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When an investor provides equity funding for your start-up, they become part owners of your business; this grants them certain rights. Understanding these investment rights and how they impact your autonomy and the trajectory of your business is a crucial part of any entrepreneur’s fundraising journey.

As you seek capital, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with the intricacies of investment rights for startups as well as how to negotiate terms that lead to a mutually beneficial partnership. Let’s dive into some facets of what you need to know in order to strike the right balance when securing financial support to grow your business.

What are Investment Rights?

Investment rights encompass a set of privileges granted to investors in a company. These rights are structured to protect and enhance the investors’ interests, and they outline the investors’ role in the decision-making process. If you’re seeking funding from investors, you’ll need to understand how these rights factor into the management of your business.

These are some of the key investment rights to know:

Voting Rights

Voting rights provide investors a say in crucial company decisions. Investors can influence decisions ranging from appointing board members to major strategic shifts in your business plan. The extent of voting rights varies, with some investors having more influence based on the terms negotiated during the investment process.

Dividend Rights

Dividend rights entitle investors to a share of the company’s profits. This can be a critical point for investors seeking a financial return on their investment beyond capital appreciation.

Entitlement to Information

Investors are permitted access to certain business records and reports, if they can show a reasonable purpose for requesting access.

Right to Transfer Ownership

An investor may transfer their ownership in your business by selling their shares to another investor. It’s important to understand what say you may or may not have as it relates to selecting or approving the new investor..

Liquidation Preferences

In the event of a sale or dissolution of your company, investors with liquidation preferences are entitled to receive their investment amount back before other shareholders. This protects their capital in scenarios where the company does not achieve the anticipated valuation during a sale or in the event the company liquidates due to a bankruptcy.

Negotiating Investment Rights: A Balancing Act

You have the right to negotiate with your investors to determine their stake in the company (based on the company valuation you align on) and what privileges they are granted. Negotiating investment rights is a complex process that requires a strategic and informed approach.

Achieving favorable terms isn’t just about securing capital for your startup, but also about establishing a partnership that aligns with your long-term goals. Whether you’re negotiating a fair valuation of your business, determining the investor’s equity stake, or fine-tuning their voting rights, you’ll need to carefully consider how these terms will safeguard your plan for your business.

Here are some pieces of advice as you negotiate with investors:

1. Know the value of your company

Before entering negotiations, have a clear and defensible valuation based on market trends, financial projections, and the unique value proposition of your business. Make sure to research competitors and how your business differentiates itself within the market. Depending on the size and stage of your business, you may want to enlist a third-party valuation company or investment bank to help methodically substantiate your company’s valuation.

2. Establish your non-negotiables

Though all negotiations require compromise, there may be certain terms that you aren’t willing to stray from — for example, maintaining your position as the company’s CEO. Ensure that these terms are realistic, and be prepared to communicate them during negotiations.

3. Seek out investors who share your ethos

Research an investor’s investment history and portfolio, ensuring that their values align with yours. Does the investor have a track record of investing in companies with similar missions or values? What is their level of familiarity with the industry, as well as their experience with scaling companies? Are you connected with any of the founders within the investor’s portfolio and able to back-channel a reference from them? I suggest using resources like Crunchbase to conduct your research and search for contacts.

4. Balance control with collaboration

Striking the right balance between maintaining control over key aspects of your business and collaborating with investors is essential. Your relationships with investors will be long-term, and you want to establish an atmosphere of mutual respect, partnership, and fairness.

5. Create competition

Like in many negotiations, creating a competitive environment by attracting interest from multiple investors can give you leverage and increase your chances of securing more favorable terms. I highly recommend aiming to secure at least 2-3 term sheets so that you can compare offers that you can potentially leverage in your negotiations.

6. Focus on the long term

Look beyond the immediate funding round and consider the long-term implications of the partnership. What level of control do you hope to have as your company grows? How will all parties be protected in the future? How can you ensure an ongoing collaborative relationship with your investors?

As you seek investors and participate in negotiations, I encourage you to work with a lawyer that specializes in investment agreements  throughout the process. You may want to consider leveraging a financial valuation or investment banking partner, as well. By engaging experienced legal counsel and financial advisors, you can ensure the negotiations align with your interests, that you and your business are legally protected, and that the investment terms are fair and balanced.

Staying True to Your Vision While Sharing Investment Rights

Bringing on investors inevitably means sharing control of your business with other parties, often individuals who have differing opinions. At various moments you will likely have to tactfully navigate your investor relationships and business operations. Be vocal about your company’s values and mission, and their importance in supporting the many aspects of your business — from product manufacturing to your hiring practices. You should also be prepared to set boundaries by clearly communicating your expectations and requirements with your investors. By establishing an open dialogue with them, you can set the tone for healthy debates and collaboration.

Remember that successful investor negotiations and relationships should result in a win-win situation for both parties. As you seek financial and strategic support for your business, it’s important to understand the nuances of investment rights for startups, employ effective negotiation strategies, partner with legal and financial experts, and establish your values in order to both foster beneficial relationships and stay true to your vision.

What tactics do you use – or plan to use – when negotiating terms with investors? Let us know in the comments!