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How do you pay an early-stage board?

Give one percent equity to each outside board member vesting over two to four years of service.

Many early-stage CEOs and board members have asked for some guidance regarding pay and time commitments for board members.  Here is my best advice, based upon many boards and many years.  Pay early-stage board members of companies that are not lifestyle businesses one percent of the fully diluted equity in the form of an option that vests over two to four years of service.  You do not pay professional investors who are serving on behalf of an investment company or VC and paid by that company.

How do you set the option price?

The option price should be set by appraisal under IRS rule 409a, and certainly should be low enough to recognize that common stock options are not worth as much as preferred stock, given the many preferences of the latter.  If you have only one class of stock, the price is the same as the last investment price per share if no 409a appraisal.

Special clauses for board members and senior executives?

Further, the option should contain a special clause for board members and those executives who may not be brought forward to an acquiring company – that accelerates vesting to 100% upon a change of control in the corporation, which aligns the board member with the best interests of the corporation itself. Otherwise, you might picture an event in which the sale of a company to be consummated a few months before full vesting could cause a board member to find ways to vote for delays or even against a sale of the company, awaiting full vesting of his or her options.

How about companies without intent to sell or IPO in future?

[Email readers, continue here…]   For lifestyle companies or later stage companies, board members should be paid on a per-meeting basis in cash. Typically, this payment amounts to $1,000 per meeting of the board, adjusted upward for public corporations to $3,000 per meeting on average, with special pay for committee chairs and special meetings.  These payments recognize that board members are not working for equity but for the equivalent of consulting fees plus the attendant risks of board membership.

Clarifying who receives options

To be clear, venture investors with investments from their funds are not typically ever offered pay for board service, which is expected as part of the investment.  Inside board members, CEO and any other paid employees are not paid for board service in either stock options or cash.

Expenses for travel are often reimbursed by the corporation. 

VC board members sometimes request this, other times do not. It should not be offered to the VC members unless requested.

Next week, we’ll cover what should be expected of a board member in the way of time allocated to the company.

Images produced with Midjourney: Prompt for first: “Four diverse adults sitting around a conference table examining a document for each.  Realistic human images. “

  • Dave,
    Great insights and wisdom, as per usual.
    For lifestyle companies, I typically ask for and receive an economic interest, if only 1/2% via phantom stock or profits interest units. It aligns interests, of course, and one never knows what the future may hold that can cause an owner to decide to exit.
    Best wishes,

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