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  • Writer's pictureDeLone Dawisha



Embarking on a startup journey is exhilarating and challenging. As entrepreneurs dive into market research, product development, and fundraising, it's easy to overlook the legal aspects. However, failing to address these crucial elements can lead to serious consequences. This comprehensive guide outlines the key legal mistakes startups often make and offers practical advice on how to avoid them. By avoiding these common legal mistakes, you can focus on what you do best: innovating, overcoming challenges, and steering your startup towards success.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this blog post is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please seek the advice of an attorney in your respective jurisdiction before making any decisions based on this information.


1.) Not Choosing the Right Business Structure

Your startup's structure profoundly affects your personal liability, tax obligations, and potential for growth and fundraising. Understanding the nuances of different business structures can help you make an informed decision.

a.) Sole Proprietorship: This is the simplest form of business structure, often chosen by single-owner startups due to its ease of setup and minimal costs. As a sole proprietor, you and your business are considered the same legal entity, meaning that there is no separation between the business owner's assets and the company's liabilities. While this simplicity may be appealing, it also means that you are personally responsible for all the business's debts and liabilities. If your business is unable to pay its debts, creditors could potentially go after your personal assets.

b.) Partnership: A partnership is a business structure where two or more individuals share ownership. Partnerships can be either general, where all partners share liability and managerial duties, or limited, where one partner has control over operations and the other(s) contribute capital and share profits but have limited liability. In a general partnership, each partner is personally liable for the business's debts, meaning that they could be responsible for their partner's actions.

c.) Limited Liability Company (LLC): An LLC is a hybrid business structure that combines the limited personal liability features of a corporation with the tax advantages and operational flexibility of a partnership. Owners, referred to as members, are generally not personally liable for the company's debts and lawsuits. However, setting up and managing an LLC can be more complex and costly than a sole proprietorship or partnership. Additionally, tax implications for an LLC can be complex and vary by state, so it's recommended to seek advice from a tax professional.

d.) Corporation (C or S type): Corporations are more complex business structures that offer strong personal liability protection to its owners, known as shareholders. This means that shareholders are not personally liable for the corporation's debts or liabilities. Corporations can raise funds more easily through the sale of stock, making them an attractive option for startups that plan to seek venture capital funding. However, corporations require substantial paperwork, including articles of incorporation, bylaws, and regular meeting minutes. They also have more complex tax requirements. A C Corporation is taxed separately from its owners, while an S Corporation allows profits and some losses to be passed through directly to the owner's personal income without corporate tax rates.

e.) Professional Limited Liability Company (PLLC): Similar to an LLC, a PLLC provides its members with limited personal liability for the actions of the company. This means that members are generally not personally responsible for the company's debts and liabilities. However, in a PLLC, personal liability protection does not extend to malpractice claims. This means that while a member's personal assets are generally protected from the company's creditors, they can still be at risk in the event of a malpractice suit. PLLCs are allowed in some states but not all, so it's essential to check your state's specific regulations.

f.) Professional Corporation (PC): A PC is similar to a corporation, offering limited liability protection and the ability to sell shares to raise capital. However, unlike a standard corporation, all shareholders of a PC must belong to the same profession, and they are not fully shielded from liability for malpractice or negligence claims. Just like PLLCs, PCs are subject to state-specific rules and regulations.

Given the critical nature of this decision, it's highly recommended to engage a legal expert to help you choose the right structure for your startup. Your choice should take into account several factors, including your industry, the number of founders, your funding needs, and your long-term business goals. A business lawyer can provide invaluable insights and guidance to ensure your startup is set up for success from a legal standpoint.

2.) Ignoring Intellectual Property (IP) Rights

Intellectual Property (IP) forms the cornerstone of many startups, embodying the unique ideas, processes, and branding that set them apart in the marketplace. Ignoring IP rights can lead to significant challenges, including competitors copying your innovative concepts or facing expensive and time-consuming legal battles over infringement claims. By proactively protecting your IP, you shield your startup's competitive advantage and secure its value for potential investors. Here's a deeper look into the key elements of IP protection:

a.) Patents: Patents are an essential tool for protecting inventions or unique processes developed by your startup. When granted, a patent confers the exclusive right to make, use, or sell the invention for a set period (generally 20 years from the filing date for a utility patent in the U.S.). This exclusivity can give your startup a substantial competitive edge. However, securing a patent can be a complex, lengthy, and expensive process, requiring comprehensive documentation and often professional assistance. It's crucial to thoroughly research whether someone else has already patented a similar invention before beginning the application process.

