Equidam partner WE.VESTR is a digital platform designed to streamline equity management for startups and scale-ups, providing tools for managing cap tables, ESOPs, and investor relations in one integrated environment. It aims to simplify the complexities of equity distribution, making it accessible and efficient for founders and their teams.

We spoke to Floris van Hoogenhuyze, Co-Founder and CEO of WE.VESTR, to discuss how his company is simplifying equity management for startups and scale-ups. WE.VESTR aims to make managing equity as straightforward as email, addressing the traditionally complex aspects of equity distribution and investor relations.

Floris van Hoogenhuyze, Founder & CEO of WE.VESTR

Floris also shares insights on the importance of ESOPs in talent retention, and the evolving practices in European startup equity management. He also touches on the collaboration between Equidam and WE.VESTR, focusing on streamlining 409A valuations and promoting fair valuation standards.

“As a third-time founder who has gone through the uncertainties that comes with fundraising but also an advocate for the next generation of founders, I’m really excited to see how we can collectively create a fairer, more transparent and sustainable startup ecosystem for us all.”

What does WE.VESTR do, and why do you do it?

WE.VESTR is the shareholder management platform built by founders for founders to manage their digital cap table, performance and financial reporting, ESOPs and stakeholders all in one environment. Equity management, especially for early-stage startups, is often overlooked, underestimated and usually, is still stuck in the dark ages of spreadsheets, even though it’s one of the most critical parts of the business.

Our job is to give founders the resources they need to save time, money and energy when it comes to their equity management, whether that’s through equity education or a digital tool like our platform with the best practices for shareholder management. We do this so that other startups can use the hindsight of founders and investors as their foresight to build better businesses,be more investment-ready and ultimately have a stronger, more sustainable future.

WE.VESTR also covers ESOPs. What led you to working in this area?

Employee ownership we know is key to hiring and retaining the best talent, especially in startups where we know nobody starts off cash rich. ESOPs are a great way for startups to still get competitive talent and to unlock the best out of their talent. By giving them a piece of the future of the company, they now have a vested interest that goes beyond monthly salaried compensation and gives them skin in the game in its outcome.

The US market gets this, and they have been implementing employee ownership successfully for a long time, especially in Silicon Valley. Over here in Europe, we’re catching up with implementing ESOPs but we still have a long way to go. So our ambition in creating an ESOP feature on the WE.VESTR platform, is to help democratize share ownership in startups by making it as easy as possible for founders to administer and manage them.

What changes have you seen in European startups when it comes to shareholder management?

In the shareholder or equity management space, I’d say we’ve seen some interesting developments in recent years:

  • Firstly, there’s been an increased emphasis on equity inclusivity like we discussed about ESOP’s, but what’s notable about this is that it’s being championed by both founders and investors alike which feels very encouraging.
  • We’ve culturally also seen increased adoption of digital solutions. Platforms like WE.VESTR have gained traction for their ability to streamline processes, automate tasks, and provide real-time insights into equity ownership. It’s a behavioural shift in wanting simplified, easy to access solutions but it’s a shift that’s having a seismic effect on our own growth in new markets globally, so this is a really exciting time to be in our space.
  • Finally, we’ve seen an increased focus on transparency, compliance and perhaps even more recently than that (and certainly in our industry), the ethics around customer data management. Now more than ever before it’s important to understand the value of the role we play societally with all of our respective technologies not just as service-providers but in the end, as trusted custodians of our customers’ data and their interests. It’s an interesting time for us all. We’ve just secured another year of our own ISO 27001 certification, so maybe that’s why data and security is so front and centre of my mind!

Overall, I’d say there’s a growing maturity and sophistication in shareholder management practices in Europe. Encouragingly, it’s been driven by both founders and investors alike in the pursuit of an equity and investment culture that’s driven by fairness, transparency, and sustainable growth for the entrepreneurial ecosystem as a whole.

What impact do you think investors can make in helping startups build better equity foundations and what is WE.VESTR doing to help them?

Investors are already some of the biggest champions of what we do. You see they get messy cap tables and protracted shareholder agreements day in and day out. They see what can happen when a cofounding teams start losing equity early and what that could mean for the future sustainability of a promising business, so it’s in their interest that founders in their portfolio are using a clean and streamlined equity management tool as a dataroom for fundraising but also as a best practise tool. In fact, we’ve seen so much advocacy from investors for what we’re doing that we’re now developing a whole portfolio management proposition called Eagle.Eye, just to help them use WE.VESTR to streamline their portfolios better.

And finally, what are you most excited about for startups in 2024?

A lot of things! Including this partnership! Part of the reason we’re collaborating with Equidam is because of the increasing requests we’re getting for 409A’s from our US customers. Getting their 409A’s right is crucial for US founders who want to issue stock options to their employees and need an FMV (fair market value) of their common stocks. Investors are also expecting this done as part of the due diligence for understanding the company’s valuation and stock option pricing, and the scope it gives for future fundraising. Our ambition here is that together with Equidam, we can streamline this process further for our collective US customers.

Aside from this, I know we’ve only just started talking about Equidam’s fair valuation pledge and how we can collectively work towards a gold standard but I think this is an important issue to be addressing, particularly in light of the turbulent year a lot of startups had in 2023 and applaudable that Equidam has already taken a stance here. As a third-time founder who has gone through the uncertainties that comes with fundraising but also an advocate for the next generation of founders, I’m really excited to see how we can collectively create a fairer, more transparent and sustainable startup ecosystem for us all.