A new coalition for “Open Cap Table” Presents an Opportunity for Equity Transparency

Startup ownership is frequently a mystery. It’s tough to figure out who owns something without a public registration. The Delaware Division of Corporations contains important information for most startups incorporated in Delaware, but you may not be able to obtain all of the information you require, and piecing it together from legal documents will be difficult. You’ll need access to a startup’s capitalization table, often known as a cap table, to comprehend its financing structure. The cap table displays shareholder information, current ownership holdings; economic and voting rights, future equity buy rights, vesting schedules, and purchase prices, as well as future equity purchase rights, vesting schedules, and purchase prices.

All of this data is gathered in an easily digestible manner for founders and investors, allowing them to calculate payouts in a variety of exit scenarios, examine equity dilution from new-hire equity grants, and comprehend the implications of further funding rounds. Startups may collect this information using Excel spreadsheets at first, but as the ownership structure becomes more complex, it becomes more difficult to follow and record, and the cost of errors becomes a significant issue. As a result, a cap table management software industry has emerged.

The manner distinct cap table data items are arranged and accounted for, on the other hand, differs amongst service providers. It is impossible to seamlessly synchronize data between software platforms without a standard, making it difficult to switch suppliers and ensure that everyone is on the same page. To solve the problem, a partnership of Silicon Valley legal firms and startup providers is developing. The Open Cap Table Coalition claimed its intention to “improve the interoperability, transparency, and portability of startup cap table data” in a Medium post on July 27.

Standardization may run against the short-term interests of some participants because it means fewer billable hours for lawyers and less lock-in for software platforms. The coalition, on the other hand, reflects Silicon Valley’s way of doing business: as AnnaLee Saxenian, dean of the UC Berkeley School of Information noted in her influential 1994 book “Regional Advantage,” the Valley is a place where fierce competitors become partners, and informal cooperation and exchange become institutionalized.

As a result, the original members deserve a lot of credit. By eliminating inefficiencies, the ecosystem can move more quickly and players can focus on providing value. The open cap table coalition, on the other hand, will fall short of its potential if only founders and investors have access to the data. For the open cap table to be really open, all stockholders, including startup employees, must have access to the information that determines equity value.