How to delay your Form Ds (or not file them at all)

Startups in the Valley have learned how to quietly evade their mandatory SEC paperwork

Building a startup is incredibly tough. There are the constant ups and downs, the moments of sheer ambiguity and terror. And so, few moments in a startup’s life are as triumphant — and crystal clear — as closing a round of funding. Yes, yes, raising venture capital shouldn’t be celebrated as a milestone, and the focus should always be on product and users … but it just feels so damn good sometimes just to feel that sense of euphoria: I built something, and now others are giving me potentially millions of dollars to shoot for the stars.

Unfortunately, that clarity is increasingly vanishing. First, “closing a round” is rarely as sharp a distinction as it used to be. Seed rounds (and even later-stage rounds) are often raised over extended periods of time, with many partial closings conducted as new angels and seed funds come to the (cap) table.

Then there is also the growing disconnect between raising capital and the actual announcement of that fundraise. Founders are trying to remain under stealth for longer periods of time to hide from competitors, and they want to message their news in a careful manner.

All of which means that the Form D filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission when closing an exempt fundraise (aka venture rounds) is no longer as simple a process as it once was.

Lawyers will state publicly that startups should always file their legally mandatory paperwork (that’s probably also a good rule for life). The reality, though, is pretty much the opposite when you talk to startup attorneys in private.

Here’s the secret about Form D filings today: the norms in Silicon Valley have changed, and Form D filings are often filed late, not at all, and many startups are advised to lie low in the hopes of avoiding stricter SEC scrutiny. What was once a fait accompli is now a deliberative process, with important decision points for founders.

Extra Crunch contacted about two dozen startup attorneys, from the biggest firms in the industry to the one-person shops with a shingle out front. Getting straight answers here has been tough, if only because no lawyer really wants to say out loud that they actively recommend their clients violate government regulations (there is that whole law license thing, which apparently lawyers care about).

Practically all of these conversations were done off-the-record and not for attribution, since as one lawyer said, “the last thing I need is the damn SEC sending our firm a nastygram.” Other firms wholly swore us off from even discussing their Form D cultures.

Full disclosure: I am not an attorney, and while I had attorneys read over this draft, this does not constitute legal advice, particularly specific legal advice for your specific startup and situation. Get inspiration from this analysis, but always (really, truly, always) consult qualified legal counsel to answer legal questions about your startup.

With that said, here is our guide to the new world of venture capital securities filings.