Category Archives: Start-up data

Rewarding Talent – A guide to stock options for European entrepreneurs by Index Ventures

I recently read an article mentioning a new report by Index Ventures Rémunération du risque : la France s’en sort bien ! and a few days later a student of mine mentioned a new app by Index to help entrepreneurs allocate stock options: Index Ventures Option Plan beta. Thanks Javier! I had a look, tweeted about it and then thought it was worth a blog article…

I advise you to read the full (143-page) report – link here. It includes great information at the macro (national policy) and micro (startup) level. There are minor differences with my past analyses such Equity in Startups published in Sept. 2017 or my recurrent class about Equity Split in Startups which you can find here:

What is particularly interesting, I think, is their summary:

1 European employees own less of the companies they work for than US employees. For late-stage startups, they own around 10%, versus 20% in the US.

2 Ownership levels vary much more in Europe than the US. In Europe, employee ownership in late-stage startups ranges from 4% to 20%. In the US, ownership is more consistent, as stock option allocation is driven by market forces.

3 Employee ownership correlates to how deeply technical a startup is. An AI or enterprise software startup requires more technical know-how than a straightforward e-commerce startup. These employees are more likely to seek stock options.

4 Ownership policy details adopted by startups vary between the US and Europe. For example, provisions for leavers, and accelerated vesting following a change in control.

5 In Europe, stock options are executive-biased. Two-thirds of stock options are allocated to executives, and one third to employees below executive level. In the US, it’s the reverse.

6 European employees still don’t expect stock options much of the time. US employees joining a tech startup with fewer than 100 staff would typically expect stock options straight away. This is much less true in Europe, although expectations are steadily rising.

7 European option holders are often disadvantaged. In much of Europe, employees will be paying a high strike price, and they will be taxed heavily upon exercise as well as sale. Leavers often get nothing.

8 There is wide variation in national policy across Europe, with the UK most supportive of employee ownership. Regulations and tax frameworks are radically different across Europe. The UK’s EMI scheme is most favourable, better than what is available in the US, and France is also good. Other countries, including Germany, lag behind in our opinion.

The top US and European (former) start-ups in 2017

Since I published my book in 2007, I have regularly been doing the exercise of comparing the largest US (former) start-ups and their European counterparts. You can look at my data in 2016 in The top US and European (former) start-ups in 2016. Here are my update lists:

Things have not changed that much. Yahoo is out. Rovio is in…

Rovio (Angry Birds) is going public

Rovio, the Finnish start-up creator of the famous Angry Birds game, will fly to the Helsinki Stock Exchange next week. Apparently it should be a success as the offer is oversubscribed and has just been closed despite the recent challenges the start-up had to face, as the next figure shows.

I will not comment more but just add my usual capitalization table.

Equity in Startups

This is the third short report I publish this summer about startups. After Startups at EPFL and Stanford and Startups, here is (I hope) an interesting analysis about how equity was allocated in 400 startups, entitled Equity in Startups (in pdf). Here is the description of the report on its back page: Startups have become in less than 50 years a major component of innovation and economic growth. An important feature of the startup phenomenon has been the wealth created through equity in startups to all stakeholders. These include the startup founders, the investors, and also the employees through the stock-option mechanism and universities through licenses of intellectual property. In the employee group, the allocation to important managers like the chief executive, vice-presidents and other officers, and independent board members is also analyzed. This report analyzes how equity was allocated in more than 400 startups, most of which had filed for an initial public offering. The author has the ambition of informing a general audience about best practice in equity split, in particular in Silicon Valley, the central place for startup innovation.

