LLC or Corporation? Choosing the Right Entity for Your Startup

One of the first questions to address during the startup process is whether to incorporate as a limited liability company (LLC) or corporation. Both entities provide the benefit of liability protection and the ability to issue equity to investors and service providers.

But these entity type have different strengths and weaknesses depending on the specifics of your business.

Below are the key factors when choosing between these two corporate forms:

  • Taxation. LLCs are taxed as pass-through entities, which means they are not taxed at the entity level. This enables the distribution of profits to owners on a tax-free basis. Of course, owners still have to report the profits on their personal tax return but the LLC itself does not pay tax on those profits. Likewise, this enables the pass-through of losses, which, especially in the early stages of a business, can be advantageous to founders who are bootstrapping or raising capital through debt and have other income to offset. Some of these advantages can be secured through a corporation electing to be taxed as an “s corporation.” But maintaining that election comes with restrictive requirements - such as limits on the classes of stock and shareholders - that aren’t suitable for growth-oriented companies. Corporations, on the other hand, enable the carry-forward of losses and the issuance of qualified small business stock, which have significant tax advantages. In short, analysis of the tax implications can involve a wide range of considerations particular to your business plans and objectives.

  • Capital Raising. Many institutional investors are prohibited from investing in pass-through vehicles like LLCs or have strong preferences against them. For this reason, companies planning to seek institutional growth capital often incorporate as or convert into corporations.

  • Equity Compensation. Both LLCs and corporations can issue equity to service providers but corporations can generally do so more efficiently. While LLCs can issue options, they cannot issue incentive stock options, which are tax favored options for employees. Because LLCs are generally taxed as partnerships, when they issue equity interests to team members, they must issue K-1s to recipients and maintaining capital accounts for them. The tax complexities can multiply quickly.

  • Flexibility. While corporations are highly efficient, LLCs are highly flexible. The governance and ownership structure of an LLC is largely determined by the contract among its owners, giving the parties latitude to accommodate different business needs and scenarios.

  • Legal Predictability. Corporations are the most well-established legal form for the conduct of business. Corporate governance matters and the legal principles that apply to them are well developed, providing important predictability and guidance in the conduct of a business.

For emerging growth companies with the clear intention to raise institutional capital and scale with large teams, formation of a c-corporation is almost always the most efficient and effective legal entity for the job.

For others, the choice of entity can be a more complex and nuanced decision. We always advise making the choice of entity decision in consultation with legal and tax advisors based on the specific plans for your business.


Francesco Barbera

Francesco Barbera is a corporate attorney representing emerging growth companies in a wide range of industries, including software, technology, digital, fashion, health care, retail and e-commerce.

He counsels entrepreneurs, investors and established companies on the full range of their business activities, from formation through raising capital, growth and acquisition. He has special expertise in the representation of mission-driven organizations and social enterprises. 

Throughout his career, he has represented the National Broadcasting Corporation, the Grammy Museum, Ares Capital Management, Credit Suisse First Boston, as well as privately held businesses in internet, media and technology, mobile applications, consumer products, professional sports, film and television production, among others over the course of his career. 

Francesco began his legal career at two large, international law firms in Los Angeles, where he represented large and small enterprises in a broad range of transactions, from mergers and acquisitions to public and private securities offerings to the formation of partnerships and joint ventures.

Francesco is also the Co-Chairman of the Los Angeles chapter of Conscious Capitalism, Inc.A lifelong student of psychology and personal development, Francesco holds a Master’s Degree in Spiritual Psychology from the University of Santa Monica and has been trained and mentored by numerous leaders in the personal development arena, including Steve Chandler, Byron Katie and George and Linda Pransky. 

Francesco has also founded and represented non-profit initiatives.

He has served as outside counsel to the Los Angeles Leadership Academy, a charter school dedicated to training the next generation of social and political leaders, and he is the founder and former Executive Director of SpiritWalk, a non-profit fundraiser created to benefit the University of Santa Monica.  

Francesco’s writing has appeared in The American LawyerCalifornia LawyerSlate, and others. He served as the Supreme Court columnist and Executive Editor of the Harvard Law Record and was the founder and editor-in-chief of the Penn History Review, the first Ivy League journal in the country dedicated to the publication of undergraduate historical research.

Francesco is an honors graduate of Harvard Law School, cum laude, and the University of Pennsylvania, summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa.