OBSERVATIONS ON COMPANY NAMES

OBSERVATIONS ON COMPANY NAMES

Choosing a name for your new company may seem simple, but what may not be clear is that you cannot call your company whatever you want, as South African law regulates what a company name can and cannot be. Section 11 of the Companies Act, 71 of 2008 (“the Companies Act“) sets out the criteria for company names. In essence, the name of your company may comprise of words in any language together with any words or letters / numbers / symbols and / or punctuation marks. However, the name of your company may not be the same (or similar to) the name of another company or close corporation, someone else’s defensive name (a name registered up to two years which is aimed at preventing trade marks from being included in the new company name), business name or registered trademark or a mark on any merchandise. Your company name must not falsely imply that the company is part of any other person / entity, is an organ of state, is owned by a person having any particular educational designation, who is a regulated person or is owned by any government or international organisation. Importantly, your company name must not include anything that may constitute propaganda for war, incitement of imminent violence or advocacy of hatred against any right entrenched in the Bill of Rights.

Registered vs trading names:

The registered name of a company is the name which has been reserved, approved and then registered with the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (“the CIPC“). In terms of the Companies Act, a company is required to display its registered name (and registration number) on all forms, notices and correspondence with others and failure to do so constitutes an offence.

Despite that, it is common practice for entrepreneurs to acquire shelf companies or to register a company with a non-distinctive name and to simply trade under a different name. Although a trade name does not need to be registered, the assumption is that a reasonable level of investigation would have been conducted to ensure that a trade name is not already in use. In reality, this often leads to the infringement of third party trademarks or causes confusingly similar names to exist.

For the above reason, the Consumer Protection Act 68 of 2008 (“the CPA“) has introduced changes to the way in which “trading as” names (which the CPA calls “business names“) may be used. The provisions relating to business names are contained in sections 79 to 80 of the CPA, and will only come into effect upon a date to be determined by the Minister of Trade and Industry (“the Minister“) and published in the Gazette. This has not happened yet, but it is likely that when it does, the Minister will allow a certain amount of time after the published date for companies to comply with these new provisions.

The intention of the legislature in this regard, is to seek to enforce the consumer’s right to information concerning suppliers. The aim is to prevent a situation where a business would trade under one name but fail to disclose the identity of the actual entity behind the transactions, thereby frustrating the attempts by the consumers to seek redress in pursuing the correct entity.

What you need to know and the CPA’S requirements

In terms of section 79 of the CPA:

A person must not carry on business, advertise, promote, offer to supply or supply any goods or services, or enter into a transaction or agreement with a consumer under any name except:

  • the person’s full name as:
  • recorded in an identity document or any other recognised identification document, in the case of an individual; or
  • registered in terms of a public regulation, in the case of a juristic person; or
  • a business name registered to, and for the use of, that person in terms ofsection 80, or any other public regulation.

What the above means is that an individual or company (as the case may be) may not operate / carry on business with a business name unless it is registered in terms of the CPA. This information will then be publicly available on the business names register as maintained by the CIPC. The implication is that, should any business operate with any other name other than those as set out in section 79, the National Consumer Commission (“the NCC“) can issue a compliance notice and failure to comply will result in a fine or prosecution as a criminal offence.

As some assurance, however, the CPA provides a certain degree of relief for businesses which have been in trade before the business name provisions come into force – the NCC may not enforce the business name requirements against a business if it has been trading under the business name for a period of at least one year.

Procedure

Section 80 of the CPA provides for the procedure in registering the business name of a company. As mentioned before, these provisions are not yet in force since the business names registry and the registration process have not yet been established.

When the provisions come into force, a person may file a notice with the CIPC to register any number of business names currently used by your entities. If the business, under which the business name has been registered does not carry on business for a period exceeding 6 (six) months, the CIPC reserves the right to cancel such business name.

Possible difficulties

These provisions may cause difficulties for franchises because there are normally multiple franchisees trading under the same name as the franchisor. However, the registered name for each franchisee, may be completely different. The new requirements therefore force each separate franchisee to register the same business name leading to multiple entries of the same name being reflected on the records of the CIPC. This could be somewhat counter-intuitive since the confusion that it creates may defeat the purpose of the consumers’ right to information in the first place. Furthermore, franchisors may not be happy allowing each and every franchisee incorporating what is effectively their “trade mark” as the franchisees business names.

