XPRIZE seeks high-tech solutions to California’s fire problems

The fire season is just a few weeks away here in California, and it’s expected to be worse than ever. But there’s a new plan in the works to help catch fires before they get out of control. XPRIZE is organizing a public competition for technology that can quickly find and extinguish wildland fires.

Announced by Gov. Gavin Newsom and XPRIZE founder Peter Diamandis on Friday at the Near Future Summit in San Diego, the competition will be open to any company and inventor in the world.

“It’ll be head-to-head between companies, and if one can detect and extinguish a fire in a repeatable fashion, then it becomes technology that every farm, every piece of land [can get],” Diamandis explained on stage. “Let’s reinvent what has been an old form of fire suppression — of people putting themselves in danger.”

Instead of the remote (and decaying) fire lookouts like the one that Jack Kerouac lived in on Desolation Peak, this wildland firefighter turned tech writer imagines Internet of Things devices and satellites helping to pick up even small smoke or heat trails, perhaps combined with some drones that can go dump precision-guided buckets of water.

XPRIZE competitions are designed to attract outside investment for new approaches to major problems, with its ambitious goals typically taking many years for anyone to win. So far, the nonprofit entity has successfully fostered results around space flight, health care and pollution cleanup among many other areas. The fire prize is currently finding sponsors to support the full program and has already raised an initial half-million dollars in funding from Dick Merkin, the CEO of Heritage Provider Network, to develop the plan.

The problem that this prize addresses has only been getting more obvious. Climate change, urban sprawl into naturally burning ecosystems, and an overly successful historical approach to limiting wildland fires have all contributed to bigger and more damaging conflagrations in recent decades.

Today, California is full of kindling-like new plant growth from the wet winter we just had, and it is just about dried out and ready to burn when the next lightning storm, mechanical spark, cigarette butt or willful arsonist shows up.

The winner of the prize will not be able to solve all of the bigger problems, of course, but detection and fast suppressions will at least buy humans time to figure out the other parts while preventing much of the state from going up in smoke.

“Just since 2015 we’ve had ten of the most destructive wildfires in California’s entire history,” Newsom highlighted. “You look at the last 24 months, all those headlines… We lost 139 lives to 16,600 wildfires. We lost over 32,000 structures in this state. [We’re] still trying to calculate the destruction in terms of costs. Just the debris removal costs currently in Paradise… are now close to three billion dollars.”

Meanwhile, like much else in the state, firefighting infrastructure is stuck in the middle of last century.

Gavin Newsom at the near future summit

“I mean, we’re still trying to get old-time cameras out there in the forest,” Newsom continued. “We still have an analog 911 system in the state of California. We have 234 of these Cal Fire forest stations. Over half of them are more than 50 years old, or dilapidated, falling down. People can’t even be pre-positioned out there. It is hard to describe how antiquated we are in this response. The first responders do an extraordinary job, and the mutual aid from around the world is second to none. But we shouldn’t just be celebrating that heroism on the back end. We should be celebrating the heroism and ingenuity on the front end.”

Diamandis offered a few more ideas for what a successful prize competitor might offer.

“You should be able to say in this 500 acres of forest land, there should not be a fire over ten times the size of a camp fire…. If something gets spotted by infrared by satellites, and drones, that is bigger than that, [then] put it out immediately. Autonomously. The concept is a fire detection and extinguishing XPRIZE. Can we find it and put it out before it grows? How it gets put out, is it drones, is water cannons, who knows? That’s our hope, and our working with you, you got plenty of test facilities here.”

He and Newsom also highlighted the economic angles and the physical proximity of the problem, noting geographic areas like the East Bay Hills where (to my knowledge) some of the wealthy and tech-focused Near Future attendees live — which could help with fundraising for the prize.

“They’re not insuring folks in what they call this wildland urban interface any longer,” Newsom noted. “Eleven million Californians live in that wildland-urban interface. You’re seeing your deductibles go up, your premiums go up — or they’re simply not renewing it because they cannot absorb these losses anymore.”

