Time and posting

In case anyone noticed, I’m already not posting here as often as I had thought I might. Seems to be par for the course with these things. It isn’t for a lack of ideas about things to write about — they are always coming to me — it is more for a lack to time.

More than anything else, I wanted to get a sense how Movable Type worked, and now I do. Does my heart good to see that my old GrokSoup application from five years ago would still stand nicely with the current generation of microsite content management tools.

Anyway, the experiment is over. I may still repost some of my newspaper columns here, as time allows; and there may even be the odd other musing. But that is about it.

Who needs venture money?

Lengthy piece from Joel Sposky on why his company doesn’t need venture capital. That’s fine: 99% of companies get along just with without venture money. They don’t need the capital, and having venture folks on their board would just be a source of stress. Great, don’t do it.

On the other hand, venture firms are over-slagged these days. There are many folks out there trying very hard with remarkably little money and none of the old-boy connections to find and finance early-stage companies. It may not be your company (and I’m not speaking specifically about Joel’s comments here), but that doesn’t make them bad folks.

Toobin on Martha

Not to become “Martha watch” or the like, but this piece from the February New Yorker deserves a mention. It is strangely touching, with Jeffrey Toobin’s elegaic tone exactly right for the fin de siecle feel that the piece has — a feel that has only been amplified in retrospect given yesterday’s indictment of Ms. Stewart.

NYSE starts cleaning up its act

Today’s proposed reforms are overdue, but they’re also a decent start at cleaning up the New York Stock Exchange‘s governance act. Among the recommendations, that NYSE officers can no longer serve as board members for listed companies.

While that might seem obvious, until recently it wasn’t the case. For example, Dick Grasso, the chair of the NYSE was on the board of Home Depot, among other companies. How is it, precisely, that the NYSE regulated listed companies while simultaneously having officers serve as consummate insiders?

The other recommendations are more cosmetic. For instance, salaries will now be published, so we’ll know when Chairman Grasso’s salary varies from its current $10mm level. And while it is nice to see that non-securites reps must make up the bulk of posts in crucial NYSE board committees, the NYSE still hasn’t done a very good job of specifying what constitutes an appropriate board member. After all, former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta still serves there. Lord knows what his pedigree is for the position, having spent his career in and around politics.

Key venture investing terms

The following are some key venture investing terms. I get questions about these all the times, so when I ran across a list recently, I thought I’d reprint it here:

Common Stock

Common stock is the basic equity interest in a company. It is typically the type of stock held by founders and employees.

Preferred Stock

Preferred stock has various “preferences” over common stock. These preferences can include liquidation preferences, dividend rights, redemption rights, conversion rights and voting rights, as described in more detail below. Venture capitalists and other investors in private companies typically receive preferred stock for their investment.

“Series” of Preferred Stock

When a company raises venture capital in a preferred stock financing, it typically designates the shares of preferred stock sold in that financing with a letter. The shares sold in the first financing are usually designated “Series A”, the second “Series B”, the third “Series C” and so forth. Shares of the same series all have the same rights, but shares of different series can have very different rights.

Liquidation Preference

“Liquidation preference” refers to the dollar amount that a holder of a series of preferred stock will receive prior to holders of common stock in the event that the company is sold (or the company is otherwise liquidated and its assets distributed to stockholders). For example, if holders of preferred stock have a liquidation preference equal to $30 million and the company is sold, they will receive the first $30 million before common stockholders receive any amounts. The liquidation preference amount can be paid in cash or stock of an acquirer.

Senior Liquidation Preference

A series of preferred stock has a “senior” liquidation preference when it is entitled to receive its liquidation preference before another series of preferred stock. (All series of preferred stock will, of course, be “senior” to the common stock simply by virtue of having a liquidation preference.) For example, if the Series B has a $30 million senior liquidation preference and the Series A has a $25 million liquidation preference and the company is sold for $40 million, the Series B will receive $30 million and the Series A will receive $10 million.

Multiple Liquidation Preference

The amount of liquidation preference that a given series of preferred stock has is usually equal to the amount paid for the stock. However, in certain financings new investors may require that their liquidation preference amount be equal to more than the amount they originally invested (often referred to as a “multiple” liquidation preference). Multiples tend to be one and one-half to three times the purchase price. A multiple liquidation preference will almost always also be a senior liquidation preference as well. For example, if the Series B was purchased for $30 million, but has a senior liquidation preference equal to two times the purchase price, then the Series B investors will receive the first $60 million on any sale of the company before the Series A or common stockholders receive any amounts.


Preferred stock is said to “participate” or to have “participation” rights when, after the holders of preferred stock receive their full liquidation preference amount, they are then entitled to share with the holders of common stock in the remaining amount being paid for the company (or otherwise distributed to stockholders).

For example, if the company is sold for $200 million, the preferred stock has a liquidation preference of $30 million and the preferred stock represents 40% of the total number of outstanding shares of the company, then the $200 million would be distributed among stockholders as follows:

(1) First $30 million – Paid to holders of preferred stock per their liquidation preference.

(2) Remaining $170 million: Preferred stock holders receive their 40% pro rata share ($68 million) per their participation rights. Common stock holders receive remaining 60% ($102 million).

Totals: Preferred stock holders – $98 million
Common stock holders – $102 million.

Capped Participation

Participation rights are described as “capped” when the participation rights of the preferred stock are limited so that the preferred stock stops participating in the proceeds of a sale (or other distribution) after it has received back a pre-determined dollar amount (caps typically range from three to five times the original amount invested).

