If I choose to work for salary + equity, and the company loses and/or is in debt, am I obligated to pay a part of the company debts?
Is it common in the startup world?
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Generally, no, equity-investors risk only the capital they contribute. If a company is liquidated or restructured, the debt-holders have first claim on assets. You, as an equity-holder, may only make claims on assets after the debt-holders are made whole.
However, what I say above is a simplification and not true of all corporate structures. Some common exceptions to be mindful of:
As an additional aside, you’ll likely not receive equity compensation - instead, you’ll receive options. In the most common form, these options enable you to buy equity from the firm at a pre-determined price at a time in the future, specifically after an IPO. Options lack the obligations and rights of equity, but have a similar financial behavior - and thus are a favored way of providing equity-like compensation to employees of new ventures.