Category Archives: Kelly Laffey

Major Legal Pitfalls for Startups – The Case for Hiring a Lawyer before you “Start Up” – Part 2

 

In this two part series, Kelly Laffey discusses the legal pitfalls that startups can avoid when forming their company. Kelly counsels clients on issues related to corporate governance, mergers and acquisitions matters, and securities regulation and compliance. She also assists with financing for large private corporations, and entity formation and succession planning for professional services firms. Kelly provides general business counseling on a variety of up-and-coming regulatory issues for small and emerging companies that offer commercial services, allowing them to explore new business opportunities in various states. Drawing on her diverse work experience in the entertainment arena, including time spent with talent agencies, and music and television production companies, Kelly also assists on matters related to licensing, marketing, and exploitation of intellectual property rights.

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In Part 1 of this series, I described some typical legal problems that startup companies face when they try to go it alone in the early stages of their business related to choice of entity form and jurisdiction and common issues that arise with respect to division of equity.  In this part 2, I discuss issues related to securities laws and intellectual property and finally offer some words of advice regarding how to manage the costs of hiring an attorney early on.

Compliance with Securities Laws

Any issuance of securities, meaning stock, LLC interests, options, warrants, convertible notes, convertible securities (or SAFEs) and more, will be subject to federal and state securities laws.  Startup companies often need to find an exemption to the registration requirements of federal securities laws until they are ready to go public.  Securities law is a large and complex subject that really requires a good corporate attorney to help explain those obligations relevant to a particular company in a particular given circumstance.  Failure to comply with securities laws can result in a huge financial burden on the company, the founders and recipients of equity, including employees and investors, when fines are imposed or the recipients are forced to pay a much higher price for the equity than what was intended.  An experienced securities practitioner can help you find the right exemption and implement the right process to avoid fines and adverse consequences.

Protecting Your Intellectual Property and Employment Issues

It is critical to have proper employment documentation in place and such documentation should properly protect the company’s intellectual property.  Typical employment agreements include “at-will” offer letters, independent contractor agreements, consultant or advisor agreements and stock incentive award documents.  Employment laws vary from state to state so depending on what state you’re in, you may need to include specific provisions to comply with applicable state law. One of the most important employment documents which every employee (including co-founders) should sign is a proprietary or confidential information and inventions assignment agreement.  This document ensures the company’s confidential information will remain confidential and that any ideas, work product or deliverables created by the company’s employees while working for the company will be owned by the company.  These agreements generally prevent key employees who have developed significant intellectual property for the company from claiming rights in such intellectual property in the event that they leave.

Trying To Do It Yourself

For the reasons stated above and many more, one of the biggest mistakes a company can make is trying to do the legal formation work on their own or with an inexperienced legal service provider.  All of the mistakes described above are correctable but correcting them takes time and can incur greater cost than getting professional advice from the beginning.  Many firms have very reasonable startup packages for early stage companies that include both forming the company properly and providing a suite of documents covering most, if not all, of the above issues for the company’s use, for a very reasonable flat fee.  These packages are designed to get the company started and provide you with the basic forms of agreements you need to be protected.  Once these are put in place, the company is unlikely to incur significant legal costs until it raises capital or undergoes another significant event.  While a startup package fee may still seem like a significant amount of money to spend in a company’s early stages, the value is immeasurable over the life and success of the business.

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For more information about Startup Formation and other emerging growth issues, contact Kelly Laffey at klaffey@stubbsalderton.com.

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Major Legal Pitfalls for Startups – The Case for Hiring a Lawyer before you “Start Up” – Part 1

 

In this two part series, Kelly Laffey discusses the legal pitfalls that startups can avoid when forming their company. Kelly counsels clients on issues related to corporate governance, mergers and acquisitions matters, and securities regulation and compliance. She also assists with financing for large private corporations, and entity formation and succession planning for professional services firms. Kelly provides general business counseling on a variety of up-and-coming regulatory issues for small and emerging companies that offer commercial services, allowing them to explore new business opportunities in various states. Drawing on her diverse work experience in the entertainment arena, including time spent with talent agencies, and music and television production companies, Kelly also assists on matters related to licensing, marketing, and exploitation of intellectual property rights.

