Equity – There is no one size fit all solution

Equity dilution works when the same pie is divided among more people. The Founder of a company starts by owning all the shares representing ownership of the company. Over time, other people receive pieces of equity in exchange for work (employee stock options), money (seed, angel and venture investors), services (attorneys, directors, etc.) Because the total percentage of equity will always equal exactly 100%, every time anyone gets another piece, by definition it "dilutes" all of the previous equity holders. Therefore, to avoid dilution to its existing equity holders, all a company has to do is not hire any more employees who get options, or take any more money from investors. “A small piece of a big pie is better than a large piece of a small pie” – This quote is thrown by every investor in the town to every possible first-time founder raising capital. Every time you get funding, you give up a piece of your company. The more funding you get, the more company you give up. That ‘piece of company’ is ‘equity.’ Everyone you give it to becomes a co-owner of your company. Smart entrepreneurs realize that it’s better to have 10% of the equity in a $5 million business than 51% of a $1 million business. And in giving up a great degree of control, a founder often receives immense financial and non-financial resources in return. It is a very simple English to understand. Ask the founder little deeper on it they fumble on their equity split understanding. Here I am looking to deconstruct the statement by putting real math around it.
  • Stage 1 (Early Stage – Inception) 
    • Founders equity = 100% 
    • Valuation of the Startup = Unknown ? 
    • Founders Wealth = Unknown ? 
At this stage everything about the startup is unknown hence there is no definitive number that can be associated with founders wealth
  • Stage 2 (Seed Stage – Initial Revenues) 
    • Founders equity = 100% 
    • Valuation of the Startup = Unknown ? 
    • Founders Wealth = Profits from the revenues 
At this stage startup has revenues but not raised capital from outside hence the founder’s wealth is equivalent to profits of the company.
  • Stage 3 (Seed Stage – Funded ) 
    • Founders equity = 75% 
    • Valuation of the Startup = 12 Crore 
    • Founders Wealth = 9 Crore 
At this stage company now has a third party interest and hence company valuation has been determined. Investor gets 25% of the company by investing capital into the company. This stage new shares are issued and size of pie is gets bigger. No of shares of the founders remains the same but the % of equity holding decreased. The founder’s equity now has valuation on paper.
  • Stage 4 (Series A – Funded) 
    • Founders Equity = 55% 
    • Valuation of the Startup = 70 Crore 
    • Founders Wealth = 38.50 Crore 
At this stage the new investor joins the equity cap table. New set of fresh shares are issued to new investor in lieu of their capital investments. The pie is now getting bigger. No of shares with the founders remains the same but their % equity ownership in the company decreases.
  • Stage N where multiple rounds have been raised by the startup like Series B, C, D ....... & now it’s time for an IPO or an M&A 
    • Founders Equity = 20% 
    • Valuation of the Startup = 500 Crore 
    • Founders Wealth = 100 Crore 
Fast forward if the company is doing well and has done multiple rounds of fund raising the pie has got even bigger and the wealth of the founder has equally grown while their equity % ownership has reduced considerably. Let’s run through the Google story which is in public forum. In classic tech startup fashion, Larry Page and Sergey Brin founded Google in a friend's garage. Read here - Google Receives 25 Million in Equity Funding. In 1999 Google raised $25 million from Sequoia and KP at a $75 million pre-money valuation, meaning that the VCs together got 25% of the company. By the time of the Google IPO filing, Larry and Sergey each owned about 15.6% of the company. Larry Page filing with the SEC on Dec. 31, 2017, the Alphabet CEO owns 20 million Class C shares and 20.0 million Class B shares of Alphabet. Page is considered one of the wealthiest people in the United States with a net worth of $55.3 billion, according to Forbes. Sergey Brin's latest filing with the SEC on Nov. 29, 2018, the Alphabet president owns 19.3 million Class C shares, 35,300 Class A shares, and 35,300 Class B shares. Brin has a net worth of $54.1 billion according to Forbes. Considering that Google went public with a valuation around $30 billion, and has since risen as high as $150 billion, that was pretty much the best-case scenario for everyone involved. At today's price of $445/share, a 0.1% slice of Google would be worth $138 million!

The basic idea behind equity is the splitting of a pie. When you start something, your pie is really small. You have a 100% of a really small, bite-size pie. When you take outside investment and your company grows, your pie becomes bigger. Your slice of the bigger pie will be bigger than your initial bite-size pie. When Google went public, Larry and Sergey had about 15% of the pie, each. But that 15% was a small slice of a really big pie.

- Sanjay Mehta

Published on: June 8, 2019