The governor has also been busy debating other ways to plan against fires as he unveils his first state budget. The prize concept, which he has talked about before, is in this light a handy way to save taxpayer dollars, while potentially getting far better tools than the state could build or buy today. If successful, it could also produce solutions for the many other fire-prone parts of the world.

It’s open season for poaching talent in Silicon Valley

Several recent court decisions have changed the landscape of California’s competition law, concluding that employee non-solicitation provisions are per se invalid. These cases have major implications both for mature companies relying on such provisions to preserve their talent pool, and for startups and other companies looking to attract the best people from their competitors.

California law is well-known for favoring open business competition. A fundamental part of this policy is that, unlike the overwhelming majority of other states, California generally does not allow companies to contractually prevent their employees from leaving to join or start a competing business. Unrestrained by “non-compete” provisions, employees can freely move among competitors, which helps facilitate the formation of disruptive new businesses and fuels the dynamic Silicon Valley economy.

But, while classic non-competes are invalid, companies have long been able to rely on certain other contractual provisions that do not flatly prohibit an employee from working for a competitor. One such provision is an employee non-solicitation clause, which, rather than barring an employee from working for a competitor like a non-compete, prohibits a departing employee from trying to recruit other, current company employees to join the departing employee at his or her new company. California businesses — large and small, early and late-stage — have routinely included such provisions in their employment contracts.

For some time the enforceability of these “employee non-solicit” provisions has been unclear and largely dependent on the facts of individual cases, but several recent decisions have treated employee non-solicit provisions like non-competes and concluded that non-solicits are invalid under California law. These decisions pave the way for new startups to more readily attract talent and increases the potential liability for companies that rely on non-solicit provisions.

In other words, the courts might have declared that it is open season for companies to poach another business’s talent pool.

Here’s a closer look at each case, followed by our analysis of the implications.

Section 16600: The California Law Protecting Unrestrained Employee Mobility.

How do startups actually get their content marketing to work?

[Editor’s note: this is a free example of a series of articles we’re publishing by top experts who have cutting-edge startup advice to offer, over on Extra Crunch. Get in touch at [email protected] if you have ideas to share.] 

Even the best growth marketers fail to get content marketing to work. Many are unwittingly using tactics from 4 years ago that no longer work today.

This post cuts through the noise by sharing real-world data behind some of the biggest SEO successes this year.

It studies the content marketing performance of clients with Growth Machine and Bell Curve (my company) — two marketing agencies who have helped grow Perfect Keto, Tovala, Framer, Crowd Cow, Imperfect Produce, and over a hundred others.

What content do their clients write about, how do they optimize that content to rank well (SEO), and how do they convert their readers into customers?

You’re about to see how most startups manage their blogs the wrong way.

Reference CupAndLeaf.com as we go along. Their tactics for hitting 150,000 monthly visitors will be explored.

Write fewer, more in-depth articles

In the past, Google wasn’t skilled at identifying and promoting high quality articles. Their algorithms were tricked by low-value, “content farm” posts.

That is no longer the case.

Today, Google is getting close to delivering on its original mission statement: “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” In other words, they now reliably identify high quality articles. How? By monitoring engagement signals: Google can detect when a visitor hits the Back button in their browser. This signals that the reader quickly bounced from the article after they clicked to read it.

If this occurs frequently for an article, Google ranks that article lower. It deems it low quality.

For example, below is a screenshot of the (old) Google Webmaster Tools interface. It visualizes this quality assessment process: It shows a blog post with the potential to rank for the keyword “design packaging ideas.” Google initially ranked it at position 25.

However, since readers weren’t engaging with the content as time went on, Google incrementally ranked the article lower — until it completely fell off the results page:

The lesson? Your objective is to write high quality articles that keep readers engaged. Almost everything else is noise.

In studying our clients, we’ve identified four rules for writing engaging posts.

1. Write articles for queries that actually prioritize articles.

Not all search queries are best served by articles.

Below, examine the results for “personalized skincare:”

Notice that Google is prioritizing quizzes. Not articles.

So if you don’t perform a check like this before writing an article on “personalized skincare,” there’s a good chance you’re wasting your time. Because, for some queries, Google has begun prioritizing local recommendations, videos, quizzes, or other types of results that aren’t articles.

