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The Finance of Startups: For Dummies (Part 9 – Raising Funds through a Safe)

A friend looking to raise money recently told me a new form of raising money I hadn’t heard of before referred to as a Safe (simple agreement for future equity). A safe is a mechanism Paul Graham and his YC partner and lawyer Carolynn Levy created as an alternative to convertible notes – refer Finance of Startups: For Dummies (Part 4) for a short description of convertible notes.

Safes are meant to remove the clutter and complications of convertible notes in that they are not debts themselves. Instead, they are agreements for rights to the purchase of future stock – goal is to convert safeholders into stockholders.
  • Convertible notes can be highly regulated via their maturity dates, interest rates, etc. Safes, on the other hand, have no maturity date and as they are not debt, are not beholden to regulations regarding interest rates.
  • Safes remove the complexity of having to extend maturity dates as there are none (vs. convertible notes).Safes are converted to equity at specific events such as an equity financing round, liquidity event, or dissolution of the company (insolvency).
  • Like convertible notes, there are variations to the safes – those with a discount, valuation cap, or some combination of those two (with/ without) or none at all – instead, with an MFN (“Most Favored Nation”) provision.
  • Most Favored Nation provision (MFN) are used to amend a safe’s terms with a safe raised at a later date. This is common for safes with no discount or cap set. Note: safe can only be amended once, not multiple times.
Safes have been a big hit for YC-backed companies, and have been finding traction here in ATL for early stage startups looking to raise funds quickly without the battle over valuation. For more details on safes, check out this primer.

What are your questions about safes? If you were a startup or investor, what would your apprehensions about safes be? Versus convertible notes?