When do you split up the equity


I'm involved in a startup with some friends and we haven't formalized the equity split yet.

When is good practice to do something about equity and what do you start with

ie: short letter or formal docs

Can vesting take care of people that say they're working and not doing anything?



asked Oct 17 '09 at 23:39
Scott Cowan
156 points
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5 Answers


Always have a tentative agreement in place before you begin really working with each other. This may change as some people over / under perform, but it will be a total shitfight if you have the product ready, marketing in place and then argue about splits. Let's face it, we all think we are the most valuable and we all want a big %!

+1 to Neils link.

answered Oct 18 '09 at 00:37
Alex Blom
231 points


+1 to Neil and Alex (I can't give + until I get up there). Anup also basically took my points, so I'll give you the run-down on what we've done:

At our first full-team meeting (I'd met my co-Founders individually, but not all three of us together), we came to an informal agreement on the percentage split. However, I wanted to make sure they would do their work, so we also came up with a vesting plan.

I wasn't worried about the Developer, so he got 10% to start, and 5% for each of three milestones. The third part was the one who seemed like he might need some extra motivation, so we started him at zero, and gave him 5% for each of three milestones - each harder to attain than the previous one.

When I took this to our law firm during the incorporation process (S-Corp), it took some explaining, but eventually he was able to make the vesting work out.

ONE CAVEAT: By default, any shares that don't vest for the other partners revert to the company, which means they are split among the owners. If you want them to revert to YOU, make sure the lawyer puts in a clause that states that you have the right to purchase any unvested shares from the other partners, either at a certain time, or in the event that they leave the company. That way, you prevent your share from becoming diluted.

answered Oct 18 '09 at 00:57
Josh Sam Bob
1,578 points


Shameless plug: that's the problem that my current startup solves. Here's how it works:

  1. You and a bunch of friends have an idea.
  2. You record the equity split on FairSoftware - it's free
  3. You work on your idea and see if it makes any sense
  4. Once you know you have something serious and it's time, you incorporate

Notice how step #2 seems useless? That's because if everything goes perfectly, it won't matter, but if anything goes off-course, it will save your life (or at least your company.

A couple of things that it's great for:

  • It forces a discussion between potential co-founder as to who is getting how much. Better have that discussion early, or you may have a lot of resentment later on when it's too late
  • What if someone makes a significant contribution (in code for instance) but later refuses to join the company? You are screwed without an IP agreement in place.

The altneratives are worse: pay a lawyer to draft proper vesting founder agreements, and have to tweak them, for $500/hour, multiple times.

Founding your company is the one time where you don't want to "release early, release often".

answered Oct 18 '09 at 02:40
Alain Raynaud
10,927 points


Take a look at Noam Wasserman's Founder Frustrations blog, especially under the 'co-founders' section. He answers a lot of these questions.

answered Oct 18 '09 at 00:25
Neil Davidson
1,839 points


In my experience, if all of you started at the same time, you need to put some formal agreement together to say how the equity split would happen and on what basis the split is based on.

Vesting is important to make sure the commitment remains. The other fact to keep in mind is that you would need to also document how future stock issuance would happen.

If you have money, this is best done through a consultant or lawyer or another person who has gone through similar startup experiences.

answered Oct 18 '09 at 00:46
547 points

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