The Basics of Convertible Debt Financing

By Seed Rounds

Selecting the optimal structure when raising capital for your startup can be a challenging task. When clients ask me for my recommendation, I find myself recommending the convertible debt financing route more often than traditional equity financing (i.e., I’ll give you $100k for 20% of your company’s stock).

So what is convertible debt?

Convertible debt financing is basically an investor loan to your startup that has a future conversion-to-equity feature. That is, your startup’s investor gives your startup a loan like a bank would, but the outstanding balance of this loan will convert to shares in your corporation at a future date.

When does convertible debt convert to equity?

Convertible debt typically converts to equity the next time your startup raises capital (think venture capital or similar large investor). Technically, this large raise is called a “qualified financing” per the convertible debt agreements (note and note purchase agreement).

How does convertible debt convert to equity?

Convertible debt converts to equity based on the valuation your startup receives from the venture capital firm in the “qualified financing.” For example, if your venture capital investor ends up paying $1 per share for your startup’s preferred stock and you have $800,000 of convertible debt, the investor will receive 800,000 shares of preferred stock. The loan will then be cancelled. (Note: Convertible debt often converts to preferred stock at a discount than what the venture capital investor pays for the preferred shares.)

So why do I recommend convertible debt so much?

Simple: It delays the valuation discussion. I see many founders struggle with their investors over a valuation to do a straight up cash-for-shares equity investment. And this struggle can last for months and eat up development time.

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