One of the main appeals of working at a startup is the equity that employees get in the company, along with the hope that the stock will eventually translate into a hefty payday.
But Oren Barzilai, an entrepreneur, said many startup employees end up facing a big hurdle: They don’t have the cash to exercise their stock options.
That led Barzilai and his cofounders, Oded Golan and Mody Radashkovich, to launch EquityBee, a platform that helps connect startup employees with would-be investors who can help them exercise their stock options.
EquityBee said Tuesday that it has raised $6.6 million from investors, including Group 11 and Battery Ventures. The Israeli startup also announced that it was expanding to the US.
EquityBee has raised a total of $8.3 million from venture-capital firms and individual investors, including WeWork founder Adam Neumann and Ron Gura, a former WeWork executive.
Stock options offer startup employees a chance to buy shares of their company at low prices.
But they need to have the cash to exercise those options, something that many young startup employees don’t have. In many cases, employees just walk away from those options, which could be worth a lot once the startup goes public or gets acquired, Barzilai said.
“I saw too many of my friends, colleagues, and past employees actually losing significant amounts of money because they couldn’t access the stock options,” Barzilai told Business Insider. “Other good friends just couldn’t afford the cost and today could have been very wealthy individuals, but unfortunately, they are not.”
The EquityBee platform offers startup employees looking to exercise vested options a way to connect with would-be investors who may be willing to help finance the exercise. The investors and employees remain anonymous on the platform, he said.
The employee would agree to share with the investors a percentage of proceeds from the shares when the startup either goes public or is acquired. The cut ranges from 5 to 40%, depending on startup, Barzilai said.
Other companies, such as the Employee Stock Option Fund, offer a way for employees to access capital to exercise stock options.
Barzilai said EquityBee hoped to correct “a very major problem that creates inequality, something that is very unfair in the industry.”
Startup employees “should be able to participate in the success of the value they’ve created for the company they have built,” he said.
A few recent startups have seen value dissipate. A high-profile example is WeWork, whose planned initial public offering was aborted amid questions about its financials and business projections.
Barzilai said he “can’t offer any insights into what happened with WeWork.” He became acquainted with Neumann through Gura, who he has known for many years, he said.
“Neumann was well aware of the stock-option problem faced by startup employees,” Barzilai said. “He understands the problem, the industry, and the potential opportunities.”
Here’s the pitch deck EquityBee used to raise funds from investors: