Fundraising decision is like spinning the wheel of fortune, sometimes you get the result that you desire, while other times you end up with something you always hoped to avoid. With the evolution of startup companies, founders have an abundance of options available to them, when thinking about fundraising. One of these fundraising models introduced by Ycombinator is the Simple Agreement for Future Equity simply known as SAFE.

In this series, we are delving into the fascinating world of Simple Agreement for Future Equity (SAFE) – a versatile financial instrument designed to simplify funding while keeping your start-up’s growth on track.

The SAFE Unveiled: A Brief Overview

A SAFE is essentially a contract between an investor and a start-up company. It allows the investor to provide funding to the start-up in exchange for the promise of future equity (ownership) in the company, typically upon the occurrence of a specific triggering event. This triggering event is often tied to a subsequent equity financing round, such as a Series A funding round.

There is minimum negotiation in a SAFE, usually, the negotiation with the investor only entails two points;

  1. How much money the investor will put into the company and;
  2. What valuation cap or discount the parties will adopt at conversion?

Navigating the Different Flavors of SAFEs

A SAFE Is not a one-size-fits-all deal. Different start-up scenarios call for distinct structures that cater to specific goals and investor dynamics. Here’s a glimpse into a few variations you might encounter:

Traditional SAFE: This is the foundation of it all. Investors provide funds, startups secure capital, and equity conversion happens when a predetermined event occurs.

Valuation Cap SAFE: This one adds an extra layer. Picture a cap on the valuation at which the investor’s investment converts into equity. Even if your start-up skyrockets in value, the investors’ equity will be issued at a unit price reflecting the pre-set value cap.

Discount SAFE: Investors here enjoy a little perk as a reward for their risks. They get to buy equity at a reduced price compared to the later equity round’s price per share. It’s a win-win: incentives for them and an early cash infusion for you.

MFN (Most Favored Nation) SAFE: Here’s fairness in action. Investors with the most favored nation provision simply seek to retain the benefit of any more favorable terms the start-up offers to investors in subsequent convertible notes or SAFE rounds before a conversion. It’s about keeping the playing field level.

MFN + Valuation Cap + Discount SAFE: Why settle for one when you can have all three? This mega SAFE combines the perks of valuation caps, discounts, and the Most Favored Nation clause. Flexibility and protection rolled into one.

MFN + Next Equity Financing Cap SAFE: Worried about dilution? This one’s for you. A cap ensures your investor’s equity conversion doesn’t exceed a set percentage of the next equity financing round. Your investor’s interests remain safeguarded.

How does a SAFE work?

SAFE agreements are designed to streamline the investment process and reduce the need for detailed negotiations around valuation and other terms at the early stages of a start-up’s development. They are considered investor-friendly due to their simplicity and the potential for favorable terms (discounts and valuation caps). However, they also have their critics who argue that they might not fully protect investor interests in certain scenarios.

How do you know if your startup should pursue a SAFE route?

The decision to adopt a SAFE or any fundraising method depends on several factors. Here are some considerations to help you determine when to adopt a SAFE as a start-up founder:

  1. Stage of Your Start-up: SAFEs are often used in early-stage funding rounds when it’s difficult to determine a precise valuation. If your start-up is still in its infancy and lacks substantial financial history or traction, a SAFE might be more suitable.
  2. Lack of Valuation Clarity: If your start-up’s valuation is uncertain due to various factors such as evolving market conditions or the absence of comparable companies, using a SAFE can postpone the valuation discussion until a later, more informed point in time.
  3. Speed and Simplicity: SAFEs are generally simpler and quicker to execute compared to traditional equity financing rounds that involve detailed negotiations on valuation terms. If you need to raise funds quickly to seize an opportunity or meet a milestone, a SAFE might be a good option.
  4. Investor Preference: Some investors are comfortable with SAFEs, while others may prefer traditional equity investments with a fixed valuation. Understanding your potential investors’ preferences can influence your decision to use SAFEs.

Final Thoughts

As with any fundraising method, the decision to use a SAFE should align with your start-up’s goals, investor relationships, and stage of development. While SAFEs offer benefits, it’s essential to weigh their potential downsides and complexities, such as dilution and conversion mechanics in subsequent rounds.

For personalized advice tailored to your start-up’s unique circumstances, consult legal advisors who can provide insights that’ll set you on the right path.

Written bChiamaka Ogbonnaya for The Trusted Advisors

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