Term Sheet Purgatory

By Venture Capital

There’s a lot of advice about (1) how to attract VCs, and (2) how to negotiate a venture capital term sheet. Both sets of advice tend to ignore the gap between an investor’s expression of investment interest and your startup’s receipt of the term sheet. I refer to this waiting period as “term sheet purgatory.”

Term sheet purgatory can seem like is an eternity for a startup, although it may last from one week to over one month. Usually, the investor is just prepping the field to make the investment. While progressive discussions with an investor about the investment are fine and most revolve around pre-diligence matters, sometimes these discussions shift towards the pre-money valuation and investment amount. And this has potential negative consequences for the startup.

It can be a mistake to arrive at a consensus with your investor on pre-money valuation & investment amount before receiving the full term sheet. Terms like the option pool, liquidation preference, and board composition are just a few other investment terms that have a meaningful impact on your startup. You’ll feel real solid about that $6,000,000 pre-money until you receive the term sheet and it specifies a 25% option pool, 1X participating liquidation preference, and an investor-favorable board.

Of course, you can re-negotiate the pre-money and/or investment amount, but it still makes for potentially awkward conversations and/or feelings of mistrust. Neither is a good way to kick off your relationship with your future investor. (Even worse, a startup may feel like they can’t re-negotiate because they’ve already “agreed” to those numbers.)

Thus, if your potential investor continues to verbally discuss investment terms with you, consider asking for the term sheet.

Even if you are comfortable negotiating verbally on one facet of your startup’s capital raise and blindly on the rest — what’s the point of talking about the color of your corsage if you haven’t received a (non-binding) invitation to the dance?

Request that all key terms of the investment are laid out in front of you in the form of a term sheet. This may be the quickest way to get you out of term sheet purgatory and avoid negative consequences along the way.


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