How Startup Equity Works

Last Updated on May 19, 2023

Startup Equity

Startup equity is the percentage of a startup that stockholders own. It represents the proportion of startup stock that was sold to stakeholders (such as investors, advisors, and employees). This entitles them to a portion of the startup’s profits or losses.

Equity is one of the few things startups offer the people who trust in them throughout their formative years. Sharing startup equity, however, requires careful consideration. This will guarantee that all significant stakeholders are fairly compensated.

Startup equity can be easily understood if one imagines it as a birthday cake. You might choose to split the cake with your pals or eat it all by yourself. You can reward your friends for joining you in your celebration by giving them a piece of cake if you invite them. Thus, a piece of the cake is in your and your friends’ possession.

Commonly speaking, there are two categories of startup equity: preferred and common stocks. As the name suggests, preferred shareholders receive payment prior to common investors during profit sharing. Investors receive preferred equities, whilst founders and employees receive ordinary stocks.

The holders of startup equity receive some advantages. A few of these include things like the ability to vote at annual general meetings and participate in the decision-making process, dividends, and exclusive discounts on goods or services.

What is equity in a startup?

The portion of the company’s shares offered to startup investors is referred to as equity in a startup. Investors will therefore be granted rights to the startup’s potential income in addition to ownership. Typically, stock options are given out as payment.

A startup’s subsequent investors will be increasingly likely to pay more per share in the next rounds of investment as the business succeeds. This is one of the things that spur the growth of startups.

Startup Equity Distribution


It is simple to divide the ownership stakes when there is only one founder at the beginning. However, the sharing ratio needs to be managed with care if there are two or more founders. The process of sharing needs to take some metrics into account. These indicators include a dedication to the company, the amount of risk each entrepreneur is willing to accept, and idea contributions.

Different equity sharing mechanisms are available for use. Depending on how close the co-founders are to one another. Examples of common equity splits are 50:50, 33:33:33, and 60:40. The amount of ownership that each founder receives can also be greatly influenced by their involvement in the company.


Your investors are a different group of people who receive a piece of the company equity cake. Venture capitalists, angel investors, and other investors fall under this category. The amount of stock that each investor receives is based on the startup’s size and current market value.

These investors deserve a reward for supporting the firm and putting their money where their mouth is. Investors receive it in the form of either common stock or preferred shares. The opportunity to vote on startup decisions may also be included with the stake.

You should decide how much stock to distribute to founders/co-founders and investors based on the amount of money an investor contributes and how much you estimate your firm to be worth at the time of the investment.

Although the first factor is very evident, valuating your startup may be difficult. Speaking with startup founders in your industry or one that is most similar is the best course of action. It will be simpler to determine what constitutes a “norm” for your situation the more suggestions you collect.

Reaching out to your peers will also allow you to learn how much of their equity they gave to investors and why. Networking is therefore essential for a startup.

Read: What are the Top Funding Options for Startup Ventures?


Some startup management boards frequently include some of the company’s founders who may not provide financial investments. These founders typically provide knowledge, a respectable reputation, a vast network, or mentoring advice.

It can be difficult to provide an equity share to advisers and mentors because some people like to be paid for their consulting and mentoring, while others would do it for free. There is no set formula for how much equity these folks receive. Most of the time, it depends on the founders’ judgement and what they are ready to give. Of course, a lot also depends on the advisor’s knowledge, experience, reputation, etc.


Startup workers are real risk-takers. They are aware that they might be paid less than their market rate, that a startup could fail at any time, that, in the event of an emergency, they might not get paid for a few months, and so on. However, they come for the motivation and experience.

The startup equity can also be given to the staff members that launch the business with the founders and help it grow. If they are unable to pay competitive rates, some founders might additionally offer these founding employees a stake in the company. This will not only help you keep them, but it will also attract new talent. If they have faith in the company’s mission, startup equity may be fair compensation for most employees.

The entrepreneur must decide the amount of equity provided to employees (s). The majority of founders would take into account an employee’s seniority, experience, the field of work, and timing when choosing the quantity of a cut they will give them.

Therefore, individuals in executive positions could see a cut of up to 1%, mid-level employees could see a cut of 0.35 to 0.45%, and junior-level employees could see a cut of 0.05 to 0.15 %.

A junior engineer will receive 0.15% of the job, while a junior business developer, designer, or marketing specialist can anticipate 0.05%.

The most crucial factor is timing since employees take more risks when they join a firm early. Therefore, the person who joined you earlier and showed dedication and commitment for a longer period of time should receive higher shares.

Final Thoughts

Make sure you have done your homework and spoken to your peers about how much your company is worth and how much investors of companies in your industry receive before dividing the stock. Then, talk this over with your co-founders and you’ll come up with your own special approach.

You might try using formulae to determine how equity should be distributed if you’re still having trouble finding it. The Compensation and Equity Calculator, Slicing Pie, Spliquity, and other tools are examples of online resources and startup equity calculators you can utilise.

Choose the option that is better for your startup at the end of the day. You are in complete control.

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