Switzerland: Maximizing Your Potential -12 Tips For Building A Successful Start-Up

Last Updated: 28 February 2018
Article by Pascal Honold and Barbara Brauchli Rohrer

Do things right from the beginning, because there are certain things which, if neglected, cannot be undone, and WILL affect your upside in the future. Besides hiring people smarter than you, who are a good cultural fit, keep the following twelve tips in mind:

1. Incorporate a legal entity that is well known to investors and flexible ("AG", rather than "GmbH"). Make sure that all IPs generated pre-incorporation are correctly transferred to the company. Make sure that from the very beginning any and all shares are covered by a state of the art Shareholders Agreement ( including drag along).

2. Define the short, medium and long term funding strategy at the beginning. Developing an appropriate funding strategy is crucial to the success of your company and will impact who controls the company and your upside on exit.

What is your "Funding Strategy?"

  • If you can, raise money at true value inflection points; i.e. when measureable milestones are reached and your company is much more valuable for having achieved them. Talk to an experienced VC player in order to identify the relevant milestones of your growth story.
  • What is the funding amount required (comfortably) to get from one inflection point to the next? Do a headcount and burn analysis.
  • Identify the appropriate Funding Sources to match the Funding Strategy, Friends & Family, high net worth individuals, angels, VC's or strategics.
  • Identify the appropriate Funding Instrument to match the Funding Source (Common Stock, Preferred or Convertible Debt). Be aware that mezzanine funding may seriously impede future equity financing rounds.
  • Ensure that specific preferential investors' rights only apply if and under the condition that such investor takes part in future investment rounds ("pay to play").

3. Don't let your product build, sales and marketing, personnel costs or IP strategy get ahead of your Funding Strategy (all should align).

4. Develop an appropriate IP strategy. In most cases there is protectable IP, and sometimes adequate protection can be done quite inexpensively. Every investor would like to see a sustainable, competitive advantage based on well protected IP. Have the maximum IP protection clauses in your employment agreements.

5. Founder issues:

  • Allocation of founders' stock - some "co-founders" are really just early employees - so allocate based on expected short & long term contributions, and ensure that its reasonable, given the other hires required down the road.
  • If considering VC funding or if there are several founders, consider vesting on founders' stock (avoid the "free rider" dilemma - it generally can't be fixed). Provide for good leaver / bad leaver rules from the very beginning.
  • What is the appropriate vesting period/up front vested? Ask the question: "If Sandra leaves in 6/18/36 months, would the percentage vested be appropriate given the expected value contributed by her to that point?" If not, the vesting period is too short. Is acceleration appropriate?
  • Consider milestone based vesting if appropriate (e.g. for technical co-founder) if their contribution will be critical/beneficial for the company in reaching the value inflection points (or a combination of time & milestone based vesting).

6. Issuance of stock - rarely, if ever, should stock be issued that is not subject to vesting.

7. Have an appropriate option pool. What's appropriate? Look at the options you anticipate issuing in the next 12 months. It's very easy to increase the pool. Options can and will be used when negotiating the pre-money in a funding.

Be aware that the investors value your company on a fully diluted basis.

8. Build a strong board of advisors to, among other things, fill the gaps in your team's core competencies (if you can't afford to buy the skills early on, rent them). Get in touch with CTI (http://www.ctistartup.ch).

9. Avoid structures and business arrangements (exclusive licensing/manufacturing/distribution arrangements) that might lower your premoney valuation or make you unfundable or unattractive to any other acquirer.

10. Find a good lawyer that lives and breathes start-ups. Free advice from your neighbour's sister, who is a real estate lawyer, will probably result in a set up that has to be fixed later on (and will invariably affect your upside). Leverage your counsel's experience and contacts.

11. Employee participation schemes are key. Do it right from the beginning. Seek advice from experienced start-up advisers to ensure that you have covered all aspects. Fixing issues leads to higher advisory fees than having things done right from the beginning.

12. Your mind is and shall be business focused but do not forget the whole tax and legal compliance area. Investors and potential lawyers will perform a due diligence at the time they might get on board. If properly prepared, you can be relaxed.

About our Start-Up and Venture Capital Practice Group

Wenger & Vieli's Start-Up and Venture Capital Practice Group assists start-ups, emerging growth companies and VC investors in various fields, including information technology, telecommunications, life science, cleantech, impact investments, cryptocurrencies, block chain technologies, crowd funding, and many more. Furthermore, Wenger & Vieli is a leading Swiss advisor of national and international corporate venture teams.

Our subsidiary WTS Consulting Services AG, Zurich, is designed to render accounting services to startups in a highly cost efficient way.

We see young entrepreneurs and start-ups as the very core of our firm's and our young lawyers' future.

Having a strong focus on start-ups and venture capital, Wenger & Vieli strives to invest into your venture's success and – by doing so – into the future of our own firm.


The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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