Going forward

Although these provisions have not come into effect yet, in the interests of avoiding the rush of changing branding and registering new names at the CIPC, the provisions above should be duly considered when choosing a business name as the criteria will most likely need to be adhered to in the near future.

What is the deal with preference shares? Part 1: liquidation and dividend preference

What is the deal with preference shares? Part 1: liquidation and dividend preference

(This post is the first in a series, giving practical information to start-up founders to gain a better understanding of the mechanics of preference shares. This post will focus on liquidation and dividend preferences.)

Venture capital investors are almost always aiming to invest in start-ups through “preferred” equity, typically referred to as preference shares. Preference shares trump ordinary shares, as the holders of preference shares normally receive preferential treatment in the event of a liquidation of the business. (For these purposes, a liquidation event can be the insolvency, a dissolution or a sale of the company.)

When start-ups enter funding stages, the good and/or lucky ones may end up with a few term sheets from an array of interested investors. These term sheets often come with an abundance of terms regarding the structure of the preference shares. As an inexperienced founder, this can be an overwhelming experience and it can be a daunting task to understand which terms are “standard” and which are particularly important. Venture capital investors have the upper hand due to their experience in this area – this is where professional advisors, such as start-up lawyers, come in handy in assisting the start-up and its founders.

The purpose of this series of articles is not to cover all aspects of term sheets, but to give you, a start-up founder, a better understanding of what preference shares really are, what to look out for and how they are typically structured during a series seed or series A investment.

What are preference shares?

When early-stage start-ups issue shares, there are generally two classes of people receiving shares: founders and investors. Founders typically receive ordinary shares and investors generally receive preference shares in return for their investment and risk taken.

The main characteristic of preference shares is that they provide for the preferential treatment of their holders and rank above ordinary shares in the event of a liquidation event. This means that if a company is unable to pay its debts or its business is sold, the investor will have a first claim on the company’s assets or sale proceeds over ordinary shareholders i.e. the founders. This is a protection mechanism given to the investor in return for the risk incurred when investing in the company.

Preference shares may further entitle the holder to preferential dividends, based on the profits of the company. Preference dividends are normally fixed at a certain annual percentage. As a preference shareholder, the investor will receive dividends ahead of ordinary shareholders when dividends are declared by the board of the company.

Liquidation preference

The liquidation preference determines how the pie is shared on a liquidation event. Preference shares almost always come with a liquidation preference, but the amount of the liquidation preference can differ. For example, the investor’s preference shares may come with a multiple of 1x purchase price. This means that upon a liquidation event, the investor will be paid 1x the issue price of his shares before the ordinary shareholders get anything. (For example, if the investor invested R1 million into the company, the investor wants R1 million paid back to him before the founders receive anything.) Similarly, if the investor’s liquidation preference is 2x purchase price, the investor will receive a multiple of 2x the issue price of his shares before the ordinary shareholders get anything.

As a start-up founder, you need to know what you are promising the investor. You might realise a few months down the line, when it’s too late, that you have given the investor a preference of 10x return on liquidation, leaving you and your co-founders with nothing. How a liquidation preference is structured can make a significant difference when the proceeds from a sale are split between the shareholders. Start-up founders should pay particular attention to this term.

Participating and non-participating

Generally, as seen above, the preference shareholders receive preferential returns. This means that they are paid back their initial investment plus some preferential payment (the liquidation preference multiple) before any other proceeds are disbursed. The extent to which additional funds, beyond this preference, are disbursed to investors depends on whether the equity is participating or non-participating preference shares. Participating preference shares take a share of the additional proceeds, along with ordinary shareholders, after receiving their preferential returns. For example, the preference shareholder participates in the equity apportionment in addition to receiving his liquidation preference. Holders of non-participating preference shares, however, only receive the preference plus any accrued dividends.

For example, an investor invests R2 million into a company at a 2x liquidation preference and at a post money valuation of R10 million (giving the investor a 20% stake in the company). The company is sold for a net sale price of R20 million. Therefore, the investor receives his 2x R2 million liquidation preference (receiving R4 million) and a R16 million surplus remains. If the preference shares are participating preference shares, the investor will receive an additional 20% of the surplus amount (a further R3.2 million). Alternatively, if the shares are non-participating preference shares, the other shareholders, i.e. the founders, will distribute the surplus among themselves according to their shareholding percentages.

