Founder equity (same as founder shares) is how much of the company (or soon-to-be company) belongs to its founders. We listed five most basic – and most useful – facts about founder equity to help you look at it in a new light before you split it with your co-founders.
1. It is an unlimited resource
Founder equity is not a limited resource. It’s an unlimited resource. It’s growing along with your company. Don’t be afraid to share equity with your co-founders, employees, advisers, investors. If you start working on an idea and own 100% of it – that’s 100% of nothing. It has no value yet. Value is created by people you’ll be able to attract and inspire by your idea. If at the end you have 10% of equity, that may be 10% of a billion dollar company. Isn’t it better than 100% of nothing?
2. Treat it as remuneration
At the very early stages of startup lifecycle founders are typically not paid salaries. Equity is then used as remuneration to the founders for the work they do. Similarly to remuneration, shares of equity should be aligned to founders’ performance, their contribution to the project, even the actual time spent working on the startup.
3. No payouts, at least in the short-term
In contrast to remuneration, however, equity is not “paid out”. It is a promise for founders that they will get the right on future company profits, if there are any. While the company is being built and has no real value, the founding team may want to regularly review their fair division of equity to make sure each founder gets a share corresponding to what he or she did relative to other startup co-founders.
4. Fix it when there is funding
The best time to get your division of founder equity fixed is when your startup is ready to raise funds or incorporate the company and use a real shareholder agreement. At that stage founders, if they take on executive roles in the company, usually start receiving salaries. From that moment on equity is a measure of how much control they have over the company and what is their share in the company profits.
5. Vesting is good for it
Founder equity may be subject to vesting. Vesting means that although founders already have certain shares of equity assigned to them, they still need to “earn” them by staying with the company long enough (standard vesting schedule spans over 3 to 4 years). Vesting prevents founders who lose interest in the project and leave from walking away with half of the company – which is good for those who stay and continue working hard to get things done!