Sanity check this before you sit down to write.

2. Write titles that accurately depict what readers get from the content.

Are incoming readers looking to buy a product? Then be sure to show them product links.

Or, were they looking for a recipe? Provide that.

Make your content deliver on what your titles imply a reader will see. Otherwise, readers bounce. Google will then notice the accumulating bounces, and you’ll be penalized.

3. Write articles that conclude the searcher’s experience.

Your objective is to be the last site a visitor visits in their search journey.

Meaning, if they read your post then don’t look at other Google result, Google infers that your post gave the searcher what they were looking for. And that’s Google’s prime directive: get searchers to their destination through the shortest path possible.

The two-part trick for concluding the searcher’s journey is to:

Go sufficiently in-depth to cover all the subtopics they could be looking for.

Link to related posts that may cover the tangential topics they seek.

This is what we use Clearscope for — it ensures we don’t miss critical subtopics that help our posts rank:

4. Write in-depth yet concise content.

In 2019, what do most of the top-ranked blogs have in common?

They skip filler introductions, keep their paragraphs short, and get to the point.

And, to make navigation seamless, they employ a “table of contents” experience:

Be like them, and get out of the reader’s way. All our best-performing blogs do this.

Check out more articles by Julian Shapiro over on Extra Crunch, including “What’s the cost of buying users from Facebook and 13 other ad networks?” and “Which types of startups are most often profitable?”

Prioritize engagement over backlinks

In going through our data, the second major learning was about “backlinks”, which is marketing jargon for a link to your site from someone else’s.

Four years ago, the SEO community was focused on backlinks and Domain Ranking (DR) — an indication of how many quality sites link to yours (scored from 0 to 100). At the time, they were right to be concerned about backlinks.

Today, our data reveals that backlinks don’t matter as much as they used to. They certainly help, but you need great content behind them.

Most content marketers haven’t caught up to this.

Here’s a screenshot showing how small publishers can beat out large behemoths today — with very little Domain Ranking:

The implication is that, even without backlinks, Google is still happy to rank you highly. Consider this: They don’t need your site to be linked from TechCrunch for their algorithm to determine whether visitors are engaged on your site.

Remember: Google has Google Analytics, Google Search, Google Ads, and Google Chrome data to monitor how searchers engage with your site. Believe me, if they want to find out whether your content is engaging, they can find a way. They don’t need backlinks to tell them.

This is not to say that backlinks are useless.

Our data shows they still provide value, just much less. Notably, they get your pages “considered” by Google sooner: If you have backlinks from authoritative and relevant sites, Google will have the confidence to send test traffic to your pages in perhaps a few weeks instead of in a few months.

Here’s what I mean by “test traffic:” In the weeks after publishing your post, Google notices them then experimentally surfaces them at the top of related search terms. They then monitor whether searchers engage with the content (i.e. don’t quickly hit their Back button). If the engagement is engaging, they’ll increasingly surface your articles. And increase your rankings over time.

Having good backlinks can cut this process down from months to a few weeks.

Prioritize conversion over volume

Engagement isn’t your end goal. It’s the precursor to what ultimately matters: getting a signup, subscribe, or purchase. (Marketers call this your “conversion event.”) Visitors can take a few paths to your conversion event:

Short: They read the initial post then immediately convert.

Medium: They read the initial post plus a few more before eventually converting.

Long (most common): They subscribe to your newsletter and/or return later.

To increase the ratio at which readers take the short and medium paths, optimize your blog posts’ copy, design, and calls to action. We’ve identified two rules for doing this.

1. Naturally segue to your pitch

Our data shows you should not pitch your product until the back half of your post.

Why? Pitching yourself in the intro can taint the authenticity of your article.

Also, the further a reader gets into a good article, the more familiarity and trust they’ll accrue for your brand, which means they’re less likely to ignore your pitch once they encounter it.

2. Don’t make your pitch look like an ad

Most blogs make their product pitches look like big, show-stopping banner ads.

Our data shows this visual fanfare is reflexively ignored by readers.