b.) Trademarks: A trademark safeguards your startup's branding elements - the name, logo, taglines, or unique product names that distinguish your business and its goods or services in the marketplace. Registering a trademark prevents other businesses from using similar marks that could confuse consumers. It's advisable to conduct a thorough search to ensure your desired trademark isn't already in use. Once registered, you need to actively use and defend your trademark, or you risk losing your rights to it.

c.) Copyrights: Copyright law protects original works of authorship, including literature, music, art, and, crucially for startups, software code, website content, and marketing materials. Copyright gives you the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, perform, display, or license the work. Unlike patents and trademarks, copyright protection is automatic upon creation of the work in a tangible form, but registering the copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office can provide additional legal advantages in the event of an infringement lawsuit.

d.) Trade Secrets: Trade secrets encompass proprietary knowledge, techniques, methods, designs, or processes that give your startup a competitive advantage. Examples can range from secret recipes in the food industry to unique algorithms in the tech sector. Unlike patents, trade secrets can be protected indefinitely as long as they remain confidential. Key methods of protection include having employees, contractors, and business partners sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), using secure practices to store and share sensitive information, and limiting access to the information within your organization.

Proactively managing your startup's IP rights is crucial. It not only prevents legal complications but also adds value to your business, making it more attractive to potential investors, partners, or acquirers. Given the complexities involved in IP law, it's highly recommended to seek the advice of an IP attorney to ensure all your assets are adequately protected.

3.) Neglecting Proper Contracts and Legal Agreements

Contractual agreements serve as the foundation for all business relationships. They clearly define the rights, responsibilities, and expectations of each party involved, providing a framework for how business transactions should be conducted. Neglecting to use proper contracts and legal agreements can expose your startup to legal disputes, potential financial loss, and damage to business relationships. Here's a more detailed look at some of the key contracts your startup should consider:

a.) Founder's Agreement: At the heart of every startup are its founders. A Founder's Agreement is a contract that outlines crucial details such as each founder's role and responsibilities, equity ownership, vesting rules, and mechanisms for resolving disputes. It can also cover what happens if a founder leaves the company, dies, or becomes disabled. Having this agreement in place early on can help prevent misunderstandings and conflicts that could disrupt the business operations later. Without a Founder's Agreement, you could face disputes about equity distribution, decision-making authority, and the strategic direction of the company, which can be costly and time-consuming to resolve.

b.) Employment Agreements: As your startup grows and hires employees, Employment Agreements become crucial. These contracts define the terms of the employment relationship and protect both parties involved. They typically include details about compensation, benefits, working hours, job responsibilities, termination provisions, and confidentiality obligations. Some employment agreements may also include non-compete or non-solicitation clauses to protect the company's interests. Having these agreements in place can help prevent disputes, maintain confidentiality, and set clear expectations for the employment relationship.

c.) Vendor Contracts: Whether your startup is buying goods, leasing office space, or outsourcing services, vendor contracts are likely to be part of your operations. These contracts are essential to clearly define the responsibilities, expectations, and payment terms for all parties involved. They can cover a range of issues, including the scope of work, delivery timelines, quality standards, payment terms, dispute resolution procedures, and liability limitations. Properly drafted vendor contracts can minimize the risk of misunderstandings, disputes, and unsatisfactory performance.

d.) Customer Agreements: Whether your startup is selling products, providing services, or operating a digital platform, it's essential to have agreements in place that define the terms of your relationship with your customers. These could take various forms, such as sales contracts, service agreements, license agreements, or terms of service and privacy policies on a website. These documents can help limit your startup's liability, establish payment terms, set expectations for product or service delivery, and clarify how disputes will be resolved.

e.) Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs): These agreements are crucial when discussing your business concept, processes, or strategies with potential investors, contractors, employees, or partners. NDAs create a legal obligation to privacy and compel those who sign them to keep specific information confidential.

f.) Intellectual Property (IP) Assignment Agreements: These agreements are especially critical for tech startups or any business where IP is a significant asset. They ensure that any IP created by founders or employees (typically within the scope of their employment) is owned by the business, not the individual.

g.) Shareholder Agreements (for corporations): This agreement among the shareholders of a corporation defines the shareholders' rights and obligations, regulates the sale of shares, describes how the company will be run and outlines the shareholders' privileges and protection. It's used to protect the shareholders' investment in the company, establish a fair relationship between shareholders, and set the rules for how an exit or sale might happen.

h.) Service or Product Contracts: These agreements outline the specifics of what you're offering, whether it's a service to clients or a product to customers. These contracts can help prevent misunderstandings and ensure that both parties are clear on what's expected.

i.) Website Terms of Use and Privacy Policy: If your startup has a website or an app, especially if it collects any personal data, it's important to have a clearly stated Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. These not only help you comply with legal requirements but also build trust with your users.

