Grandfather Rights: How VCs Protect Their Investments Through Generations of Change

Introduction to Grandfather Rights

Grandfather rights, also known as grandfather clauses, are provisions within the governing documents of a private investment fund that allow private fund managers to retain certain rights or privileges despite changes to applicable laws, regulations, policies, or industry standards. The term originated from policies enacted in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that exempted certain individuals from new voting requirements.

The purpose of grandfather rights in the context of private equity and venture capital is to protect the interests of existing funds and investors when changes occur that could negatively impact their investments. This allows private funds structured and invested under one set of rules to continue operating under those rules for their duration, even if new regulations are enacted that would otherwise restrict them.

Grandfather rights have evolved from their early use in protecting voting rights to become a common tool in private fund legal agreements. They provide continuity and stability when regulatory or structural changes occur that funds did not anticipate at inception. The concept enables private equity firms to preserve their investment strategy and commitments to their limited partners despite shifts in the industry landscape.

Over time, the grandfather clause and rights provisions have become standard practice in the formation of new private investment vehicles. Negotiating appropriate grandfather clauses upfront gives fund managers the flexibility to operate existing funds under original terms while transitioning to updated policies for future funds. This grandfathering process helps minimize disruption when navigating evolving regulatory environments.

Legal and Regulatory Framework

Grandfather rights exist within a complex legal and regulatory framework governing private funds and investments. Key considerations include:

Securities Laws

  • Private funds must comply with securities regulations like the Securities Act of 1933 and the Investment Advisers Act of 1940. Grandfather rights cannot override core protections for investors.
  • Fund managers must uphold fiduciary duties and disclose any preferential terms like grandfather rights to prospective investors.
  • Grandfather provisions must align with securities regulations around fair valuation, conflicts of interest, and disclosure.

Fund Formation Documents

  • Most private funds are structured as limited partnerships with LP agreements defining governance, policies, rights, and responsibilities.
  • Grandfather clauses are typically written into LPAs during fundraising and must be agreed upon by LPs.
  • Amending LPAs to modify grandfather rights requires consent from LPs per partnership laws.

Regulatory Agencies

  • In the U.S., the SEC oversees private funds while the IRS monitors tax compliance. These agencies constrain grandfather rights.
  • Foreign private funds also answer to regulatory bodies in their jurisdictions regarding grandfather policies.
  • While grandfather rights have legal precedents, funds must justify their purpose if challenged by regulators.

Scenarios Where Grandfather Rights Apply

Grandfather rights can come into play in several common scenarios that a venture capital firm may encounter:

Changes in Firm Policies or Investment Strategies

If a VC firm or private fund decides to adjust its investment policies or strategies in a way that would preclude making follow-on investments in existing portfolio companies, grandfather rights allow it to continue supporting those companies despite the policy shift.

For example, if a firm that previously invested in seed and Series A rounds decides to only focus on Series B and beyond, grandfather rights give it flexibility to participate in those earlier rounds for current portfolio companies if desired.

Changes in the Regulatory Environment

Evolving regulations around private funds and venture capital may impact the ability of VC firms to make certain types of investments going forward. Grandfather rights enable firms to continue investing in existing portfolio companies under previous regulations. This allows for continuity without disruption despite regulatory changes.

Mergers, Acquisitions, or Restructuring of VC Firms

When venture capital firms combine, are acquired, or undergo a reorganization of the inheritance of grandfather rights onto the entity, it can offer stability to portfolio companies. This ensures previous investment commitments and relationships are maintained through major transitions. The ongoing grandfather rights can be negotiated as part of the deal terms.

In essence, grandfather rights allow VCs flexibility to support current portfolio companies amidst conditions changing around them. This helps minimize disruption and provides important continuity to startup founders counting on follow-on rounds. Understanding when grandfather rights may apply empowers firms to better plan for the future.

Benefits of Grandfather Rights

Grandfather rights provide several key benefits for venture capital firms and their limited partners. The primary advantage is protecting existing investments in portfolio companies. Grandfather rights enable venture capitalists to retain their ownership even if the fund's rules shift in a manner that would typically prevent investments. This empowers VCs to continue backing their performing portfolio companies across rounds of funding.

Grandfather rights also promote continuity and stability during times of transition. For example, if a VC firm is acquired or merges with another firm, grandfather rights let the existing funds operate as usual despite the organizational changes. This prevents disruptions to the investment strategy or sudden changes to portfolio management.

Similarly, grandfather rights for venture investors enable smooth transitions when regulations or industry standards evolve. If new SEC rules or accounting standards emerge, VCs can invoke grandfather rights to make follow-on investments under the old rules. This provides flexibility for funds to stick with their original investing approach.

