Founder Liquidity

One of the better VC blogs out there is a newcomer, Mark Suster's Both Sides Of The Table.

Last week he asked the question, "Should Founders Be Allowed To Take Money Off The Table?"  It's a good post and the comments are worth reading (as is the case on most VC blogs).

When I first got into the VC business in the mid 80s, it was considered a non-starter that entrepreneurs would get liquid before the VCs. The mindset was "they get out when we get out". That was what I was taught and I felt pretty strongly about it until the late 90s.

What happened to change my mind is I saw entrepreneurs lose everything even though they had made VCs a lot of money. Most of the time that happened when they took companies public too early, the VCs cashed out, the entrepreneurs couldn't, they ran out of money, and had to sell cheap or in some cases the companies went bankrupt.

That taught me that often the entrepreneurs have to hang in there longer than the VCs in order to get a good exit. If that is the case, then it is entirely reasonable to offer them some early liquidity in return.

I've also seen entrepreneurs choose to sell the company prematurely because they want to take some money off the table. If offered the opportunity to take a bit off the table and swing for the fences, many would prefer to do that. We've participated in several of these situations and I can say for certain that founder liquidity has been a positive for the founder, the company, and the VC investors.

There are some caveats, of course. I don't like to see founders take too much off the table. If they are going to take a ton off the table, then its better to sell the company. And you have to be careful because these transactions will impact the strike prices that you can grant options at. There isn't much that can be done about that, but the fewer times founders do this the better from a strike price perspective.

So I am with Mark Suster on this one. I think the trend in the venture capital business is toward more founder liquidity and I think its a good thing, within reason.

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