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.
QUORA Question: Do recent markdowns by mutual funds of private tech company valuations impact the strike price for options granted to new employees?
MARY RUSSELL Answer:
Yes, I am seeing this in my practice. Companies that issue stock options generally set the strike price at the fair market value on the date of grant, with such value determined with an outside valuation performed every year or six months. These are known as "409A valuations." Some companies which have seen markdowns in their stock, and some other companies in the startup world, are showing their 409A valuations decreasing in their most recent outside valuations.
This is relevant for new hires and existing employee optionholders. For new hires, it may make sense to agree to delay an option grant until a new valuation if the company expects the next 409A valuation to come in at a lower price than the current 409A valuation.
For existing employee option holders, a lower 409A valuation may cause outstanding options to be "underwater." An underwater option is an option with a strike price that is higher than the current value of the shares. In the case of underwater options, it may make sense to ask the company to reprice the options so employees can take advantage of the lower valuations.