing between two distinguishable candidates. 

Sales.jpg

(For those still interested in threats, distinguishing one’s skills is a form of a threat when it comes to negotiating with a current employer. Every element of the description one’s current performance and ongoing role is a threat of what the employer would have to work without or try to replace.)

What an employer would have once considered a better alternative – such as another equal offer for $120,000 – loses its appeal in light of the truth (sales pitch) of the $140,000 offer. If they are no longer equal in the mind of the employer, he or she must consciously decide if the other candidate at the lower price is still a better alternative. While there is no guarantee that the employer will prefer to pay more, the process of selling pushes the employer to the choice based on the true distinctions in the qualities of the candidates.

 

[1] Roger Fisher, William Ury and Bruce Patton, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. Gerald B. Wetlaufer, The Rhetorics of Negotiation (posted to SSRI).

[2] http://vrge.co/USNorq

 

Stock Option Counsel, P.C. - Legal Services for Individuals.  Attorney Mary Russell counsels individuals on equity grants, executive compensation design, employment agreements and acquisition terms. She also counsels founders on their personal interests  at incorporation, financings and exit events. Please see this FAQ about her services or contact her at (650) 326-3412 or by email.

Negotiation Rhythms #2: Best Alternative to Negotiated Agreement

Stock Option Counsel, P.C. - Legal Services for Individuals.  Attorney Mary Russell counsels individuals on equity grants, executive compensation design, employment agreements and acquisition terms. She also counsels founders on their personal interests  at incorporation, financings and exit events. Please see this FAQ about her services or contact her at (650) 326-3412 or by email.

We know we want to push beyond our limits to capture as much value as possible in a negotiation. But how do we define those limits? It takes a five-word phrase to bring this concept into focus: Best Alternative to Negotiated Agreement (“BATNA”).

The BATNA for a car buyer might be the same car at a nearby dealership for $20,000. The BATNA for a home seller might be an offer from another party for $1 million. The BATNA for a child trading baseball cards might be to hold onto his favorite cards and enjoy looking at them rather than to trade them away.

 

BATNA Slide.jpg

Any agreement below (or, for a maximum limit, above) a BATNA would leave the negotiator worse off than in the absence of that particular agreement. Said another way, the negotiator would be better off with some other option – their BATNA – than accepting an agreement on those terms.

 

BATNAexamples.jpg

To properly identify a BATNA, we must do a lot of calculating, daydreaming, and going out in the world to test alternatives. But this creative process is necessary. When we believe that the only alternative is the one at hand, our negotiation position is dangerously weak. It is also dangerously ineffective because it leads to an arrangement that does not, in fact, make the negotiator better off than without it. And any deal that is not in both parties’ best interests is unstable and likely to collapse after it is made.

Countless factors go into naming and ranking one’s alternatives to arrive at a BATNA, and even then it is impossible to do so clearly as those factors cannot all be outlined in numerical format. A better offer might be less certain of being completed, so it might be more advantageous to make an agreement on less favorable terms today. For example, the other job offer might not be certain even though it appears it would be more advantageous if it were finalized. This is the old saying that a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush, and this can be dangerous for those who optimistically negotiate as if their imaginary alternatives are already in the hand. In the other extreme, this is very limiting for those who are very fearful of uncertainty, as they will accept disadvantageous terms for the simple purpose of having certain terms when a bit of risk in pursuit of a better alternative could have led to greater results.

Timing is important in other ways as well, as a negotiator with more time to come to an agreement will have more chances to find alternatives to the agreement at hand. "Wait and see" becomes a BATNA in itself. The opposite of this would be a party who must have resolution today, which would, of course, limit the alternatives.

Beyond hard limits on time, some people do not enjoy the back and forth process of negotiating. They might prefer to take this deal, and even to accept much less of the middle than is possible to capture, than to continue to seek alternatives or negotiate deals. For these people, the process itself inhibits the growth of BATNAs.

We’ll see in the next post – Negotiation Rhythms #3: Sales & Threats – how brainstorming or eliminating BATNAs changes the ZOPA and improves or weakens our force in negotiation.

Stock Option Counsel, P.C. - Legal Services for Individuals.  Attorney Mary Russell counsels individuals on equity grants, executive compensation design, employment agreements and acquisition terms. She also counsels founders on their personal interests  at incorporation, financings and exit events. Please see this FAQ about her services or contact her at (650) 326-3412 or by email.

Negotiation Rhythms

Stock Option Counsel, P.C. - Legal Services for Individuals.  Attorney Mary Russell counsels individuals on equity grants, executive compensation design, employment agreements and acquisition terms. She also counsels founders on their personal interests  at incorporation, financings and exit events. Please see this FAQ about her services or contact her at (650) 326-3412 or by email.

We’ve all heard plenty of advice about negotiating.

The business world directs us to stay rationally focused, rely on exhaustive preparation, think through alternatives, spend less time talking and more time listening and asking questions, and let the other side make the first offer.[1]

The psych world counsels us to listen first, sit down, find common ground, move in, keep cool, be brief, forget neutrality, avoid empty threats, and don’t yield.[2]

These tips don’t have much meaning without knowing the underlying principles of negotiations, and studying tips alone is about as meaningful as learning dance steps without ever hearing the music.

The following three-part series presents the rhythm of negotiations as described in the Harvard Negotiation Project’s Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In.[3] It should be useful for those first learning to hear this rhythm and for those who have been dancing since the bazaars of their youth who may need to go back to basics to learn some tricky new steps.

Mary Russell counsels individual employees and founders to negotiate, maximize and monetize their stock options and other startup stock. She is an attorney and the founder of Stock Option Counsel. You are welcome to contact Stock Option Counsel at info@stockoptioncounsel or (650) 326-3412.

Read on!

#1: Zone of Possible Agreement

#2: Best Alternatives to Negotiated Agreement

#3: Sales & Threats

[1] Take It Or Leave It: The Only Guide to Negotiating You Will Ever Need http://www.inc.com/magazine/20030801/negotiation.html via @Inc

[2] The Art of Negotiation | Psychology Today http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200701/the-art-negotiation

[3] Roger Fisher, William Ury and Bruce Patton, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In

 

Stock Option Counsel, P.C. - Legal Services for Individuals.  Attorney Mary Russell counsels individuals on equity grants, executive compensation design, employment agreements and acquisition terms. She also counsels founders on their personal interests  at incorporation, financings and exit events. Please see this FAQ about her services or contact her at (650) 326-3412 or by email.