Instead, plug your product using a normal text link — styled no differently than any other link in your post. Woodpath, a health blog with Amazon products to pitch, does this well.

Think in funnels, not in pageviews

Finally, our best-performing clients focus less on their Google Analytics data and more on their readers’ full journeys: They encourage readers to provide their email so they can follow up with a series of “drip” emails. Ideally, these build trust in the brand and get visitors to eventually convert.

They “retarget” readers with ads. This entails pitching them with ads for the products that are most relevant to the topics they read on the blog. (Facebook and Instagram provide the granular control necessary to segment traffic like this.) You can read my growth marketing handbook to learn more about running retargeting ads well.

Here’s why retargeting is high-leverage: In running Facebook and Instagram ads for over a hundred startups, we’ve found that the cost of a retargeting purchase is one third the cost of a purchase from ads shown to people who haven’t yet been to our site.

Our data shows that clients who earn nothing from their blog traffic can sometimes earn thousands by simply retargeting ads to their readers.

Recap

It’s possible for a blog with 50,000 monthly visitors to earn nothing.

So, prioritize visitor engagement over volume: Make your hero metrics your revenue per visitor and your total revenue. That’ll keep your eye on the intermediary goals that matter: Attracting visitors with an intent to convert

Keeping those visitors engaged on the site

Then compelling them to convert

In short, your goal is to help Google do its job: Get readers where they need to go with the least amount of friction in their way.

Be sure to check out more articles from Julian Shapiro over on Extra Crunch, and get in touch with the Extra Crunch editors if you have cutting-edge startup advice to share with our subscribers, at [email protected]

TechCrunch (Extra Crunch) is looking for great startup guest authors

In the six weeks since we launched Extra Crunch, we’ve seen that readers and subscribers really want the latest practical tips and warnings about building a company — from the people on the cutting edge.

So we want to feature subject-matter experts, writing about what they learn from working with startup clients.  

You may remember, however, that the Crunch Network for contributors came to a necessary end a couple of years ago, in favor of an invite-only process for guest columns. It “had gotten a bit overrun,” as my colleagues memorably wrote at the time, “with pieces that we strongly suspected were ghost-written by PR or really had no business being given the platform.”  

Today, we are inviting people who do key work with startups to apply, if you are one of those people and you have ideas for articles that might be a great fit for Extra Crunch and/or TechCrunch.

Just get in touch at [email protected]

Successful columns will include a big, actionable insight that is derived from the author’s professional experience, and reinforced by data and anecdotes they can provide.

Here are some of the many insidery topics that we want to go deeper on with the right columnists: growth marketing, legal issues, recruiting, M&A, and company culture and inclusion.

Here are early examples to illustrate what we are looking for:

  1. Everybody wants to know how to make their product big, so Julian Shapiro of premier growth marketing agency Bell Curve has begun sharing what he’s based on his client data. His first article was “Which types of startups are most often profitable?” and his second was “What’s the cost of buying users from Facebook and 13 other ad networks?
  2.  Anyone raising early-stage funding these days is thinking about the choices and problems that can come with term sheets. We’ve had a series of lawyers sharing their perspectives, including Mital Makadia of Grellas Shah LLP on “What to watch for in a VC term sheet,” Jared Verzello of Atrium on “Pre- and Post-Money SAFEs: Choosing the right one for your startup” and José Ancer of Egan Nelson LLP on “Why convertible notes are safer than SAFEs

Other notes:

  • There is no word count limit, although we encourage you to go long if you have a lot to say — take your readers as seriously as they take you. The range is typically 1500-2500 words.
  • Come prepared to go through an editing process with us, since our goal is to be significantly better than what one can find elsewhere on the internet.
  • We are happy to discuss re-publication rights.
  • While our focus is the Extra Crunch audience, some topics will be best served by some combination of free and paywalled articles.
  • We love one-off articles but we love regular contributions even more.

If all this sounds right for you, please get in touch at [email protected]

How to make sure that your product is accessible to all users

Every founder wants an eye-catching website or app, but it’s easy to overlook a basic fact: not all your potential visitors will experience your content with their eyes. If you haven’t considered whether a user with differing visual, motor or hearing abilities can easily navigate your software, it’s time to get serious about digital accessibility.

