What Are Friends and Family Shares?

The term friends and family shares refers to stock offered by a new business to friends, family members, or other associates of the companys executives. These shares are usually one of the very first sources of capital for a young business entity.

Entrepreneurs, issuers, and bankers may offer these shares to those close to them before the stock is offered to the public through an initial public offering (IPO). These shares give friends and family a stake in the future success of the company.

Key Takeaways

  • Friends and family shares are offered to friends, family members, or other business associates of a new companys executives.
  • Entrepreneurs, issuers, and bankers may offer these shares to those close to them before the stock is offered to the public through an initial public offering.
  • Many entrepreneurs have trouble finding viable sources of capital, so they turn to friends and family by offering them a stake in their company.
  • The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has rules on how companies are able to issue shares, including to friends and family.

Understanding Friends and Family Shares

Friends and family shares are offered to people close to the heads of a startup. When it comes time to issue friends and family shares, which are also called directed shares, the lead underwriter for an IPO typically agrees to administer friends and family shares as a service to the issuer.

These shares are normally sold to friends and family at a discount from the price set for the IPO. By buying shares, these associates get a stake in the companys success, just like any other shareholder.

The number of shares offered by a company typically represents a small percentage of the companys offering. This is normally less than 5%. But while the number of shares one person holds may be small, they may create significant gains for the holder, especially if the company is successful.

Benefits of Friends and Family Shares

But why do companies issue friends and family shares? Its simple. They may find it difficult to obtain financing from traditional sources when theyre in the startup phase. Banks dont lend debt capital to young businesses if they dont have a history of revenue or assets.

Seed money or private equity often comes at too high a cost, such as giving up significant equity ownership. Even before a new business entity reaches the angel stage of raising capital, they often call on friends and family for additional funds to push through to more traditional forms of financing. Friends and family are theoretically more understanding, so they may be more willing to provide capital for speculative purposes.

The idea of seed capital from friends and family is primarily an option for individuals who have considerable financial resources. Entrepreneurs without access to friends and family in higher socioeconomic positions may have difficulty in obtaining this form of financing.

But friends and family rounds of financing are not without their drawbacks, as the use of friends and family monies creates the potential for strained relationships. But at times, friends and family may be the best option available.

Special Considerations

There are a few important points that new companies need to keep in mind before they issue shares to their friends and family.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) makes rules about how companies can raise money to fund their businesses in the United States. Any company that issues shares to the public—including to friends and family—must register this stock with the SEC. This is the initial registration form before a company goes public in an IPO.

Companies are exempt if the investors are all accredited. These are privileged investors based on net worth, asset size, or professional experience.

The annual income for an accredited investor should exceed $200,000 for the last two years and is expected to be the same or higher in the current year.

The SEC also pays close attention to the effects of friends and family shares. Thats because of the potential conflict of interest they may create. For instance, some of these shares may be flipped during the IPO, creating large profits for the friends and family shareholders—something regulators frown upon.

Article Sources

Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.

  1. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Rule 506 of Regulation D. Accessed Nov. 1, 2020.

  2. Electronic Codes of Federal Regulations. Title 17, Chapter 2, Part 230, §230.501. Accessed Nov. 1, 2020.

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