What should you do to get your company documentation ready for a potential merger or acquisition? Consult your lawyer. First, he or she will assist the company in getting its basic corporate minute book updated. Important transactions, such as those involving company stock or stock options, appointment or election of directors and officers, and substantial transactions should all be properly documented. The company's stock book and capitalization table should be reviewed for accuracy, particularly if there are multiple owners. If the company has gone through equity financings or debt financings, closing binders containing the material documents in each of these transactions will need to be made available.
Second, your lawyer should review existing documentation for legal traps. The minefield that poorly prepared documentation presents is extensive, but a few examples can help illustrate the problem. Companies early on may not be able to afford employees, so they will use independent contractors to help create their basic technology. If the company does not have a signed agreement from the non-employee inventor assigning all rights to the company, the inventor, not the company, owns the technology. If the same company has licensed its technology under a purchase order that provides for a transfer of title, then the company now may not own its own technology because it just transferred to the customer title to its technology. Of course, because it didn't get an assignment from the inventor in the first place, it may not have been legally able to transfer the technology to the customer, so the company may now be in breach. Situations like this do not typically advance closing dates.
Another legal trap exists in confidentiality terms, common to many contracts. These provisions prevent you from disclosing important information you receive from the other party. Often, this information includes the contract itself. As a result, you'll need to get permission from the other party to disclose the contract. When you ask the other party to disclose, they will want to know who the recipient will be. At that point, you'll need to disclose the name of the acquirer, and likely the fact that your company is being sold. The fact that you are being sold may not make the other party to your contract very happy. All of this requires you to make sure you know where you are under confidentiality, and to have a strategy where the disclosure requires delicate handling.
It is important to start early in making sure the documentation you provide to a buyer creates the best picture for the company. Otherwise, the once in a lifetime opportunity to sell your company may prove as fleeting as the paper in an oral contract.