As tempting as it might be to prioritize a stunning visual and mobile experience over an accessible design, accessibility is a legal requirement—not an option—for many businesses.

Just ask high-profile founder Beyoncé Knowles. In January, Beyoncé’s Parkwood Entertainment was hit with a class-action lawsuit that includes “all legally blind individuals in the United States who have attempted to access Beyonce.com.” The lawsuit claims that the site’s lack of visual alternatives make the site inaccessible to blind users like the plaintiff and therefore illegal.

Failing to accommodate people with disabilities not only limits your market (blind people buy concert tickets and merchandise too), it can also bring legal and reputational consequences.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires US businesses that serve the public to provide equal access and accommodations to everyone, whether through a physical building or a digital experience. Just as stores provide ramps as well as stairs, websites need to accommodate people with varying abilities, from movement disorders to visual and auditory impairments. The number of website accessibility lawsuits raised against private companies more than doubled last year. A single plaintiff won $100K in a similar ADA lawsuit in 2017.

While ADA is the enforcing legislation in the United States for the private sector, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) provide de facto global standards web designers should follow. The guidelines are based on four principles: content must be perceivable, operable, understandable and robust.

If you’re not sure whether your digital content (websites, apps, e-books, etc) is WCAG-compliant, have a certified accessibility consultant conduct an assessment immediately, and contact your legal team should you identify any risks.

However, simple compliance is only the first step. Understanding how accessibility is defined will broaden your understanding of the overall user experience, so you can create better content for all users.

This article is part of Extra Crunch’s exclusive “Startup Law A to Z” series, following previous articles on employment law, customer contracts, intellectual property (IP) and corporate matters. This series is designed to provide founders the information needed to assess legal risks in the areas common to most startups.

Should you identify legal risks facing your startup after reading this or other articles in the series, Extra Crunch resources can help. You can reach out to the Verified Experts of Extra Crunch, who focus on serving companies at your stage, for further guidance in the particular issues at hand.

The Web Content Accessibility Checklist:

  • Perceivable
    • Time-based media
    • Text alternatives
    • Adaptable
    • Distinguishable (Use of color)
  • Operable
    • Keyboard accessible
    • Navigable
    • Input modalities
    • Enough time
    • Seizures and physical reactions
  • Understandable
    • Readable
    • Predictable
    • Input assistance
  • Robust
    • Compatible for various assistive technologies (Links can be programmatically determined)

Perceivable

A website must present content so that users of different abilities can perceive it. That means providing alternatives for any non-text content, like images or music.

For time-based media (audio and video), captions, content descriptions and sign language are acceptable options. 

Talk Apple news with TechCrunch EIC Matthew Panzarino

Apple rolled out major updates to main consumer services today, including a new Apple credit card, an ad-free TV subscription service, a paywalled version of News (that includes Extra Crunch), and a gaming platform upgrade.

TechCrunch Editor-In-Chief Matthew Panzarino attended live to hear the latest, and I can tell you that he has already developed some strong opinions…. Tomorrow at 10:30 am PT, Extra Crunch members will get to hear first-hand from him about the ins and outs of the company’s latest media offerings.

Tune in to listen to the details about what happened onstage and off, as well as the opportunity to ask Matthew anything Apple.

To listen to this and all future conference calls, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free. 

Verified Expert Lawyer: Mike Lincoln

In 1999, Mike Lincoln co-founded the first East Coast office of top Silicon Valley law firm Cooley LLP. Over the last two decades, he has built out the practice to extend well beyond the region, today covering Boston and New York too, while also heading up the firm’s business department, and serving as an adjunct professor at the University of Virginia.

Along the way, he has collected an impassioned group of founder clients, more than two dozen of whom had a lot to tell us about how he has helped them.


On being a startup lawyer:

“[I]f you really believe you can make dreams happen and that you can help create jobs and you can help cure disease and other things that startups do, then your practice will flourish and the money will follow because people will see it in your eyes. They’ll see that you’re passionate about helping to grow a company, helping to solve real-world problems, helping to create jobs…. You should not do this because you are trying to figure out a way to make millions of dollars. You do it just like entrepreneurs do it, with passion and commitment and a higher calling to try in your own small way to change the world.”

