Kinds of Companies

4 minutes, 16 links

Kinds of Companies

Common questions covered here
What kinds of companies use equity as a form of compensation?
Why are most startups C corporations?
What is the difference between companies and corporations?

​Definition​ A corporation is a company that is legally recognized as an entity separate from its owners. The corporation itself, and not its owners, is obligated to repay debts and accountable under contracts and legal actions (that is, is a β€œlegal person”). Most commonly, the term corporation is used to refer to a stock corporation (or joint-stock company), which is a corporation where ownership is managed using stock. Non-stock corporations that do not issue stock exist as well, the most common being nonprofit organizations. (A few less common for-profit non-stock corporations also exist.)

In practice, people often use the word company to mean corporation.

​Definition​ A C corporation (or C corp) is a type of stock corporation in the United States with certain federal tax treatment. It is the most prevalent kind of corporation.* Most large, well-known American companies are C corporations. C corporations differ from S corporations and other business entities in several ways, including how income is taxed and who may own stock. C corporations have no limit on the number of shareholders allowed to own part of the company. They also allow other corporations, as well as partnerships, trusts, and other businesses, to own stock.

In practice, for a few reasons, these companies are usually formed in Delaware, so legalities of all this are defined in Delaware law.** You can think of Delaware law as the primary β€œlanguage” of U.S. corporate law. Incorporating a company in Delaware has evolved into a national standard for high-growth companies, regardless of where they are physically located.

​caution​ This Guide focuses specifically on C corporations and does not cover how equity compensation works in LLCs, S corporations, partnerships, or sole proprietorships. Both equity and compensation are handled in significantly different ways in each of these kinds of businesses.

Loosely, one way to think about companies is that they are simply a set of contracts, negotiated over time between the people who own and operate the company, and which are enforced by the government, that aligns the interests of everyone involved in creating things customers are willing to pay for. Key to these contracts is a way to precisely track ownership of the company; issuing stock is how companies often choose to do this.

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Stock and Shares

​Definition​ Stock ownership is often formalized on stock certificates, which are fancy pieces of paper that prove who owns the stock.

Sometimes you have stock but don’t have the physical certificate, as it may be held for you at a law office.

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