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As I watched 24 last night, I kept thinking to myself “Why the fuck does Jack have his cell phone ringer on – hasn’t he ever heard of vibrate?” immediately after his cell phone rang but right before he got shot at because the bad guys now knew where he was. I had a parallel thought this morning – “Why do we make all this term sheet stuff so long, verbose, and tedious.” The answer – word processers. If we had to type all this crap on a typewriter (or write it out by hand) it’d be a lot shorter. In both cases, technology is working against us. But – then again, we wouldn’t have blogs (and I can hear a few of you (and I know who you are) saying “and that would be a bad thing because?”)
While there is a lot to negotiate in a term sheet (as you can see from the series of posts on term sheets that Jason and I have written), a term sheet is simply a step on the way to an actual deal. Term sheets are often either non-binding (or mostly non-binding), and most investors will load them up with conditions precedent to financing. Entrepreneurs glance over these – usually because they are in the back sections of the term sheet and are typically pretty innocuous, but they occasionally have additional “back door outs” for the investor that the entrepreneur should watch out for, if only to better understand the current mindset of the investor proposing the investment.
A typical conditions precedent to financing clause looks as follows:
“Conditions Precedent to Financing: Except for the provisions contained herein entitled “Legal Fees and Expenses”, “No Shop Agreement”, and “Governing Law” which are explicitly agreed by the Investors and the Company to be binding upon execution of this term sheet, this summary of terms is not intended as a legally binding commitment by the Investors, and any obligation on the part of the Investors is subject to the following conditions precedent: 1. Completion of legal documentation satisfactory to the prospective Investors; 2. Satisfactory completion of due diligence by the prospective Investors; 3. Delivery of a customary management rights letter to Investors; and 4. Submission of detailed budget for the following twelve months, acceptable to Investors.”
Notice that the investor will try to make a few things binding – specifically (a) that his legal fees get paid whether or not a deal happens, (b) that the company can’t shop the deal once the term sheet is signed, and (c) that the governing law be set to a specific domicile – while explicitly stating “there are a bunch things that still have to happen before this deal is done and I can back out for any reason.”
There are a few conditions to watch out for since they usually signal something non-obvious on the part of the investor. They are:
1. “Approval by Investors’ partnerships” – this is super secret VC code for “this deal has not been approved by the investors who issued this term sheet. Therefore, even if you love the terms of the deal, you still may not have a deal.
2. “Rights offering to be completed by Company” – this indicates that the investors want the company to offer all previous investors in the company the ability to participate in the currently contemplated financing. This is not necessarily a bad thing – in fact in most cases this serves to protect all parties from liability – but does add time and expense to the deal.
3. “Employment Agreements signed by founders as acceptable to investors” – beware what the full terms are before signing the agreement. As an entrepreneur, when faced with this, it’s probably wise to understand (and negotiate) the form of employment agreement early in the process. While you’ll want to try to do this before you sign a term sheet and accept a no-shop, most VCs will wave you off and say “don’t worry about it – we’ll come up with something that works for everyone.” Our suggestion – at the minimum, make sure you understand the key terms (such as compensation and what happens on termination).
There are plenty of other wacky conditionals – if you can dream it, it has probably been done. Just make sure to look carefully at this paragraph and remember that just because you’ve signed a term sheet, you don’t have a deal.