Building on the previous example, if the participation rights of the preferred stock were capped at a 3x multiple of their liquidation preference amount (which 3x includes the amount of liquidation preference), then the result would be that the preferred stock would receive only an additional $60 million in participation in step (2) above. Thus, the total amount received by the holders of preferred stock would be $90 million (down from $98 million without a cap) and the amount received by the holders of common stock would increase to $110 million (up from $102 million).

Note: If the price paid for the company in this example were substantially higher (e.g., $275 million) then the holders of preferred stock would convert to common stock (thereby giving up their liquidation preference) in order to eliminate the 3x cap, because 40% of $275 million equals $110 million, which is $12 million more than the preferred would receive if they did not convert and were subject to the 3x cap.

Cumulative Dividends

Holders of preferred stock having a cumulative dividend right are entitled to be paid, in addition to a liquidation preference, an amount equal to a certain percentage per year of the purchase price for the preferred stock (typically five to eight percent). For example, if the preferred stock purchase price was $20 million, and the stock had a 1x liquidation preference and a six percent cumulative dividend, and if the company was sold after three years, then the preferred stock holders would be entitled to $23.6 million before anything was paid on the common stock. In some circumstances cumulative dividends must be paid annually, but this is unusual in venture financed companies.

Conversion Rate

Almost all preferred stock issued in venture financings can be converted into common stock at the option of the holder of preferred stock. The typical initial conversion rate is one share of preferred stock converts into one share of common stock. However, the conversion rate can change for a number of reasons, such as stock splits or antidilution adjustments.

Antidilution Provisions

Antidilution provisions retroactively reduce the per share purchase price of preferred stock if the company sells stock in the future at a lower prices. This is effected by increasing the conversion rate of the preferred and accordingly increasing the number of shares of common stock into which a share of preferred stock converts.

There are two main types of antidilution protection: weighted average antidilution protection and ratchet antidilution protection.

Weighted Average Antidilution

Weighted average antidilution provisions, which are the milder form of antidilution protection, increase the conversion rate of the preferred stock based on a formula that is intended to take into account the overall economic effect of the sale of new stock by the company. The formula includes variables for the price at which new stock is sold, the price at which the old preferred stock was sold, the total number of new shares issued and the total number of shares outstanding.

Ratchet Antidilution

Ratchet antidilution provisions, which are the tougher form of antidilution protection, increase the conversion rate of the preferred stock based on the price per share at which the company sells its stock in a future down round, regardless of how few or how many new shares are sold at the lower price. This has the effect of retroactively reducing the price per share which the preferred was sold in the current round to the new, lower valuation of a future down round.

Pay to Play

Pay to play provisions impose penalties on investors for not investing their full pro rata share in the next round (typically only if the next round is a down round). The more severe version of these penalties is to provide that investors who do not invest their full pro rata amount will have their existing preferred stock converted into common stock, resulting in the loss of their liquidation preference and antidilution protection, among other rights. A less severe version is to convert the preferred stock into a different series of preferred (often referred to as “shadow preferred”) that retains some or all of its liquidation preference, but loses anti-dilution protection, both for the subject financing, and going forward.


Redemption provisions allow investors to require the company to repurchase their preferred stock under certain circumstances, typically for the price originally paid. Redemption rights usually cannot be exercised unless the holders of at least a majority (sometimes more) of the preferred stock so request and usually cannot be exercised for four to five years after the financing. In certain circumstances, redemption provisions may provide for a right of exercise more quickly or for a repurchase at more than the original purchase price.

Corporate Reorganization

Corporate reorganizations typically refer to either (a) the conversion of existing preferred stock into common stock, or into a new series of preferred stock with a substantially reduced liquidation preference amount and/or (b) a reverse stock split of outstanding stock. Corporate reorganizations are usually implemented to reset the economic interests of existing stockholders to current economic realities so as to facilitate the company’s ability to attract additional investment and to provide appropriate incentive to the management team. The conversion of existing preferred stock into common or a new series of preferred stock has a significant economic effect, as those stockholders will often lose substantial liquidation preferences and other rights. A reverse stock split has no economic effect in and of itself, but is usually undertaken when a company’s stock price has fallen significantly and the company wants to raise it to a more typical range.


So, the Feds are pinning

So, the Feds are pinning Martha for her puny 4,000 share trade in ImClone. Given that a little over 7 million shares traded that day, I guess that means they have a lot of other investigations outstanding. After all, ImClone never traded these volumes before December 27th, so apparently there are a lot of other people out there who knew something when Martha did.

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Martha Stewart indictiment

News this morning that Martha Stewart was server her indictment in New York. Here then is another column of mine on the silly subject — it ran in the National Post today:

Death of the browser

Absolutely remarkable data from the always-interesting Jon Udell. By scanning his busy log file for access to his popular site, he shows just how seismic the changes are in the “agents” accessing his web properties.

I say agents because it is clear that the world of browsers is sliding away, at best. More and more, people (myself included) read sites using RSS readers, like SharpReader, NetNewsWire, etc.

Looking at Udell’s data the transformation in access is stunning, with Internet Explorer only accounting for 32% of the visits to his site. The rest are a hodge-podge of things, but if you add up the various RSS variants, it is just shy of the IE total. Fascinating, and ill-understood.

Martha Stewart circling the drain

L’affaire Martha Stewart seems to be circling the drain in preparation for a conclusion. The Financial Times is reporting that Ms. Stewart (well, her lawyers actually) tried to end-run local Department of Justice officials, appealing directly to senior folks. While that might seem untoward (and it would be, if anyone paid any attention), it is merely a sign that DoJ underlings have presented Martha with a last and final offer.

What will said offer look like? Inisder trading is apparently off the table, so that leaves us with a possible obstruction of justice charge. That sort of thing just irks me, as it is endlessly silly. Nevertheless, the result will almost certainly be a fine and loss of the privilege of being an officer of a publicly-traded company.