Contracts and legal agreements may seem daunting, but they are crucial for protecting your startup's interests and setting it up for long-term success. Given the potential legal complexities and implications, it's recommended to seek legal advice when drafting and reviewing these documents. A lawyer can help ensure that your agreements are legally sound, comprehensive, and aligned with your startup's unique needs and goals.

4.) Not Complying with Employment Laws

Employment law compliance is a critical aspect of managing your startup. As you begin to hire and expand your team, it's crucial to understand and abide by all relevant employment laws, both federal and state. Startups often overlook this area, either because of unfamiliarity with the regulations or in an effort to save costs. However, failing to comply can lead to severe consequences, including legal disputes, regulatory fines, damage to your startup's reputation, and even business closure. Here are some common areas of concern:

a.) Employee Classification: Misclassifying employees as independent contractors is a common mistake in startups. While it may be tempting to classify workers as independent contractors (to avoid paying benefits, overtime, or payroll taxes), the law has strict criteria for who can be classified as an independent contractor. Misclassification can lead to lawsuits, back pay, penalties, and owed benefits.

b.) Wage and Hour Laws: The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) sets federal minimum wage and overtime pay standards. However, many states have their own laws, some of which are more generous to the employee. Startups must ensure they comply with these laws, paying at least the minimum wage and proper overtime. Violations can lead to back pay, fines, and in some cases, criminal charges.

c.) Employee Benefits Compliance: If you offer benefits to your employees, such as health insurance, retirement plans, or paid leave, you must comply with various federal and state laws. For example, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has specific requirements for businesses that provide health insurance. Non-compliance can result in hefty fines.

d.) Anti-Discrimination Laws: The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person's race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability, or genetic information. It's also illegal to retaliate against a person because they complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.

e.) Leave Laws: Depending on your startup's size and location, different laws may apply to employee leaves of absence, including the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), state-specific family and medical leave laws, and local sick leave laws. Not properly tracking and granting such leave can lead to lawsuits and fines.

f.) Workplace Safety and Health: Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthful workplace. This includes complying with all relevant OSHA safety and health standards.

As your startup grows, the complexity of employment law compliance increases. It's advisable to seek legal counsel or hire an HR professional who can ensure your startup remains compliant as it expands. By investing in proper employment law compliance, you not only mitigate legal risks but also foster a more productive, engaged, and loyal workforce, ultimately driving your startup's success.

5.) Overlooking Data Security and Privacy Laws

In an increasingly digital age, data security and privacy should be a paramount concern for every startup. With the proliferation of data breaches and increased regulatory scrutiny, startups that fail to comply with data protection laws can face severe penalties, costly lawsuits, and serious damage to their reputation. Here's a deeper dive into key considerations:

a.) Data Protection Laws: Regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the EU and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in the U.S. mandate how businesses should handle personal data. These laws cover all stages of data processing, from collection to storage, use, and disposal. They grant individuals specific rights regarding their data, like the right to access, correct, delete, or transfer their data, and require businesses to obtain explicit consent for data collection and use in many cases. If your startup operates internationally or handles data from foreign customers, you may have to comply with multiple jurisdictions' laws. Non-compliance can result in heavy fines – up to 4% of annual global turnover or €20 Million (whichever is higher) under the GDPR, for instance.

b.) Cybersecurity Measures: Startups must take proactive measures to secure their data and prevent breaches. This involves implementing physical and digital security measures like firewalls, anti-virus software, encryption, and secure socket layer (SSL) for data in transit. It also includes regular security audits, risk assessments, and training staff to recognize and avoid potential threats. In case of a data breach, having an incident response plan can help mitigate damage and ensure swift action.

c.) Privacy Policy: Your startup's privacy policy is a legal document that outlines how you collect, use, disclose, and manage customer data. It should be clear, comprehensive, and easily accessible to your customers. A well-drafted privacy policy not only helps you comply with data protection laws but also builds trust with customers. It should detail what information you collect (including cookies), why you collect it, how you use it, who you share it with, how you protect it, and how users can control their data.

d.) Data Processing Agreements (DPAs): If you're sharing data with third parties or using third-party services to process data, you should have DPAs in place. These agreements define the responsibilities and liabilities of each party and ensure that data is handled according to legal requirements.

e.) Data Protection Officer (DPO): Depending on the nature and scale of your data processing activities, you might be required under the GDPR or similar laws to appoint a DPO. The DPO's role is to inform and advise the organization about data protection laws, monitor compliance, and act as a point of contact for data subjects and regulators.

