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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Since Google's IPO in 2004, some Silicon Valley entrepreneurs have sought ways to retain control of their companies via dual-class stock with super-voting rights, including at the earliest stages of startups.

Yes, but: It’s still only found in a minority of startups, and founders often end up using alternative routes to retain control. Super-voting stock, several lawyers tell Axios, is most useful once a company is public.

The goals of special structures likes dual-class stock fall into two buckets, says startup attorney Jared Verzello.

  • Economic: Alternative structures like "FF preferred" stock or setting up two classes with different liquidation preferences can help with taxes (capital gains instead of income), or in cases where founders put in significantly different assets into the business.
  • Control: Founders often look to these legal tools to make sure they retain control of their companies even as they sell off more and more of their business to investors.

Private vs. public: While public company founders turn to dual-class stock that gives control of their company and their own continued employment, other legal tools can arguably be more effective.

  • "If you’re trying to maintain control, pay very close attention to your board composition," says Atrium's Verzello. "Board dynamics are misunderstood by early stage founders.”
  • Founders' biggest bargaining chip will always hinge on how successful their company has become."If you’re seeing success, whatever that means, you’ll have leverage to negotiate and you can retain," says Goodwin's Joshua Cook.
  • Most notably: Dual-class stock structure often get ripped out during a startup's first (or second) institutional financing round. Other provisions like board seats "are much easier to justify in your VC term sheet negotiations because you're not just asking for blanket voting rights," says Grellas Shah partner Mital Makadia.

Despite being increasingly popular among tech companies going public — ride-hailing company Lyft disclosed a dual-class stock structure in its IPO filing — these still remain rare among early-stage startups.

  • Only 10% of Atrium's startup clients choose some form of special stock structure. Makadia says that only about 20% of her clients have dual-class stock structures, typically putting in about 10% of their stock into a super-voting class.

Still, some early-stage startup founders do opt for one of these alternative structures.

  • One founder of a consumer mobile app says he went with a two classes of common stock with equal voting rights as an early precaution, and as a bargaining chip he can give up in his next funding round with VCs.
  • "When I raise money, my question to VCs is 'how are you gonna screw me?' he says, admitting his decision stems from a lack of trust that investors' incentives will be in line with his own.

Go deeper

Updated 32 mins ago - Health

WHO: Delta health measures help fight Omicron

Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Health measures taken to combat COVID-19 before the emergence of Omicron would also help against the new variant of concern, World Health Organization officials said Friday.

What they're saying: Takeshi Kasai, WHO regional director for the Western Pacific, said during a virtual briefing broadcast from Manila, Philippines, that border controls imposed by the U.S. and other nations can "buy time" to deal with the variant, but warned "every country and every community must prepare for new surges in cases."

2 hours ago - Health

Nevada to impose insurance surcharge on unvaccinated state workers

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Nevada's Public Employees' Benefit Program Board voted Thursday to charge workers enrolled in public employee health insurance plans a surcharge of up to $55 a month if they're not vaccinated against COVID-19, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports.

Why it matters: Nevada is the first state to announce such a move, per AP.

Oklahoma sues Biden administration over Pentagon vaccine mandate

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin testifies before a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Sept. 29 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Olivier Douliery/Pool via Getty Images

The state of Oklahoma filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration on Thursday in an attempt to block the enforcement of its vaccine mandate for federal employees.

Why it matters: The move comes one day after Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin denied Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt's (R) request to exempt the state's National Guard from the mandate.

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