Founders often ask how they can keep a co-founder who leaves the company shortly after formation from taking his founders’ stock with him. The remaining founders typically feel that the departing founder should not be able to share in the company’s future upside value. Similarly, investors typically want to prevent a founder from leaving with his stock shortly after making an investment.
Like employee stock options, founder stock can be subject to vesting based on service to the company. This is accomplished by the founder granting the company an option to repurchase his stock for the nominal price paid by the founder if he leaves the company before the stock vests. The stock “vests” periodically when a partner is released from the repurchase option. This is often referred to as “reverse vesting.” Note, investors sometimes give vesting credit for time a founder spent building the company’s value by exempting a portion of the founder’s stock (e.g., 25%) from the repurchase option.
For example, three founders could each agree on a repurchase option with quarterly vesting over two years with respect to their founders’ stock for which they paid $0.001 per share. In this example, 12.5% of the stock held by each founder would be released from the repurchase option quarterly such that at the end of two years all of the stock held by each founder would be free of the repurchase option and a founder would be free to leave the company with such stock.
When using a repurchase option, a founder should seek tax advice as to whether to file an 83(b) election with the IRS. Such an election enables the founder to include in income at the time of original issuance the value of the stock that is subject to repurchase.