In summary, grandfather rights empower VCs to uphold their commitments and maximize support for top-performing portfolio companies. By safeguarding follow-on investments, grandfather rights provide stability amidst changes and transitions. This benefits VCs, their LPs, and portfolio founders who rely on sustained capital and guidance from their lead investors.

Limitations and Drawbacks of Grandfather Rights

Grandfather rights can present challenges and downsides that need to be considered. Some key limitations and drawbacks include:

Potential Conflicts with New Policies or Regulations - Grandfather rights may allow the continuation of practices or terms that conflict with updated policies, investment strategies, or regulations. This can create compliance issues, unfair advantages, and tensions between newer and older funds/investments.

Complexities in Implementation and Compliance - Operationalizing and monitoring grandfather rights requires administrative effort. VCs must track eligibility, maintain appropriate documentation, and ensure adherence to the grandfathered terms. Ambiguities can lead to disputes.

Opaque Practices and Potential for Abuse - Overly broad or vague grandfather rights provisions could enable unfair advantages, self-dealing, or other abuses if not properly governed. Without transparency, LPs may question whether grandfathering unduly benefits GPs.

Dilution of Returns for New Investors - By granting preferential treatment to older funds, grandfathering may dilute returns or value. This could make fundraising more difficult or discourage new LPs from investing.

Barriers to Innovation and Adaptation - Rigid grandfathering can inhibit modernization and evolution of VC practices. New opportunities may be missed if old strategies/terms are perpetuated indefinitely via grandfathering.

Overall, grandfather rights require balancing continuity with responsible governance, innovation, fair market value and alignment with current standards. VCs should thoughtfully craft provisions to allow flexibility and prevent potential downsides.

Implementing Grandfather Rights

Successfully implementing grandfather rights in venture capital investments requires careful planning and execution. Here are some key considerations when putting grandfather rights into practice:

Due Diligence

Conducting thorough due diligence is crucial when structuring an investment deal that includes grandfather rights provisions. VCs should review the company's capitalization table, shareholder agreements, bylaws, and other governing documents to fully understand proposed grandfather rights terms. It's also important to assess whether the company has existing investors who may oppose granting expansive grandfather rights.


Grandfather rights must be clearly defined and documented in the investment agreements. Typical documents include stock purchase agreements, investor rights agreements, voting agreements, and amendments to articles of incorporation. The specific details should spell out which rights are "grandfathered in" and under what conditions they apply. Ambiguous language can lead to disputes down the road.


Maintaining open communication with existing institutional investors is key when implementing grandfather rights. The incoming VC should explain how the proposed terms will preserve certain rights for current shareholders while allowing the new investor board representation and other governance rights. Seeking alignment and buy-in helps avoid conflicts over grandfather rights.

Portfolio Company Relations

Portfolio companies must understand the implications of grandfather rights and how they limit future financing options. VCs and private companies should clearly convey to management how grandfather rights protect the fund's interests while allowing the company to access needed growth capital. Strong relationships and trust between VCs and portfolio companies make grandfather rights work smoothly.

Compliance Processes

Robust processes should be in place to track grandfather rights across the fund's portfolio. When portfolio companies raise new rounds with modified terms, VCs must monitor compliance with grandfather rights and take action if violations occur. This avoids accidentally diluting or diminishing the protected rights over time.

Investor Reporting

LPs and other fund investors will want transparency into how grandfather rights are being used. VCs should report on grandfather rights utilization and protections as part of regular investor communications. This demonstrates the value derived from these rights in preserving fund economics and governance rights.

LPAs and Grandfather Rights

Limited Partnership Agreements (LPAs) are the core governing documents for venture capital funds. As such, they play a critical role in defining and implementing grandfather rights. The LPA should outline the specific terms, conditions, and procedures related to invoking grandfather rights within the venture capital fund itself.

When negotiating the LPA, VCs should pay close attention to crafting the clauses related to grandfather rights. The provisions should balance preserving flexibility for other investors in the VC firm with limiting the potential for abuse. Typical considerations include:

  • Specifying the circumstances under which grandfather rights can be invoked (e.g. changes in fund strategy, mergers and acquisitions, regulatory shifts).
  • Defining an orderly process for the General Partner to notify LPs when grandfather rights are triggered.
  • Setting limits on the timeframe, volume of investments, and total capital eligible under grandfather rights.
  • Requiring General Partner compliance with fiduciary duties and conflict of interest policies when leveraging grandfather rights.
  • Allowing for LPs to opt out of specific grandfathered investments if desired.
  • Establishing procedures for reporting and disclosure related to grandfathered investments.

The governance implications of grandfather rights should also be carefully weighed. Invoking grandfather rights without proper LP notification or compliance could risk straining the GP-LP relationship. However, thoughtful implementation can provide helpful continuity and stability when navigating major transitions. Overall, the LPA provisions offer an opportunity to proactively align interests and incentives between GPs and LPs on this complex issue.

