Regardless of the source of your financing–family and friends, angels, or venture capital–you will need some vehicle, forms, or set of papers to make it all nice and legal. On the surface, it would seem that if you’re going to sell stock, you could take the investors’ check and give them a stock certificate. Or if it was to be a loan, just take the check and sign a note. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. And in fact, you don’t want it to be.
Today’s “sue the buzzards” mentality causes some real problems for entrepreneurs when it comes to raising money. The main problem is the entrepreneurs themselves. Considering their natural propensity and rightful enthusiasm for their project, they tend to oversell. This is okay if everything works out the way it is planned. But we all know that “Murphy” will enter the program and that not always what is well, ends well. In the worst cases, your company may not survive.
The problem then becomes that the friendly original investor is not the least bit happy about the fact that you did not perform up to expectations or lost all their money. Their fee-happy lawyer is more than pleased to take on the case of suing you because you said there wasn’t any significant competition, that your engineer was a genius and couldn’t miss on inventing the black box, that you had umpteen customers lined up, and the endless list goes on. What it comes down to is your word against theirs, and most likely they have more money (which is why you went to them in the first place) and they can afford the upfront legal fees that will be repaid when they sell your house.
There is a solution to this dilemma, various documents that have been blessed by our governmental bodies, which act like a sort of insurance policy for entrepreneurs to protect them against disgruntled investors, be they friend, family, angel, or venture capitalist. They are the subject of the next section.
The Selling of Securities
Simply stated, it’s against the law to sell stock unless you are licensed to do so or can qualify for an exemption from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the various states securities commissions’ rules. The very worst that can happen is that you will have to pay penalties or you can be put in jail. The least that can happen is that you would be required to refund any monies you raised. This can be very difficult if you’ve already spent a sizable portion before the legal problem arises.