Startup Questions: Cash or Equity Compensation?

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A common question for startup companies is how much equity compensation, or shares of the business, they offer employees as part of their income. This can be an especially difficult question when the startup is new and the shares don’t hold much value yet.

What exactly is equity compensation? Because new companies don’t often have the financial means to attract high quality employees, many use this non-cash compensation as a way to give workers a form of ownership in the startup. Equity compensation refers specifically to stock options that include the right to purchase shares at a predetermined price, or exercise price. Over time, the option vests so the employee has the right to sell or transfer the shares, encouraging them to stay with the startup for a longer period of time.

It’s important to note that employees with equity compensation options are not considered stockholders so they don’t have the same right as shareholders. Equity compensation requires a lot of legal, accounting and tax planning, so it’s important for the startup and employees to look into the rules that apply to their situation.

How much should you offer in equity compensation? A Smart Bear explains that when someone works for less salary than they could make somewhere else, they’re making a cash investment into your company. How do you compensate through shares? Think about how much cash they’re giving up by working for the startup. Then make an educated guess as to how much the company could be worth in three or five years. Once you have those two numbers, you can determine what percentage of the company’s shares would be fair by dividing the cash the employee is giving up by the total amount you expect the startup to be worth in three or five years. Although it’s not an exact science, it will give you a good idea of a reasonable offer to make your employee.

Does your startup need assistance in determining equity compensation to offer your employees? Or do you have questions about the rules involved? Stock Connections can help! Contact us to find out more.

Stock Connections specializes in working with San Francisco Bay Area companies that are involved in mergers & acquisitions, are raising capital, or creating stock option or other equity plans. We help start-up, private and public firms become – and remain – SEC-compliant. Stock Connections’ services are designed to help both start-ups and established firms comply with SEC and other regulations in their equity compensation programs. If you or anyone you know is looking to get involved with any of the above, we encourage you to contact us today!

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