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In my practice as a corporate attorney, I work primarily with startup and emerging growth companies.  This article may read similar to an advertisement for legal services and there may be some truth to that.  My ultimate goal as an attorney, however, is to save startup companies time and money (and stress) in the long run by doing things right from the start which will allow the company to put more resources to work on growing the business rather than fixing mistakes that could have easily been avoided.

Attorneys are often brought it in to work with clients who have done a significant amount of the formation and organization work themselves or through an online legal service provider at a low cost.  While it is certainly understandable that a very early stage company does not want to incur more legal cost than it has to, what seem like very minor issues to founder can lead to a lot of unnecessary clean-up work and time spent determining the best way to fix those issues including if and how to disclose them to potential investors, strategic partners or others that are critical to the business.

The unfortunate fact is that errors in company formation usually come to light when a company is about to engage in its first major financing or strategic transaction and potential investors or strategic partners start doing their “due diligence” on the company, i.e., looking into its formation documents, the founder agreements, employment agreements, etc.  This is often a critical time for the company as the founders have begun conversations with potential investors or a strategic partner, built momentum and are usually geared to start scaling the business. When the problem areas are identified and those activities are put on hold, it can cause a panic at the company, requiring lawyers to address the errors on a tight timeline in order to minimize the damage and not lose momentum. The result is typically a very high legal bill for a financing or strategic transaction.

In this two-part series, I describe some common legal issues encountered by startups that are not properly considered without legal counsel and which, when thoughtfully discussed with legal counsel prior to forming the company, should spare the company from legal expenses for corrective measures.

Choosing the right entity AND the right jurisdiction for you.

One of the first decisions a new company has to make is what legal entity form to take.  There are without a doubt dozens of articles that say you should be a C-corp for these reasons or you should be an LLC for those reasons.  Maybe you’ve read or know something about S-corps and you think that sounds like a good idea.  The reality is that the right entity form for your company is very specific to the facts and circumstances of your company.  Factors we consider include, among others: How many founders are there? How many employees will the company have? Will the company raise money from VCs or angels (and if so, does it expect to do so right away or will that be much further in the future of the company)? What is the anticipated size of the business? In what industry does the business operate? What might make the most sense now might not serve as the best form later and the form of entity can generally be changed later if necessary.  These are all factors a good lawyer or tax advisor can talk through with a new business and provide guidance regarding which options to select based on the company’s business plans.

The less often thought about issue is where to form the company.  As a lawyer practicing in what’s been termed “Silicon Beach,” most of our clients are based in California and so many assume they should organize or incorporate in California.  For some companies, being formed in California is perfectly fine, however, California can also be problematic for a number of reasons.  Many outside investors do not like to invest in California entities because California does not have the established corporate jurisprudence that Delaware has and so there is an element of unpredictability in California.  Companies will often be advised to incorporate in Delaware because Delaware corporate law is seen as both business and investor friendly.  However, if a company incorporates in Delaware, it has to engage a registered agent located in Delaware and so for some companies, it does not always make sense to pay the registered agent fees. Other factors to consider when choosing a jurisdiction are filing fees, franchise taxes and required annual filings. These are all considerations a corporate lawyer can help startups navigate.

Division of Ownership; Dilution and Vesting.

This can be an awkward conversation amongst founders but it is an important conversation to have early on in the life of the business.  How much of the company should each founder own? What is each founder bringing to the company in terms of skills, resources and service and how do we value what each founder adds? How much dilution are the founders willing to endure and from which sources, i.e., outside investors, an employee option or stock pool, venture debt transactions, etc.? Should the equity be subject to vesting and continued service to the company?

I’ve often encountered very early stage clients who have 2 to 3 initial founders and they have already diluted themselves by giving away equity such that together, they own less than half of the company.  Founders are so passionate and focused on developing the idea and growing the business, they don’t necessarily have good insight when it comes to managing the cap table.  Further, I’ve seen companies provide equity grants to service providers or intended partners of the business without subjecting the grants to vesting or continued service to the company over time.  We typically recommend that all service-related equity vest over a certain number of years to ensure the company is getting the intended value in exchange for that equity.

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For more information about Startup Formation and other emerging growth issues, contact Kelly Laffey at klaffey@stubbsalderton.com.  Stay tuned for Part II of the Startup Pitfalls Series on Monday, October 16th.

