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Venture Capitals Open Secret

BURLINGAME, Calif. -- Sell a company for $50 million and you'd think the company's founders would be some very rich people.

Not necessarily. That's because conditions in the term sheets many start-ups sign in order to raise funding can quickly leave a founder's equity "sliding towards zero," says Adeo Ressi, founder of, an online community for entrepreneurs looking to raise venture funding. Here's how it works. Start with a common clause called a "liquidation preference." It gives an investor the right to, say, 30% of the proceeds of a sale if they own 30% of the company. Fair enough, right? Well, many start-ups agree to terms that give investors 1.5 or even two times that amount.