I will let you (hopefully) discover this rather short report which could have been much longer if I had decided to analyze the data in detail. I will just right here my main results. A simple look at data shows that at IPO (or exit) founders keep around 10% of their company whereas investors own 50% and employees 20%. The remaining 20% goes to the general public at IPO . Of course, this is a little too simplistic. For examples founders keep more in Software and Internet startups and less in Biotech and Medtech. There could be a lot more to add but I let the reader focus on what possibly interests her.
Additional interesting points are:
– The average age of founders is 38 but higher in Biotech and Medtech and lower in Software and Internet.
– It takes on average 8 years to go public after raising a total of $138M, including a first round of $8M in VC money.
– On average, companies have about $110M in sales and are slightly profitable, with 500 employees at IPO time. But again there are differences between Software and Internet startups which have more sales and employees and positive income and Biotech and Medtech startups which have much lower revenue and headcount and negative profit.
– The CEO owns about 3% of the startup at exit. This is 4x less the founding group and depending when she (although it is too often a “he”) joined it would mean up to 20% close to foundation (assuming the founders would keep 80% and allocate the delta to the CEO)
CEOs are non-founders in about 36% of the cases, more in biotech (42%) and Medtech (35%) than Internet (31%) and Software (25%), more in Boston (48%) than Silicon Valley (43%) .
– The Vice-Presidents and Chief Officers own about 1% and the Chief Financial around 0.6%.
– Finally, an independent director gets about 0.3% of the equity at IPO. If we consider again that the founders are diluted by a factor 8x from their initial 100% to about 12%, it means a director should have about 2-3% if he joins at inception.
– In the past universities owned about 10% of a startup at creation in exchange for an exclusive license on IP. More recently, this has been more 5% non-diluted until significant funding (Series A round).

Stanford and Startups

Stanford is in the top2 universities with MIT for high-tech entrepreneurship. There is not much doubt about such statement. For the last ten years, I have been studying the impact of this university which has grown in the middle of Silicon Valley. After one book and a few research papers, here is a kind of concluding work.

A little less than 10 years ago, I discovered the Wellspring of Innovation, a website from Stanford University listing about 6’000 companies and founders. I used that list in addition from data I had obtained from OTL, the Stanford office of technology licensing as well as some personal data I had compiled over years. The report Startups and Stanford University with subtitle “an analysis of the entrepreneurial activity of the Stanford community over 50 years”, is the result of about 10 years of research. Of course, I did not work on it every day, but it has been a patient work which helped me analyze more than 5’000 start-ups and entrepreneurs. There is nearly not storytelling but a lot of tables and figures. I deliberately decided not to draw many conclusions as each reader might prefer one piece to another. The few people I contacted before publishing it here twitted about it with different reactions. For example:

Katharine Ku, head of OTL has mentioned another report when I mentioned mine to her: Stanford’s Univenture Secret Sauce – Embracing Risk, Ambiguity and Collaboration. Another evidence of the entrepreneurial culture of that unique place! I must thank Ms Ku here again for the data I could access thanks to her!

This report is not a real conclusion. There is still a lot to study about high-tech entrepreneurship around Stanford. With this data only. And with more recent one probably too. And I will conclude here with the last sentence of the report: “How will it develop in the future is obviously impossible to predict Therefore a revisited analysis of the situation in a decade or so should be very intersting.”

An analysis of EPFL’s Spin-offs and its Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

I usually do not mix my EPFL activity and my blog activity. This is one of the rare exceptions. At EPFL’s startup unit, we just published a short report describing EPFL spin-offs. Here is a short link. By the way you can also visit the pages about EPFL’s support to entrepreneurship.

The report gives data about value creation through fund raising and job creation and also about a known phenomenon, the importance of migrants for entrepreneurship. I am aware that value creation is a sensitive topic, all the more that in Europe venture capital has not proven a real correlation with value. It may even have destroyed more value than created any…

The Paris Innovation Review about Start-ups

Once again the Paris Innovation Review (formerly ParisTech Review) publishes a series of excellent articles, this time dedicated to start-ups. These are:
– Companies like others? A sociological survey of French startup. http://parisinnovationreview.com/2017/03/21/sociological-survey-french-startups/
– Startups Employees Perks & Incentives – 1 – Wages. http://parisinnovationreview.com/2017/03/23/startups-employees-perks-incentives-1-wages/
– Startups Employees Perks & Incentives – 2 – Equity. http://parisinnovationreview.com/2017/03/23/startups-employees-perks-incentives-2-equity/