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SAM Clients Kravitz, Inc. and Kravitz Back Office Solutions Acquired by Ascensus

Kravitz (Los Angeles, CA – June 19, 2017)  Stubbs Alderton & Markiles, LLP announced that its clients, Kravitz and Kravitz Back Office Solutions, have been acquired by Ascensus. Kravitz is a retirement administration firm and Cash Balance specialist focused on bringing its clients the latest in the design, administration, and management of corporate retirement plans.  Kravitz Back Office Solutions delivers private-label actuarial services to third-party administrators across the country to help them grow and succeed with Cash Balance plans.

Stubbs Alderton & Markiles’ attorneys representing Kravitz in the transaction included Scott GalerNick Feldman and Kelly Laffey.

For the full press release, click here.

About Stubbs Alderton & Markiles, LLP
Stubbs Alderton & Markiles, LLP is a business law firm with robust corporate, public securities, mergers and acquisitions, entertainment, intellectual property, brand protection and business litigation practice groups focusing on the representation of, among others, venture backed emerging growth companies, middle market public companies, large technology companies, entertainment and digital media companies, investors, venture capital funds, investment bankers and underwriters. The firm’s clients represent the full spectrum of Southern California business with a concentration in the technology, entertainment, videogame, apparel and medical device sectors. Our mission is to provide technically excellent legal services in a consistent, highly-responsive and service-oriented manner with an entrepreneurial and practical business perspective. These principles are the hallmarks of our Firm. Visit www.stubbsalderton.com 

For more information about our Mergers & Acquisitions practice, contact Scott Galer at sgaler@stubbalderton.com 

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SAM Client Atomico Leads $64M Investment Round in Clutter

Stubbs Alderton & Markiles, LLP client Atomico announced today that it led the $64M investment round in Clutter with Sequoia Capital, Google Ventures (GV) and Fifth Wall.  Clutter is an end-to-end storage company which takes the pain out of cataloging, packing, storing, and returning your items.

 

Stubbs Alderton & Markiles’ attorneys representing Atomico on the deal included Caroline Cherkassky and Kelly Laffey.

Clutter is a tech-enabled storage company that lets you store extra stuff without actually leaving your house. No more getting stuck in traffic just to put away your camping gear, or completely unpacking a storage unit in order to locate a box of family photos. With Clutter, all your stored items are ready to view online, and getting them out of storage is as easy as ordering a pizza. They believe a 5-star experience should be the norm, and that service companies should actually be of service to their customers.

Reps from Atomico stated, “At Atomico we invest in global opportunities where we know that we can help scale a business in specific markets around the world. Our thesis is that great companies now come from everywhere and so we’re always on the move, looking to find the most ambitious entrepreneurs, to help them execute their plans to improve the way we live. One of the places we’ve been spending time recently, and where we see clear momentum around the tech scene, is Los Angeles. And we believe we’ve unearthed a global category leader in LA-headquartered Clutter.”

About Atomico

Atomico invests in disruptive technology companies with ambitious founders from Series A onwards. Our experienced team includes founders and operators from the world’s most successful technology firms who partner with our companies as they scale to become global winners. Founded in 2006, Atomico has made over 80 investments into companies including Supercell, Klarna, Stripe, ofo, Lilium, 6Wunderkinder and The Climate Corporation. Atomico’s team includes founders of six billion dollar companies, and operational leaders who were responsible for global expansion, hiring, user growth and marketing at companies from Skype and Google to Uber, Facebook and Spotify.

About Stubbs Alderton & Markiles, LLP

Stubbs Alderton & Markiles, LLP is a business law firm with robust corporate, public securities, mergers and acquisitions, entertainment, intellectual property, brand protection and business litigation practice groups focusing on the representation of, among others, venture backed emerging growth companies, middle market public companies, large technology companies, entertainment and digital media companies, investors, venture capital funds, investment bankers and underwriters. The firm’s clients represent the full spectrum of Southern California business with a concentration in the technology, entertainment, videogame, apparel and medical device sectors. Our mission is to provide technically excellent legal services in a consistent, highly-responsive and service-oriented manner with an entrepreneurial and practical business perspective. These principles are the hallmarks of our Firm.

For more information about our Emerging Growth & Venture Capital Practice, contact Caroline Cherkassky at ccherkassky@stubbsalderton.com 

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