Given the complexities and potential consequences of data protection law compliance, it's advisable to seek professional advice tailored to your startup's specific circumstances. By placing data security and privacy at the core of your startup's operations, you can ensure legal compliance, protect your startup's reputation, and earn your customers' trust.

6.) Failing to Adequately Plan for Taxes

Tax planning is a fundamental part of running a startup, and it's often overlooked in the hustle of launching a new business. However, failure to adequately prepare for and manage your tax obligations can lead to serious financial penalties and even legal trouble. Here's a more detailed look at the key issues startups should consider:

a.) Tax Registration: One of the first steps you'll need to take is registering your business with the appropriate tax authorities. In the U.S., this generally means applying for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). This number is used to identify your business on tax filings and other official documents. If your startup operates in multiple states or countries, you may need to register with multiple tax authorities.

b.) Business Structure and Taxation: The structure of your business (sole proprietorship, partnership, LLC, corporation) will significantly affect how you're taxed. For example, corporations are subject to "double taxation" (profits are taxed at the corporate level, and dividends distributed to shareholders are taxed again at the personal level), while LLCs and partnerships are "pass-through" entities where profits are taxed only at the individual level. Understanding these implications can help you choose the right structure for your startup and plan your tax strategy accordingly.

c.) Sales Tax: If your startup sells goods or services, you may need to collect sales tax. The specifics of this depend on the nature of your products or services and where your customers are located. In the U.S., sales tax laws vary widely by state, and if you're selling online, you may have to deal with sales tax in multiple states. Some countries also have a Value Added Tax (VAT) system, which has its own set of rules and requirements.

d.) Payroll Taxes: If your startup has employees, you'll need to withhold payroll taxes from their wages. This includes federal income tax, Social Security and Medicare taxes, and possibly state and local income taxes. You'll then need to remit these taxes to the appropriate tax authorities, usually on a regular schedule. Failing to do this correctly can result in hefty fines and penalties.

e.) Tax Deductions and Credits: Startups have access to various tax deductions and credits that can significantly reduce their tax burden. These can include deductions for business expenses, R&D credits, and more. Understanding these opportunities and how to take advantage of them is a crucial part of tax planning.

f.) International Tax Issues: If your startup operates internationally or has foreign investors, you'll need to deal with additional tax issues. This can include dealing with tax treaties, understanding foreign tax laws, managing transfer pricing issues, and more.

Given the complexity of tax laws and the severe consequences of non-compliance, it's strongly recommended to engage a tax professional or Certified Public Accountant (CPA) familiar with startup taxation early in your startup's life. They can provide advice tailored to your startup's specific circumstances, help you avoid costly mistakes, and allow you to focus more of your energy on growing your business. Remember, tax planning is not just about compliance; it's also a tool that can help your startup save money and achieve its business goals more effectively.

7.) Not Getting the Right Insurance

Insurance is a crucial part of managing the risks associated with running a startup. Operating without adequate insurance coverage exposes your startup to a range of potential liabilities, including legal claims, property damage, and business interruption. To ensure your startup is adequately protected, here's a more detailed look at the key types of insurance to consider:

a.) General Liability Insurance: This form of insurance is often considered a baseline for businesses. It covers claims for bodily injury and property damage that may arise from your startup's products, services, or operations. For instance, if a customer slips and falls while visiting your office, or if your product accidentally causes damage to a customer's property, general liability insurance can help cover the resulting costs.

b.) Professional Liability Insurance: Also known as Errors and Omissions (E&O) Insurance, this policy covers claims of negligence or mistakes that cause financial harm to another party. This is particularly important for startups that provide services or professional advice, as it protects against claims of malpractice or professional misconduct. For example, if a software glitch in your product causes a client to lose critical data and they sue for damages, professional liability insurance can help cover your defense costs and any resulting settlements or judgments.

c.) Property Insurance: Property insurance protects your startup's physical assets from perils such as fire, theft, and certain weather-related events. This includes your building (if you own it), as well as its contents, such as furniture, equipment, and inventory. If your startup operates from a home office, don't assume your homeowner's insurance will cover your business property; you may need to add a special rider to your policy or purchase separate business property insurance.

