Understanding Equity Management for Startups

Equity 101: Understanding Equity Management for Startups

When launching a startup, one of the most critical aspects founders need to understand is equity and its management. Equity represents ownership in a company, and its effective management can play a pivotal role in a startup’s success. Whether attracting top talent with equity compensation or securing funding from investors, equity management is a key aspect of a startup’s strategic planning.

What is Equity?

In simple terms, equity is ownership in a company. Each share of a company’s stock represents a piece of ownership, or equity. When you start a company, you begin with 100% of the equity, which is divided into shares.

Why is Equity Important for Startups?

Equity is crucial for startups for two primary reasons: it can be used to attract and retain talent, and it can be exchanged for crucial funding. Startups often offer equity as part of a compensation package to employees, which aligns their interests with the company’s success.

On the other hand, investors provide capital in exchange for equity, betting on the company’s future success.

Founders’ Equity

As a founder, you start with 100% of the company’s equity. This initial equity is usually divided amongst the founders based on various factors such as the initial idea, the work put into the startup, and the capital provided.

Equity Dilution

Dilution occurs when you issue new shares for your startup. For instance, when an investor funds your startup in exchange for equity, the percentage of your ownership decreases, even though the value of your equity may increase due to the added capital. It’s important to understand that owning a smaller percentage of a more valuable company often outweighs owning a large percentage of a less valuable company.

Employee Equity and Stock Option Plans

Startups often use equity as part of their compensation package to attract and retain talented employees. Employee Stock Option Plans (ESOPs) give employees the right to buy a specific number of the company’s shares at a predetermined price. The hope is that the company’s value will rise over time, allowing employees to profit from the increase.


Vesting is a method used to incentivize loyalty and long-term commitment. A typical vesting schedule for startups is four years with a one-year cliff. This means an employee must stay with the company for at least one year to earn any equity and will fully vest their equity grant over four years.

Equity and Investors

When startups seek investment, they often exchange equity for capital. The process involves negotiating the company’s valuation. Investors buy shares of the company, diluting the founders’ and potentially employees’ equity, but also increasing the company’s overall value.

Managing Equity

Equity management involves keeping accurate and up-to-date records of all equity transactions. It’s crucial to maintain a cap table – a spreadsheet that shows the equity ownership of a company.

Legal Considerations

Equity comes with legal considerations. For example, issuing shares or stock options requires specific legal documentation. It’s recommended to work with a legal professional experienced in startups and equity management. Some startups have already started to outsource the entire equity management process to companies like Levy where they have dedicated operations partners who take care of everything from legal considerations to anything related to equity.

Future Financing Rounds and Exits

Future financing rounds, IPOs, or exits can significantly impact equity. Founders must consider these potential events and their implications on equity distribution.


In conclusion, equity management is a crucial part of a startup’s financial and strategic planning. While it can be complex, understanding equity management is vital to align interests, secure funding, and ultimately drive the success of your startup. A well-planned equity strategy can be an effective tool for setting your startup on the path to success.

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