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Seeking advice for stock options that I am being offered as part of a job offer

Context - company I’m joining is Pre-IPO. Company has offered X shares and provided 4 for potential strike prices for which I can purchase said stock (traditional vesting schedule).

How would you perceive this option if my I intend to pursue graduate school in next 2-3 years? Should I try to lower this amount and ask for a higher base or sign-on bonus? Other negotiation tactics to consider? TIA!

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I wouldn't join a bioscience startup if I was planning on leaving in 2-3 years.

Unless you know or believe that the company will IPO/get aquired in the next two years, those options are risky. When you leave, you will need to exercise those options or lose them. That means you have to give the company X*strike price when you depart. If they haven't IPOed or have a clear and obvious path to IPO, you will be putting that money in a slot machine. You won't know if they will ever IPO and you don't know how long it will take to get your money back if they do IPO.

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There are two risks startups are going to be more volatile. Their cap table says they are worth x but they haven't ever been publicly priced. If they IPO before you leave it is possibly but not that likely that your options will be underwater.

The second is that the best laid plans can change. There were a lot of years where almost no one IPOed because conditions for public companies were unfavourable. It could swing back that way.

Finally, a general rule is that the longer the horizon the more valuable the option. If you are staying 5 years, you have a lot of time to find a peak to sell at to maximize your value. If you IPO is a year and leave a year later, there is just less time to capitalize on random fluctuations or inflection points that drive share price. Oh and you have less time to structure the exercise and sale to minimize taxes too.

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