Articles of Incorporation

This is the company birth certificate filed with the Secretary of State of the company’s state of incorporation. It lists the company’s authorized shares and founder(s). Filing fees and identification of a registered agent will almost always be required in conjunction with the filing of articles of incorporation.

Bylaws

The founders must establish the processes by which directors are elected, meet, and make decisions. Bylaws are not publicly filed.

Shareholders Agreement or Founder Share Restriction Agreement

This agreement between company shareholders establishes the rights of each shareholder and his or her relationship with other shareholders, including rights to transfer shares, rights of first refusal, rights of the company to redeem equity upon death or disability, and rights to put shares back to the company. In lieu of a shareholders agreement, the company and each founder individually may enter into a founder share restriction agreement that sets forth vesting on the founder’s shares and what happens in the event of the founder’s departure from the company, death, or disability. Under certain circumstances, the founders may wish to consider a buy-sell agreement as well as a possible solution to deadlock on governance and operational issues. More information on buy-sell agreements can be found here.

Capitalization Table

An up-to-date capitalization table is critical: it allows the founders to easily identify owners of the company and is typically one of the first documents a potential investor or buyer will want to see. In addition to tracking issued shares, the capitalization table should list holders of options and warrants and make note of any convertible debt. More information can be found here.

Founders Invention Assignment Agreement

If a founder leaves the company, are you sure he or she won’t demand the company stop using the founder’s intellectual property? An agreement by which each founder assigns to the company his or her right to all that has been invented or created will minimize the potential for future infringement claims and add important assets and value to the company.

Employee Proprietary Information and Invention Assignment Agreement

Similar to the founders invention assignment agreement, if the company has employees or contractors developing technology, products, processes, or other forms of intellectual property, the company will want its employees and contractors to assign and transfer any rights to those developments to the company (or evidence the intellectual property was created as “work for hire”) and to keep its confidential information confidential.

Standard Form Contract

If the company is dealing with customers or clients, it should have a standard form contract (or several, depending on business needs) that is favorable to the company. Though customers may negotiate certain terms, the standard form contract provides a starting point and assists the company in determining where it can be flexible and where it must stand its ground.

By no means is this the full complement of agreements and documents a start-up corporation should have in place, but these are key documents many start-ups need. Based on your company’s particular product or service, you may need, among other documents, non-disclosure agreements for third parties, employment agreements, or a terms of use agreement and privacy policy for your website.