d.) Workers' Compensation Insurance: If your startup has employees, you're likely required by law to have workers' compensation insurance. This policy covers medical costs and a portion of lost wages for employees who become injured or ill due to their work. It also provides disability benefits and, in the worst-case scenario, death benefits. Having this insurance not only complies with legal requirements but also helps maintain a safe and secure workplace.

e.) Cyber Liability Insurance: In today's digital world, startups also need to consider the risk of cyber threats. Cyber liability insurance can protect your business from losses resulting from cyber attacks or data breaches. It can cover costs such as notification and credit monitoring for affected customers, public relations efforts to manage your startup's reputation, and even regulatory fines and penalties.

f.) Directors and Officers (D&O) Insurance: If your startup has a board of directors, consider D&O insurance. This policy protects directors and officers against legal actions brought against them for alleged wrongful acts in their managerial capacity. Without this coverage, individuals' personal assets could be at risk.

Remember, the types and amounts of insurance your startup needs depend on several factors, including the nature of your business, its location, the number of employees, and more. It's essential to discuss your startup's specific needs with a knowledgeable insurance broker or advisor to ensure you have adequate coverage. With the right insurance in place, you can focus on what you do best: growing your startup.

8.) Ignoring Securities Laws When Raising Capital

Raising capital is a crucial phase in the life of a startup, but it's also fraught with legal complexities. The process is governed by a series of laws and regulations known as securities laws, which exist to protect investors from fraudulent activities. Ignoring these laws can lead to severe consequences, including substantial fines, the return of funds raised (disgorgement), and even imprisonment. Here's a more detailed look at what startups need to know:

a.) Understanding Securities Laws: In essence, securities laws regulate how companies can offer and sell shares of their business to investors. In the United States, the main laws are the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. They require businesses to provide accurate and complete information about their financial condition and business prospects when they're raising funds. This is to ensure investors have all the necessary information to make informed decisions.

b.) Exemptions: While the requirement to register securities offerings with the SEC can be burdensome for startups, there are several exemptions startups often use. For example, Rule 506 of Regulation D allows startups to raise an unlimited amount of money from accredited investors (and a limited number of non-accredited investors) without having to register the offering. However, these exemptions come with their own set of requirements, such as limits on advertising and the number of investors.

c.) Types of Fundraising: Whether you're raising money from friends and family, angel investors, venture capitalists, or through crowdfunding platforms, securities laws apply. The specific rules and regulations can vary depending on the type of fundraising, the amount of money you're raising, and the kind of investors you're targeting.

d.) Securities Fraud: Providing misleading, false, or incomplete information during the fundraising process can constitute securities fraud. This can include making overly optimistic projections, failing to disclose key risks, or hiding adverse information about the startup or its founders. Penalties for securities fraud can be severe, including hefty fines, disgorgement (return of the funds raised), and even jail time for the individuals involved.

e.) Legal Advice: Given the complexity of securities laws and the severe consequences of non-compliance, it's highly advisable to seek legal counsel when you're raising funds. A lawyer with experience in startup financing can help you understand the rules that apply to your situation, prepare the necessary disclosure documents, and guide you through the fundraising process.

In conclusion, while raising capital is an exciting time for any startup, it's also a time when it's crucial to be aware of and comply with securities laws. Doing so not only helps avoid serious legal consequences but also builds trust with investors, laying the groundwork for a successful long-term relationship.

9.) Not Protecting Personal Assets

Protecting personal assets is a critical consideration for every entrepreneur. One of the most common mistakes founders make is mingling personal and business finances, which can expose personal assets to business liabilities and create a host of other problems. Here's a more detailed look at why it's crucial to separate these two spheres and how to go about it:

a.) Personal Liability: If your personal and business finances are intertwined, it can expose your personal assets—like your home, car, and savings—to business liabilities. This means if your business is sued or incurs debt, your personal assets could be used to satisfy those obligations. By establishing a clear separation between your personal and business finances, you can protect your personal assets from such risks.

b.) Clear Financial Records: Mixing personal and business finances can create a financial record-keeping nightmare. It can become incredibly difficult to track business expenses, calculate profit and loss, and keep your books accurate. Having clear, separate records for your business makes it easier to monitor your business's financial health and makes tax time much simpler.

c.) Professionalism: Having separate business bank accounts and credit cards can also lend credibility to your startup. It signals to your clients, vendors, and lenders that you're operating a professional, legitimate business.