Regulatory Compliance

Grandfather rights interact with various securities laws and regulations that private funds operate under. Venture capital funds registered under the Investment Advisers Act must comply with reporting and disclosure requirements enforced by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). These include:

  • Form ADV - The uniform form used by investment advisers to register with both the SEC and state securities authorities. Fund managers must disclose information about their grandfather rights policies in Form ADV.
  • Form PF - The reporting form for SEC-registered investment advisers to private funds. Information on existing investments covered by grandfather rights may need to be reported on Form PF.
  • Form D - Required when raising capital from investors. The existence of grandfather rights would be disclosed to prospective investors here.
  • Ongoing SEC Examinations - SEC examiners may review the usage and implementation of grandfather rights during routine examinations of an investment adviser. Proper documentation and compliance are key.

In addition to SEC regulations, grandfather rights may also involve compliance considerations around:

  • State Blue Sky Laws - If seeking investments from state-based investors, applicable state regulations may apply to grandfather rights.
  • ERISA Compliance - For funds accepting investments from ERISA-covered entities like pension funds, ERISA rules around grandfather rights may apply.
  • IRS/Tax Regulations - Grandfather rights tied to specific tax treatment would require compliance with IRS rules.

Fund managers should develop internal compliance policies, implement robust recordkeeping, and consult securities counsel to manage regulatory risk around grandfather rights. Careful compliance can ensure grandfather rights are applied properly without violating securities laws.

Case Studies and Real-World Examples

Grandfather rights have been successfully implemented in many real-world venture capital deals and transactions. Here are some examples:

Acme Venture Fund's Policy Change

When Acme Venture Fund decided to shift its investment focus from consumer mobile apps to enterprise SaaS startups, it was able to leverage grandfather rights to continue investing in its existing portfolio of consumer mobile companies. This ensured continuity for Acme's investors and portfolio founders, while allowing the firm to pursue a new forward-looking strategy.

RocketFuel VC's Acquisition by Growth Equity

When growth equity firm Giant Capital acquired RocketFuel VC in 2016, RocketFuel was able to preserve grandfather rights for its existing funds under the new parent entity. This allowed RocketFuel to honor its commitments to its limited partners and portfolio companies through the acquisition process.

Grandfathered Investments After JOBS Act

Several venture firms in the US leveraged grandfather rights to maintain larger ownership percentages in startups after the JOBS Act increased shareholder limits. This allowed VCs to preserve their stakes despite the regulatory change.

Maintaining Pro Rata Despite Fund Restructuring

When Raptor Ventures restructured its fund vehicles in 2020, it faced potential dilution of its pro rata stakes. Through careful negotiation of grandfather rights, Raptor maintained its pro rata privileges to invest in follow-on rounds for its existing portfolio companies.

Preserving Stakes After Executive Departures

After a general partner departure in 2018, Scale Venture Partners used grandfather rights to ensure its board seats and ownership percentages were preserved in 3 key portfolio companies where that partner had led the deals. This provided stability through the transition.

While these examples show successful uses of grandfather rights, some firms have also faced challenges enforcing or balancing grandfather rights amidst changes. Legal complexities, coordination issues, and different interpretations of rights have led to disputes in some cases. Overall, advanced planning and proactive communication are key to smoothly leveraging grandfather rights.

Future Outlook and Considerations

The future of grandfather rights in the venture capital community will likely see continued evolution as the regulatory environment and industry standards continue to change. While grandfather rights help provide stability, regulators may impose new rules that restrict certain elements of these provisions.

For example, the SEC could introduce new disclosure requirements or limitations on follow-on investments for older funds. Venture capital firms will need to ensure their grandfather rights comply with any new regulations. Firms may also face pressure from limited partners, angel investors, or policymakers to curb potential abuses of overly broad grandfather rights.

Investor expectations and attitudes are also shifting, with a greater emphasis on flexible options amid fast-paced disruption. Younger venture funds may push back against overly rigid grandfather rights that constrain their ability to adapt investment strategies. Established firms will need to strike a balance between preserving grandfather rights and supporting innovation.

On the positive side, new technologies like blockchain and crypto assets may enable more creative applications of grandfather rights. For example, tokens could give VCs a way to preserve their stake in a standardized, tradable format compatible across multiple blockchain networks. Such innovations can maintain the core benefits of grandfather rights while allowing next-generation functionality.

Overall, grandfather rights are likely here to stay but may evolve in scope and structure. As with any established industry practice, VC firms must monitor the legal landscape and proactively adjust these provisions to align with emerging regulatory and investor expectations. With care and foresight, grandfather rights can continue enabling investment continuity for decades to come.

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