The article about the sociology of start-ups shows (in fact confirms) interesting things. I will let you read and jump directly to some of their concluding points: “Some of these results can provide pause for thought for public policies aimed at fostering startup creations. The survival of these businesses seems relatively unpredictable, both for the people involved (entrepreneurs, employees, support bodies) and for analysts who observe them from the outside. We have interpreted this unpredictability as the result of two causes. The first is the selection operated by the support agencies, a selection that has largely guided ours, since a claim of technical innovation, which was our main criterion for inclusion in our survey, is generally associated with subsequent monitoring and aid by these agencies. One might think that a number of projects considered very unrealistic could have been excluded by these services, which in fact limits the variety of the companies we studied. The second, more fundamental cause is the very variety of factors that make or break businesses: outlets that emerge and disappear along with the flow of global economic changes, strategies of major industrial groups and initiatives by competitors, internal conflicts, resources which become abundant or scarce depending on the context, financial problems which are difficult to anticipate, etc. This may encourage governments and public agencies to foster a much greater number of projects and not merely be satisfied with those that they consider to be the most promising. Watering a whole field is often more efficient than dumping all the available water on but a few square meters… Securing solid support by authorities, companies that are deemed innovative are doing better than the others if one considers their survival rate. Perhaps it would not be absurd to offer an equivalent support to businesses in other economic circles.”

The incentive topic is one I have covered at length as you may see with my Slideshare link below. On the salary side, I fully agree with their claim: Be as objective as possible: this ensures fairness and acknowledges a basic truth: people talk. On the equity side, know the rules of vesting and cliffs, and build a granting mechanism based on experience of employees and layers of early and late comers, i.e. the same number of stock options could be granted per year (so more shares to early employees as there are more employees per year when the company grows. If it does not, stock options are probably worthless…)

Data about equity, founders, venture capital from 401+ start-ups

I regularly compile data about start-ups and in particular about how equity is allocated to founders, employees (through stock options), independant board members and investors (through preferred shares). I have now more than 400 such cases (see below the full list). What is interesting is to look at some statistics by geography, by field and by period of foundation. here they are:

There would be a lot to say, but I prefer you build your own opinion…

Equity Structure in 401+ Start-ups by Herve Lebret on Scribd

What is the equity structure of Uber and Airbnb?

What is the equity structure of Uber and Airbnb? Unfortunately, this is a question only the shareholders in the two start-ups can know. I have nearly no clue. But over the week-end I had a quick look at how much these unicorns have raised and how this impacted the founders. If you read this blog from time to time, you probably know I do this exercise regularly. I have a databasis of more than 350 examples, and I will update it soon with 401 companies, including these two ones. Here is the result of my “quick and dirty” analysis.


Airbnb cap. table – A speculative exercise with very little information available


Uber cap. table – A speculative exercise with very little information available

A few additional remarks:
– the three founders of Airbnb were 27, 27 and 25-year old at the date of foundation. Whereas for Uber, they were 32 and 34;
– as you may see, I do not have any information about other common shareholders, neither about stock option plans. More information will be released when/if the companies file to go public…
– the amounts raised are just amazing but the founders relatively undiluted;
– finally, Uber did a stock split so the huge price per share would be divided by around 40 whereas the real number of shares is multiplied by the same amount.

Comments welcome!

PS: for some unknown reason, I had some trouble with Slideshare. So here is my updated document on Scribd…

Equity Structure in 401+ Start-ups by Herve Lebret on Scribd

Seydoux, the founder of Parrot, about entrepreneurship and innovation

A recent publication by the excellent ParisTech Review draw my attention. It’s entitled Three lessons from Parrot’s saga et you can read the entire article here (www.paristechreview.com/2016/09/28/three-lessons-parrot-saga/)

I already posted about Parrot and its founder Henri Seydoux (see www.startup-book.com/2012/08/10/parrot-and-henri-seydoux-a-french-success-story/) and I was lucky to listen to him at EPFL in 2014. I encourage you to watch to his presentation below, where he gave five advice: follow your own ideas, people will help you, focus is essential, be cautious with money, and… good luck.

In this new series of advice, I did not only notice Seydoux’ three lessons (1- it’s perfectly possible to create an industrial company in France. In fact, it’s even easier than ever. 2- high technology works in cycles, and you can’t expect to sell the same product for decades. 3- the software industry is fundamentally oriented towards B2C) but also some striking points:
– Parrot was many times close to bankruptcy but thanks to the courage, vision and yes, luck of its founder, Parrot avoided the worst.
– To his regret, [he] never managed to convince French brands […]. No one is a prophet in his own country…
– To innovate, Seydoux created « internal start-ups », with small talented teams with “two main prohibitions: no specifications, no market research”. Some tinkering, trial and errors and “gradually, we accumulate knowledge and sometimes, it ends up working”.
In 2016, Parrot has a market cap. of €300M, sales of €300M and close to 1’000 employees. A beautiful European success story.