How to Protect Personal Assets: Here's how you can go about separating your personal and business finances:

  • Business Bank Account: One of the first steps should be to open a separate bank account for your business. All business revenues should go into this account, and all business expenses should be paid from it. This helps to create a clear financial boundary between your personal and business finances.

  • Business Credit Card: Obtain a business credit card and use it exclusively for business expenses. This not only keeps your personal and business expenses separate but can also help you build a credit history for your business.

  • Legal Business Structure: Consider forming a legal business entity such as an LLC or a corporation. These structures create a legal separation between you and your business, providing an added layer of protection for your personal assets.

  • Keep Detailed Records: Keep meticulous records of all business transactions. This includes contracts, receipts, invoices, and tax documents. If your business is ever audited or sued, you'll need these records to prove that you've kept your business and personal finances separate.

In conclusion, protecting personal assets is not just about mitigating risks—it's about establishing a solid foundation for your business's financial practices. By taking these steps early on, you can focus on growing your startup with the peace of mind that your personal assets are protected.

10.) Neglecting Online Legal Requirements

If your startup operates online, there are additional legal requirements to consider:

  • Website Terms of Use: These govern how visitors use your website, limit your liability, and comply with applicable laws.

  • E-commerce Regulations: If you're selling products or services online, ensure you comply with e-commerce regulations like displaying accurate product descriptions, transparent pricing (including taxes and shipping costs), and clear return and refund policies.

  • Digital Advertising Laws: If you're advertising online, you must comply with laws governing truth in advertising, privacy, and data collection.

11.) Not Planning for Exit Strategy or Business Succession

Planning for an exit strategy or succession plan may seem like putting the cart before the horse when you're in the early stages of a startup. However, having a well-thought-out plan can prevent conflicts down the line, preserve the value of your business, and provide a clear path for its future. Here's why it's important and what it involves:

a.) The Importance of Planning for Exit or Succession: As a founder, your objective is to grow your startup and make it successful. However, situations can change over time. You might decide to move on to other opportunities, retire, or, unfortunately, become unable to continue leading the business due to illness or death. In any of these cases, having an exit strategy or succession plan in place ensures that your startup can continue to operate smoothly without you.

b.) Elements of an Exit Strategy or Succession Plan: A good exit strategy or succession plan includes several elements:

  • Buy-Sell Agreements: If you're co-founding a startup, your shareholders' agreement or partnership agreement should contain buy-sell provisions. These stipulate what happens if a founder wants to leave the company, becomes incapacitated, or dies. They may include conditions under which a founder can sell their shares, who can buy them (e.g., other founders, outside investors), and how the price will be determined.

  • Successor Planning: Identify potential successors for key roles within your startup. This might include co-founders, senior executives, or even family members. Developing these individuals' skills and knowledge over time will ensure they're ready to step into leadership roles when needed.

  • Exit Strategies: Consider various exit strategies. These could include selling your startup to another company (a 'trade sale'), selling to a private equity firm, or launching an initial public offering (IPO). The best strategy will depend on your startup's industry, size, profitability, and market conditions.

  • Estate Planning: If you were to pass away unexpectedly, estate planning ensures that your interests in the startup are handled as you wish. This could involve setting up a trust, making a will, and appointing an executor who understands your intentions for the business.

  • Legal and Financial Consultation: Engage legal and financial advisors to ensure your plans are legally sound and tax-efficient.

In conclusion, while it's exciting to focus on growing and developing your startup, it's equally important to plan for the future. This includes considering what will happen to your business when you're ready to step away from it or if you're forced to do so unexpectedly. By planning for these scenarios in advance, you can help ensure a smooth transition and the ongoing success of the startup you've worked so hard to build.

12.) Failing to Seek Legal Advice

Perhaps the most significant legal mistake a startup can make is failing to seek appropriate legal counsel. While it's tempting to cut costs in the early stages, skimping on legal advice can lead to far more costly problems down the line. A lawyer can help you navigate complex legal terrain, avoid potential pitfalls, and safeguard your business's future.


Avoiding these common legal mistakes can save your startup from unnecessary hardship and expense. Remember, this guide doesn't replace professional legal advice. It's crucial to consult with a business attorney to ensure you fully understand your startup's legal obligations. Establishing a solid legal foundation will give you peace of mind, allowing you to focus on growing your business and achieving your entrepreneurial dreams.

DeLone Dawisha

Principal and Founder

Dawisha Law, PLLC



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