How to Value Stock Options
Posted 9 Apr 2001 at 22:55 UTC by Bram
Many of you will one day receive a significant chunk of your pay as
stock options. Most people guess how much stock options are worth by
rank speculation, usually assuming 'a lot'. Now that the stock market is
well and truly busted, you may be interested in a more sober approach.
The question is, how much are your stock options worth to you?
Someone else might value them quite differently, but you aren't that
person, so it doesn't matter.
The following is a good rule of thumb, followed by an explanation of all
the values in it.
(current value - (strike price * discretion factor)) * risk factor *
Chances are, some investors have already put money into the company, and
you should use their valuation. For example, if an investor put in a
million dollars and got a tenth of the company, that gives the company
an estimated value of ten million dollars, so if you get half a percent
of it, that's worth $50,000.
If there's been no such investment, take the amount of money which has
been put into the company so far and multiply by what's been
accomplished. A multiplier of one is normal, two is rather
The strike price is how much you'll have to pay to get your stock. It's
set at the time stock is granted, you should ask what it is.
You don't always spend the strike price, because sometimes it winds up
being higher than the stock price. The discretion factor ranges from
zero for 'mars or bust' investments to one for shares of bundles of cash.
An option's value isn't based on upside potential, it's based on average
expected money you can get from it. Greater risk makes it worth less.
The risk factor varies from zero if you're just barely going to be able
to retire some day to one if you're already set for life and the rest is
Money which you can spend now is worth more to you than money you can
spend later. Liquidity factor varies between zero if you're on the verge
of not being able to make mortgage payments to one if you should be
saving more anyway.
An employer might tell you 'you should sign up here, because we're going
to IPO/get acquired in a month and your stock options will be worth a
fortune'. You should view this as possible insider information. Often
it's bullshit, but some people really have gotten rich this way.
If you become rich on paper from options, remember that it's all funny
money until it vests - your paper fortune could evaporate just as
quickly as it appeared.
Holding onto stock one minute past vesting date is an investment
decision, not an act of loyalty. Don't leave all your savings in a
single investment just because that's how it happened to be given to you.
There are for options from pre-IPO companies. I still haven't
worked in a public company.
1 in 10 funded startups are successful, another 1 in 10 are "the living
dead". That means 8 of 10 funded startups fail. I've been at
2 of those 8 so far. What this means is use a risk factor of 0.2 unless
you have good reason to choose otherwise.
Companies nearly always have an IPO share price of around $15 +/- $10.
Granted, they may go up or down from that but an estimate of
$15/option is reasonable. On the other hand, most companies exit
by getting bought - not going public.
Remember to include the effects of dilution. This doesn't really
come into play when going public (the $15/share) but is important
if the company is being sold.
If you do become one of the successful, or hope to, read Tog's story
How I made
a small fortune at Apple Computer (out of a much, much larger one).
Lottery tickets, posted 10 Apr 2001 at 18:05 UTC by DrCode »
Yes, that's how I view stock options: as a gift of lottery tickets. It's a nice benefit, but not one you should take in lieu of the salary that you should be paid.
The idea behind options is that you, the employee, will do a better job if you feel that you have some ownership in the company. And there is truth to this. However, stock prices don't always correlate with a company's performance; and there are many events that you and your employer have no control over which can make your options worthless.
One final bit of advice: If you do get lucky, and have options that have become worth something, and if they're 'qualified' options, it can make sense to purchase the shares and hold them. This is because you won't be taxed immediately when you buy the shares; and if you hold them for a year, you'll pay at a lower 'long-term capital gains' rate. (Of course, this only applies in the US.)
Dalke:, posted 10 Apr 2001 at 20:08 UTC by mblevin »
It would be foolish to seriously consider that the average IPO price is
about $15 when valuing your options. The $15 average price is a
psychological price used by the underwriters that is perceived by
investors as room-to-grow-but-not-a-penny-stock. The stock will be
split or reverse-split just before IPO to make the valuation of the
company match the about-$15 range, and your options will be revalued
accordingly. This makes the datum of "most stocks IPO at about $15" to
be useless when valuing your current pre-IPO options.
While I know people who have done well with stock options, the one
company whose options have vested for me (Live Picture) is now bankrupt.
resignation from Live Picture.)
You should be aware that when you sign up for stock options, you may well
be putting your future into the hands of shortsighted fools. My advice
is to not settle for a salary less than you would be comfortable taking
if there were no options on the table. It really may be in your best
interest to not take stock options because then you won't hesitate
to walk when you see that the company is being mismanaged.
It has been my experience that the some of the worst people a company can
it are the venture capitalists who are responsible for its funding. They
will get some crazy idea into their heads as to how the company can
appeal to The Street or to a potential buyer and lead it from a well-
thought-out plan and straight down a path into heartbreak and financial
Read all about it in:
Taxes!?, posted 12 Apr 2001 at 00:28 UTC by bodo »
When considering if you are going to buy your options taxes are
important too. As far as I understand you have to pay tax for the
difference between strike price and current value right away no matter
if you company is public or if you'll ever be able to sell your shares
(please correct me if I'm wrong, I was very stunned about this...).
Another issue is what kind of stock you get, common or preferred. This
becomnes important when your comany gets aquired before it is public.
The purchase price may cover the preferred stock, but your common
stock optiones may get voided....
I'm in this situation right now and don't think that I'm purchading my
Wishful "personalized" formulas notwithstanding, there are widely
accepted formulas for valuing option contracts, Black-Scholes being the
most well-known one. Do a web search and run the numbers through if you
want a more universal method of valuing your options.
As for valuing pre-IPO options, I believe there is a formula that the
SEC requires private companies to use in valuing their stock; talk to
your CFO for details. Just assuming "$15" is a crapshoot.
As far as exercising in-the-money options and holding the resulting
stock goes, the poster forgot that while you may save ~5-15% in taxes,
you are placing your money at risk, and that risk may very likely exceed
5-15% by an order of magnitude. Unexercised options, on the other hand,
place you at zero financial risk. I am continually amazed by the people
who use a maximum tax gain of 19% (39% highest possible short-term
capgains tax - 20% long-term capgains tax) to justify losing much more
than 19% on their bagholdings^H^H^H^Hinvestments.
I would suggest that anyone doing financial planning, whether or not it
involves stock options, consult a certified financial planner. Odds are
that they know how to play the game better than you do. They might not
be always right, but odds are that they can provide insights and plan
strategies that you would never have thought of.
(Apologies to those not interested in USA taxation - them's all I knows.)
Worth?, posted 17 Apr 2001 at 12:50 UTC by dancer »
I assume that stock options are worth nothing, and do not accept them.
When told that they are worth 'at least $X', I insist that $X be added
to my salary instead. If options lower my salary package by $X then I'm
entitled to have that value instead, right? Otherwise the figure is a
Thus far, I have always come out ahead of my coworkers who took the
options, most of which collected exactly nothing for their
Only one person I've ever worked with who took options ever made
any money, and only once. This does not mean there aren't a lot out
there who do well....But this is my opinion, right?