#122 - Phil Haslett - It's a Place to Connect Interested Buyers and Interested Sellers...in Late-Stage, Pre-IPO Tech Shares

59 minutes

In Episode 122, we welcome investor and entrepreneur, Phil Haslett. Meb jumps in, asking Phil to tell us more about his company, Equity Zen.

Phil gives us an example involving a hypothetical employee. This employee owns equity in her private company but wants some liquidity from her stock options. Equity Zen is a platform where she can sell some her shares to a private investor looking to investor in that company, even though it’s not a publicly-traded company. So, Equity Zen is a place that connect buyers and sellers of late-stage, private companies that are pre-IPO.

Meb asks about the process. There’s rarely great information on these private companies – for instance, their valuations and revenues. So, what’s the discovery process like on Equity Zen?

Phil tells us that once you get registered and create an account, you can browse the available deals. There will be information about the companies based on what’s available from the public domain. Phil agrees there’s often not great information, so Equity Zen tries to provide as much as possible, backing out revenue and growth numbers. They also show a particular company’s cap table, how they’ve raised money over time, and on what terms. Equity Zen works with shareholders to establish their pricing targets. So, buyers will see the specific price at which a seller is willing to do a deal.

The guys get even more detailed here – discussing fees, whether a buyer actually holders real shares in the target company or not, what happens in certain hypotheticals, and Phil’s thoughts on “carry” and why he’s frustrated with carry applied to a single investment.

Next, Meb asks about the type of companies that end up in Equity Zen’s offerings. Phil tells us they’ve worked with about 110 companies. The valuations have ranged from $500M to $20B, with concentrations toward unicorns. They typically invest in companies that have VC backings. These VCs have their own ideas of exits, which often means nearer-term liquidity is a goal.

The guys get a bit broader here. Discussing where we are in the private company cycle, and how that affects the buying/selling volume on Equity Zen. They then touch on the state of the IPO market. Phil gives us an interesting perspective on companies that stay private (despite being big enough to go public) and the effect that can have on employees, liquidity, and morale.

The conversation drifts toward what the response has been from the companies themselves.  Do they see these private transactions as a good perk, or as an evil process? Phil tells us attitudes have changed over time. Back in 2010, the idea of selling shares was taboo. But today, companies are approaching Equity Zen in order to discuss a process for providing liquidity. It’s becoming a competitive advantage for talent. Phil believes this trend will continue.

There’s plenty more in this episode: a new accreditation definition, and what it means for small investors… the best way to build a private company portfolio… what to evaluate in order to find the right companies for investment… whether buyers should be concerned about differences in share classes… other sites/resources that do a good job of education for private, late stage investors… and Phil’s most memorable trade. This one involves the game, Magic: The Gathering.

Get all the details in Episode 122.

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