A Founders’ agreement establishes the roles and responsibilities of the founding team,
capital ownership, and intellectual property ownership.
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The founders' agreement is an official contract or a legal agreement executed between the co-founders of the company while setting up a business. This agreement elucidates the roles, rights and, duties, responsibilities, ownership, liabilities, and investment proportion of each founder.
A founders' agreement should be made in the written format, not by an oral.
Two or more partners jointly can enter into the founders' agreement called co-partners/ parties.
All co-founders will enter into the agreement exactly while incorporating the business or company.
The objective of the founders' agreement is to avoid disputes regarding business, which may arise over time between co-founders. This agreement apparently set out the strategy of the founders, who should act within the ambit and should follow the mandatory provisions laid on.
Founders' agreements also help in tackling uncertain occurrences like the death of the co-founder, resignation, which directly affects the sustained growth and smooth running of the business or firm.
Determining the type of business entity:
The founders' agreement will clearly mention the nature and type of entity that should be established by the co-founders thereby setting the proper path to be followed.
Outlined business plans:
This agreement describes the vision and mission of the entity and sets the short term and long term goals to be achieved over a period of time.
Designating the roles and responsibilities:
Obviously, there will be overlapping roles and functions between co-founders without having a proper framework of the assigned roles. Therefore, it is important to designate the roles and responsibilities of the co-founders, in accordance with their area of mastery like marketing, operations, finance, etc.
Structure of ownership:
The founder's agreements will clearly specify the structure of ownership pertaining to the initial contribution made by the cofounder or the percentage of the equity shares held by the cofounder in case of a company, thereby avoiding any future conflicts in between them.
At a certain point in time, there will be an ideological conflict between co-founders, So these conflicts are to be handled through the proper decision-making process. Here the founders' agreement will formulate a procedure to be followed during the decision making process. If the voting system is adopted, then it should define the value of votes for each founder and provide a solution in case of a deadlock situation.
This agreement laid down the scheme of compensation to be carried out, if anyone of the cofounder has violated the provisions mandated. Here, the proportion of the compensation to be made will be mentioned for every cofounder.
Expulsion of co-founders:
Any co-founder can be evicted from the company for indulging in fraudulent activities like misappropriation of funds, sexual harassment, and getting employed with other organisations. This agreement ensures a proper structure on how to deal with these situations and sorting out appropriate funds to be reverted to the expelled co-founder.
There was a separate clause on confidentiality in the founders' agreement, which makes an obligation for founders to not reveal the secrets of the business.
One of the most important provisions of a founder’s agreement is demarcating the equity ownership of each of the co-founder of the company. This equity ownership will be determined by considering the various factors like money invested, exposure, etc. This evaluates the jurisdiction of the voting rights of each co-founder.
Vesting of shares:
If any one of the founders exits from the company, a proper pattern of vesting the shares should be ruled out in the agreement. The vesting of shares can be done in two ways, they are;
Constricted transfer of shares:
This agreement should have another important clause related to the restricted transfer of shares of the founder. It may provide a clause of the lock-in period, which mandates the founder not to transfer his/her shares for a certain period, before the expiry of his/her term. Similarly, the method of valuation of the shares of the founder should be sorted out, before the expiry of his/her term.
Allotment of intellectual property:
Restraint on trade:
An agreement should be made in the form that no founder should indulge in any of the activities which conflict with the objective of the company. For instance, if any of the founders have decided to relieve from the company then he should not engage in any competitive business for a stipulated year from the date of exit.
Terms of employment of co-founders:
The employment of co-founders should be full-time with the company. This agreement should elucidate the terms of employment, their roles, compensation, and benefits of each founder. There might be separate contracts regarding the terms of employment among co-founders, including their perks and benefits.
In case of any dispute arising between the co-founders, there should be an appropriate mode of dispute resolution mechanism, to be present. For example, if founders mutually agree to terminate the company, then the most preferred option for resolving this dispute is arbitration, mediation, etc.
The procedure for drafting the founder’s agreement involves the following steps;
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