An important point to note is that “participation” in venture capital deals generally refers to capital, however, it may also refer to a participation in pro rata dividends beyond the fixed preference dividend. As a founder, you must have clarity on this from the start.

Dividend preference: cumulative and non-cumulative

Preference shares often provide for a preferential dividend as well – investors with preference shares are entitled to receive dividends before ordinary shareholders.

Dividends increase the total return for the investors and decrease the total return for ordinary shareholders. Dividends are often stated as a percentage of the share issue price for the preference shares (for example, 8% of the total share issue price). There are at least three general ways dividends are structured in venture capital deals: (i) cumulative dividends; (ii) non-cumulative dividends; and (iii) dividends on preference shares only when paid on the ordinary shares.

Dividend structures (i) and (ii): If a company does not declare a dividend in respect of a particular year, then preference shareholders with a right to non-cumulative dividends would lose the right to receive a dividend for that year. However, preference shareholders with a right to cumulative dividends would be able to carry over their right to receive a dividend for that year, entitling them to receive that dividend in the future, together with the dividend declared in that next year (before any dividends are payable to ordinary shareholders). Clearly, cumulative dividends are the most beneficial to the investor and the most burdensome on the founders (being ordinary shareholders).

Dividend structure (iii): Where dividends are paid on the preference shares only if paid on the ordinary shares, the preference shares are treated as if they had been converted into ordinary shares at the time the dividend is declared. This is the least beneficial to the investor and the most beneficial to the founders.

If not clearly understood, agreeing to a cumulative dividend can lead to significant and unexpected monetary burdens on the available and distributable profits for you and your co-founders. As a start-up founder, you must understand the different ways in which dividends can be structured. You need to consider the company’s projected cashflow from now until the expected exit and the impact the dividend preference has on shareholders.

Concluding remarks

We trust that the issues highlighted above will give you some insight and guidance as to why it is so important to have a good understanding of the preference share terms you are likely to find in a term sheet. If you would like to discuss any of these topics in more detail, please feel free to contact our Start-up Law team and we’ll gladly assist.

Service agreements: why they are necessary and what they should cover

Service agreements: why they are necessary and what they should cover

If you are a service provider of any kind, regulating your engagement with your customers is crucial to show potential investors how you have secured your revenue stream and managed your risk. Investors are going to be interested in how you protect your revenue stream. They will typically assess how “water-tight” your agreements are with your clients in order to determine business level risk.

A service agreement is an example of a revenue contract. This is the agreement that describes how your company generates revenue in return for delivering services and describes the fees which you charge.

Some key considerations for a service agreement are as follows:

  1. Description of your services:

It is important to accurately describe your services so there is clarity and certainty regarding what it is your customers are paying for. It can sometimes work well to describe the services by referring to your website which then provides for a full description of the services in greater detail. This has the advantage of allowing you to evolve your services over time, and change the specific terms and pricing on your website (on notice to the client).

  1. Duration of the agreement:

How long do you expect the service agreement to be in place? Depending on the nature of the services rendered, it may be for a specific period or ongoing. Whether the contract can be renewed and on what terms should also be carefully considered together with termination rights. You will want to ideally strike a balance between easily terminating the relationship when it no longer suits you while still attracting and maintaining a constant revenue stream without too much unexpected disruption.

  1. Risk provisions:

You should consider what warranties you are willing to make with respect to the quality or outcome of your services. This will be specific to your service offering but you should also consider the industry in which you operate and what your average client would expect. Your appetite for risk and the level of risk associated with your services should also determine what warranties will be offered. Another related consideration is what your liability to your clients should be, whether you will have any liability at all and how you manage this.

The other considerations which we discuss with our clients for the purposes of drafting their service agreements include service levels, payment terms, exclusivity, IP and license arrangements, data and privacy matters and whether there are any specific regulatory aspects applicable.

We provide a Service Agreement Package to start-ups and through this process we are able to prepare bespoke service agreements applicable and appropriate for each client. We can also assist with reviewing and updating existing service agreements, if you are not sure whether your existing contract is up to scratch.