Founder stock sales are becoming more prevalent as part of a venture financing. Of course, getting paid has always been a priority for the entrepreneur, but founder liquidity is becoming an increasing trend in the venture world. Enter Series FF Stock.
Series FF was created for those founders desiring to cash out a small part of their overall stake in their startup company at a funding (rather than waiting to go public or get acquired). Thus, the FF class provides founders with the opportunity for a more immediate return on their investment of cash, blood, sweat, and tears.
The mechanics of Series FF Stock work like this: At a very early stage in the startup company’s life, the founders are issued a very weak class of preferred stock. The issued FF shares typically come attached with the right to convert into a future round of preferred (such as a Series B) and then sell the converted shares to investors. This conversion and sale can only take place at a financing.
The issue of early founder liquidity can lead to tension between investors and founders. The investors want to keep the founders properly incentivized. In theory, letting founders cash out any of their stake may make the founders disinterested in growing the newly-funded company.
My belief is that a little bit of liquidity for founders at funding may actually benefit the venture backed company. The founders may have maxed out credit cards or have other bills they incurred in order to get to their startup to the point of funding. Even if the founders are debt-free, I don’t think founders will lose focus over a (relatively) small payday compared to an acquisition or IPO exit.
Keep in mind that if a founder converts and sells Series FF shares, the founder’s equity in the company is reduced. Therefore, if an IPO or M&A exit is in the startup’s future, selling shares early will likely be a costly move for the founder.