Valuation and Option Pool — Understand the trade off

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One of the more contentious things in the negotiation between an entrepreneur and a VC over a financing, particularly an early stage financing, is the inclusion of an option pool in the pre-money valuation. As my friend Mark Pincus likes to say, “it’s just another way to lower the price”.

I’ll accept that critique. And take it one step further. The option pool is absolutely a piece of the price negotiation. But it is a very important one as I’ll explain.

But first, let me lay out a few things for those who aren’t well versed in these matters. The pre-money valuation is the value of the company before the money comes in. Let’s say we call it $4mm. And let’s say the financing is $1mm. Then the post-money valuation is $5mm and the $1mm round is 20% dilutive ($1mm/$5mm).

But to the entrepreneur it might be a lot more dilutive due to the inclusion of the option pool in the pre-money valuation. Let’s say that the VC’s term sheet says that a 15% “fully diluted post money” option pool needs to be in the pre-money valuation. What that means is that the investor wants 15% of the company, after the financing is closed, to be in an option pool that has not been granted to anyone.

In the case of the $5mm post money valuation,

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