Attorney Roundtable: How founder-friendly are “standard” VC term sheets?

Jennifer Rohleder, Keith Strahan, Zev Safran, and Ryan Juliano

Venture capitalists and angel investors can say they are founder-friendly. But their “standard” term sheets and funding agreements may tell a different story.

Four attorneys with deep expertise in startup fundraising weighed in during a roundtable discussion with me, Eisaiah Engel, co-author of Founder Friendly Standard, a checklist for entrepreneurs to address all the “other” terms in a financing besides valuation and percentage of the company purchased. The attorneys shared their insights on what makes a term sheet founder-friendly, how “standard” term sheets compare to each other, and how to avoid mistakes when negotiating venture financing.

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“Standard” term sheets are only 38% founder-friendly

Side-by-side comparison of Founder Friendly Standard with popular term sheet templates.

Y Combinator Safe, 500 Startups KISS, and other “standard” term sheets cannot claim they are founder-friendly, reveals study by 6 startup attorneys.

Nearly every hour of my spare time since May 2019 has gone into this research study to determine if “standard” term sheets really are founder-friendly. It feels amazing to be finished! Here is what we found.

Six attorneys analyzed 298 pages of legalese from:

  1. Y Combinator Safes
  2. 500 Startups KISS notes
  3. NVCA Model Legal Docs
  4. Gust Series Seed term sheet
  5. Sam Altman ‘Founder-Friendly’ term sheet
  6. Y Combinator Series A term sheet

Compared to Founder Friendly Standard®, a framework for determining if a venture capital or angel investment deal is founder-friendly, the above “standard” term sheets and contract templates were on average:

  • A little more than a third (38%) founder-friendly as defined by being compatible with Founder Friendly Standard.
  • Just under a third (32%) founder-unfriendly as defined by being incompatible with Founder Friendly Standard.
  • Nearly a third (30%) silent on the issues in Founder Friendly Standard.
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