“He is my first recommendation to any founder and I work with him on every project that presents the opportunity.” Hooman Radfar, San Francisco, partner at Expa

On his approach:

“Early on, I think it is being part of a firm that values the time spent going out to scout for new companies. And then once you’ve found them, I think that the key role — to use another metaphor — is to be a good Sherpa. A startup lawyer is climbing the mountain with the entrepreneur and there are lots of paths up the mountain, and knowing which path to take on which day is the role that I think a good startup lawyer plays, which is not really pure legal advice.”

On the DC-area tech scene:

“There is a rich talent pool here of people often coming out of government or three-letter agencies that start companies grounded in cybersecurity and national defense. So for example, we just did the Tenable IPO here in the DC market. That would be an example of a local company that I work with that was born out of that sort of DNA. And then another example of that would be a company like Netwitness, which I worked with from early on and which sold to EMC. Yet another of a strong company in this sector is Mandiant, which we helped to sell to FireEye for $1.3 billion.”

Below, you’ll find founder recommendations, the full interview and more details like pricing and fee structures.

This article is part of our ongoing series covering the early-stage startup lawyers with whom founders love to work, based on this survey and our own research. The survey is open indefinitely, so please fill it out if you haven’t already. If you’re trying to navigate the early-stage legal landmines, be sure to check out our growing set of in-depth articles, like this checklist of what you need to get done on the corporate side in your first years as a company.

 


The Interview

Eric Eldon: I’d love to hear more about your background and how you got into startup law.

Mike Lincoln: Out of law school, I clerked for a federal appellate court judge in Chicago and then I went to Latham & Watkins in DC. I have always been drawn to entrepreneurship and startups. I started a few very small companies myself in high school and after college and so had a bit of the entrepreneurial bug. After more of a Wall Street type of practice at Latham, I saw what was going on in the Washington, DC market in the 90s. Venture capital was starting to flow in to the market and companies like AOL were going public and I said to myself, “That’s what I want to do. I want to go work with startups and emerging companies and venture-backed companies.” And so I set out to go do just that.

After talking to a few Silicon Valley based law firms, we ended up deciding to go with Cooley. So Joe Conroy and I launched the office in 1999 in Reston, Virginia and that was really the first Silicon Valley firm to make the move east. For the next decade after that, we were heads-down building a practice and a brand up and down the East Coast. My co-founder Joe Conroy is now the CEO of Cooley and I am now head of the business department. Even though I live in the DC area, I spend a great deal of time in Palo Alto because that’s where we’re headquartered and I have spent a lot of time in more recent years helping to launch our offices in New York, Boston, London, Los Angeles, Brussels and other places. But despite my travel schedule and my firm duties, I still do exactly what I have always done and that is to work with interesting entrepreneurs and startups every day of the week. That’s what I love to do.

Talk about the big news from GDC with TechCrunch writers

The Game Developers Conference concludes today in San Francisco but that doesn’t mean our coverage is over.

TechCrunch writer Lucas Matney and Extra Crunch contributor Eric Peckham were at the Moscone Center and got a first-hand glimpse into what is coming up for gamers and developers alike. And at noon PT today they’ll be sharing what they saw with Extra Crunch members on a conference call.

First, there can be no discussion about gaming news this week without mentioning Google’s new game-streaming service Stadia. As Lucas wrote this week, the service will let gamers leave their hefty GPUs and expensive systems behind … and the service can be used on devices with a Chrome browser and an internet connection.

They’ll also be discussing the latest about game engines, VR and voice-based gaming.

To listen to the call and the opportunity to participate in future conference calls, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free. 

Pre- and Post-Money SAFEs: Choosing the right one for your startup

With Y Combinator’s Demo Day taking place at Pier 48 in San Francisco next week, its largest batch of companies ever is getting ready to present to an audience of select investors. Having taken Atrium through Demo Day myself, I have first-hand knowledge of the process. When the founders have finished their pitches, the time to talk numbers will closely follow. Chief among the many decisions founders will face during this time is whether to opt for the Pre-Money SAFE or the new Post-Money SAFE, the two standardized legal documents that YC has introduced in recent years.

