Atish Davda wanted to buy an engagement ring. The only problem was that he had left his jobs at various hedge funds and an ad-tech firm, leaving him without the spending money he’d grown accustomed to. He had some equity in a few startups, but none of them were close to an exit. So he did what every startup-happy young man does and founded a company that would help him and others get cash from their assets.
That company is EquityZen. Its goal is to help startup employees get cash for their equity in a company without having to worry about waiting for an exit. Davda says that employees from a number of companies, including Dropbox, TaskRabbit, and Palantir are already using the platform. (No word on how many of those employees are trying to get the cash for an engagement ring.)
“Companies can take a long time to exit,” Davda says. “A lot of employees are realizing that they don’t have that kind of runway with their personal finances.”
Helping employees change their long-term assets into short-term cash isn’t EquityZen’s only goal. The company intends to market its platform to other startups looking to attract and retain talent by offering equity instead of cash and providing a way for that equity to pay off in the short term as well as the long term.
Davda declined to detail the specifics of EquityZen’s platform for this blog post, but he stresses that the company isn’t trying to facilitate secondary rounds in which employees are able to sell their equity to investors.
This makes EquityZen yet another example of the startup industry’s attempts to achieve liquidity without having to fuss with public markets. Because the platform doesn’t require companies to list new shareholders every time their employees wish to turn their equity into cash, some startups might be able to prolong their existence as private companies instead of being forced into a public offering. That isn’t the company’s main purpose — it’s hardly the “alternative public market” for which people like Eric Ries have been clamoring for years — but Davda is using it to pitch the platform to startups.
The platform could yet change before its official launch. Davda and his co-founders are currently participating in 500 Startups’ latest batch of companies, and their experience with the accelerator has already made them focus on how the platform could help startups as well as their employees. And the financial alchemy the company is working to transform equity into cash will have to be revealed eventually.
But for now, EquityZen is just the result of one man’s desire to purchase an engagement ring.
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