I’ve written about liquidation preferences before. However, for completeness, and since liquidation preferences are the second most important “economic term” (after price), I decided to write a post on it. Plus – if you read carefully – you might find some new and exciting super-secret VC tricks.
The liquidation preference determines how the pie is shared on a liquidity event. There are two components that make up what most people call the liquidation preference: the actual preference and participation. To be accurate, the term liquidation preference should only pertain to money returned to a particular series of the company’s stock ahead of other series of stock. Consider for instance the following language:
Liquidation Preference: In the event of any liquidation or winding up of the Company, the holders of the Series A Preferred shall be entitled to receive in preference to the holders of the Common Stock a per share amount equal to [x] the Original Purchase Price plus any declared but unpaid dividends (the Liquidation Preference).
This is the actual preference. In the language above, a certain multiple of the original investment per share is returned to the investor before the common stock receives any consideration. For many years, a “1x” liquidation preference was the standard. Starting in 2001, investors often increased this multiple, sometimes as high as 10x! (Note, that it is mostly back to 1x today.)
The next thing to consider is whether or not the investor shares are participating. Again, note that many people consider the term “liquidation preference” to refer to both the preference and the participation, if any. There are three varieties of participation: full participation, capped participation and non-participating.
Fully participating stock will share in the liquidation proceeds on a pro rata basis with common after payment of the liquidation preference. The provision normally looks like this:
Participation: After the payment of the Liquidation Preference to the holders of the Series A Preferred, the remaining assets shall be distributed ratably to the holders of the Common Stock and the Series A Preferred on a common equivalent basis.
Capped participation indicates that the stock will share in the liquidation proceeds on a pro rata basis until a certain multiple return is reached. Sample language is below.
Participation: After the payment of the Liquidation Preference to the holders of the Series A Preferred, the remaining assets shall be distributed ratably to the holders of the Common Stock and the Series A Preferred on a common equivalent basis; provided that the holders of Series A Preferred will stop participating once they have received a total liquidation amount per share equal to [X] times the Original Purchase Price, plus any declared but unpaid dividends. Thereafter, the remaining assets shall be distributed ratably to the holders of the Common Stock.