by Matt Storms
As a follow up on the angel investor and venture capital term sheet post, I want to elaborate on some efforts to streamline angel investor transactions and reduce related transactional legal costs. In the last year or so, there has been considerable effort to create standardized open source angel financing documents. The first of these recent efforts was from Y Combinator. With the assistance of the law firm of Wilson Sonsini, Y Combinator published the Series AA Equity Financing Documents. Another organization focused on seed stage companies, TechStars, subsequently released its Model Seed Funding Documents, which were prepared by the Cooley Godward law firm. And, most recently, attorney Ted Wang from Fenwick & West led an effort to put together the Series Seed documents. There are others as well, especially form term sheets, such as the one investor Basil Peters advocates: One Page Term Sheet. In coming months, a Midwest group of attorneys and law firms plan to publish a set of documents that will add to the mix, with a Midwest flavor of default terms.
This post provides a brief summary of each publisher of the open source form documents as well as a brief overview of the standardized terms for each set.
The Reasons for Using Standardized Forms in Angel Financings
As mentioned in an earlier post in connection with the National Venture Capital Association‘s (NVCA) efforts in adopting form venture capital investment documents (More Terms for Venture Capital Term Sheets), industry standardization would be helpful to achieve these and other goals:
- Reduce transaction costs
- Reduce time to closing
- Reflect industry norms
- Promote consistency among transactions
- Establish certain industry standards
- Provide basic explanations as to the reason for particular provisions or the context in which certain provisions should be included
While achieving these goals would be laudable, creating a standard set of angel financing documents that are used by various groups presents challenges. I will cover these issues in a later post. But first, here is a summary of the current open source documents:
Y Combinator Series AA Equity Financing Documents
Toward the end of 2008, Y Combinator was the first of the groups to release an open source set of angel financing documents. Y Combinator provides small investments (typically less than $20,000) to computer, Internet, and software startups. Along with the investment, they provide initial consulting and networking opportunities for startups, including a three-month training program in the San Francisco Bay Area. According to Y Combinator, they take a 2-10% equity stake in participating companies. To date, they have worked with over 140 companies.
The Y Combinator documents were originally created for Y Combinator’s portfolio companies to use for their angel financing rounds. Among other provisions, the documents contain a 1x nonparticipating liquidation preference, no springing future rights from subsequent issuances, participation rights, a basic set of representations and covenants from the issuer, and a board seat.
TechStars Model Seed Funding Documents
In early 2009, TechStars released its set of model seed funding documents. TechStars provides up to $18,000 in seed funding to emerging companies, primarily in Internet and software industries. In addition, they provide educational programs and mentoring for three months in Boston, Boulder, and Seattle, with the chance to pitch angel investors and venture capitalists at the end of the program. In exchange for the funding and services, TechStars takes a 6% stake in companies.
TechStars provides its model documents to founders and lead investors as a starting point in seed and angel financing rounds in the $250,000 to $2 million range. The TechStars documents contain, among other provisions, a 1x nonparticipating liquidation preference, broad-based weighted average anti-dilution protection, springing future rights from subsequent issuances, participation rights, a basic set of representations and covenants from the issuer, and a limited right to a board seat that remains in place until the holders drop below 5% ownership of the company on a fully diluted basis.
Ted Wang’s Series Seed Financing Documents
The Series Seed Financing Documents were released last month (March 2010). An important characteristic of these documents is that they are, for the most part, slimmed down versions of the NVCA forms. As a result, investors who use the NVCA documents will generally be familiar with the terms of these documents. According to Ted Wang, the documents are intended for typical angel financing rounds in the $500,000 to $1.5 million range.
Although the documents are intended to be neutral, they generally contain the most investor-friendly terms of the three sets. Among them are assignment of the company’s right of first refusal to investors, drag-along rights, reimbursement of investor legal fees (up to $10k), and protective provisions typical for a company-friendly venture capital financing. Still, some investors have commented that the terms in the Series Seed documents are not aggressive enough.
The Series Seed documents are also intended to be used “as-is” without further negotiation (just fill in the blanks). The philosophy behind this approach is that the value of standardization outweighs the costs of customization: a controversial concept for many companies and investors. Ted Wang has invited comments and is planning to publish a revised set of documents after one quarter, including regular updates thereafter.
Comparison of Angel Investment Form Documents
All three sets of model documents anticipate that the security issued is preferred stock. Last month, attorney Yokum Taku of Wilson Sonsini put together a nice summary that compares the three sets of documents in tabular format: Yokum Post. Generally speaking, the Y Combinator and TechStars documents are more company-friendly than the Series Seed documents, although the TechStars documents contain anti-dilution protection and the other two do not.
While it may sound like only a self-serving comment, the open source forms should not be a substitute for involving an attorney experienced in angel and venture capital financing transactions. Selecting and negotiating terms (and alternatives), addressing the inevitable deal-specific terms not encompassed within the forms, providing a check as to what current “market” is, and securities law compliance are some of the reasons to involve an experienced attorney in the process. That said, industry or at least regional adoption of a standard set of angel investment documents (with common variations) should significantly reduce transaction legal costs, especially if both sides are represented by experienced counsel familiar with the forms.
If and when the Midwest-based angel financing documents are published, I will provide another update.
by Matt Storms |