Both versions are meant to make the process fast, easy and fair for both parties in the early-stage fundraising process. But there are crucial differences between the two that founders should examine carefully.

Essentially, the Pre-Money SAFE is exceptionally favorable to founders because it gets them pre-valuation funding like a convertible note, but debt-free. The Post-Money SAFE sweetens some of the terms for investors, like locking in their percentage ownership in a priced round later on.

Overall, we expect the Post-Money version to become more common, especially if the company is raising a round above $1 million or $2 million, and the investors have more leverage to ask for it in the negotiation.

(Note: This article is aimed at giving founders a general understanding of the changes from Pre-Money SAFEs to Post-Money SAFEs. The information provided is based on my professional experience and opinions, and should not be used without careful consideration and advice by qualified advisors and legal counsel. Also, to learn more and ask questions about Pre and Post-Money SAFEs, join me on April 16th for a webinar where I’ll dive in a bit deeper.)

Two structures for raising startup investment

Today there are two general ways of structuring a startup fundraising round. The first can be called a “priced equity round,” and is characterized by the sale of preferred stock with a fixed valuation.

Verified Expert Lawyer: Mital Makadia

Mital Makadia’s legal career began on the East Coast, with Big Law firms, but she moved into early-stage startup work with long-time Silicon Valley boutique Grellas Shah nearly a decade ago. She’ll work with companies on a range of usual startup issues, but she and the firm also focus on individual founder representation (when it comes to that).

As part of the interview below, we got into a conversation about contentious terms in term sheets — and she ended up writing a guest post for us about the biggest gotchas that she sees in Series A docs. Read up on her here, then go check out What To Watch For In A VC Term Sheet.


On the founder focus:

“We approach the practice with a view to protecting the founders. So we’re not looking to please the VCs. And if that means reviewing the transaction a little bit differently then what the investors are used to, that’s fine by us. That’s pretty much our philosophy.”

On the different perspective:

“For me, I have been through enough financing rounds to know what VCs tend to push for and what’s ‘market’ at a given point in time. But just because a provision might be one my client will likely have to give on, depending on negotiating leverage, I make sure my client understands how it impacts the company and its founders. I don’t simply gloss it over as “market.” And sometimes in those conversations, I suss out legitimate concerns from clients that we can creatively address. But that requires you to have a founder hat — not a VC hat – on when you are reviewing a term sheet.”

On second looks:

“Now, we have a lot of clients who come to us, whether they’re going through an M&A or whether they’re incorporating or whether they are going through a financing round term sheet who may have a lawyer representing the company, but who wants our advice in protecting the founders.”

Below, you’ll find founder recommendations, the full interview, and more details like their pricing and fee structures.

This article is part of our ongoing series covering the early-stage startup lawyers who founders love to work with, based on this survey and our own research. The survey is open indefinitely so please fill it out if you haven’t already. If you’re trying to navigate the early-stage legal landmines, be sure to check out our growing set of in-depth articles, like this checklist of what you need to get done on the corporate side in your first years as a company.


Full Interview:

Eric Eldon: I would love to hear about how you got into working with startups, given your very different focus earlier in your career.

Mital Makadia: Actually, I didn’t start my legal career working with startups. After law school, I did general corporate work at large firms in New York and DC. That feels like a lifetime ago.

I eventually moved out to the West Coast when I got married and came across Grellas Shah when I started looking for a job here. I can’t say my goal was necessarily to work with startups at that point. But I loved this practice from day one.

Of course, I immediately loved working with entrepreneurs. The brilliant new ideas, enthusiasm, optimism, work ethic, and ambition is infectious.

But a huge part of what I have loved about this practice is working with and learning from our firm’s founder, George Grellas. George has been working in Silicon Valley since 1983 and has really seen the ups and downs in the tech industry. Largely due to his reputation as a sharp yet practical startup attorney, our firm has built an enviable client base, which has been an ideal platform for me to launch my own career in the startup world.