It's 2024, and if there's one trend that’s unmistakably reshaped the startup funding landscape, it's the proliferation of SAFEs (Simple Agreements for Future Equity). Recently, I stumbled upon a Seed round cap table brimming with nearly 70 entries. It seems that in today’s opportunistic market, the concept of a clean cap table is becoming a thing of the past.

SAFEs, designed to simplify early fundraising by postponing valuation discussions, have instead spawned new complexities. Let's dissect the not-so-simple aftermath of the SAFE boom and how you can navigate these turbulent waters.

SAFE monsters 101

Startups of 2024 are issuing SAFEs like limited-edition sneakers. With entries like 50 tickets at €25K each, cap tables are now more crowded than ever. This "multiplicity monster" complicates future investments and valuation negotiations. Keeping track of all these promises can be a Herculean task for any founder.

Amidst the chaos, the "valuation vampire" thrives, lurking in the shadows of undefined valuations. This creature feasts on the equity of unsuspecting startups during later funding rounds, leading to unexpected dilution that can shock both founders and early investors.

Lastly, the "zombie apocalypse" scenario unfolds when various SAFEs with different terms and conditions come back to life at the least opportune times. Managing these undead agreements during crucial financial events can be nightmarish.

Slaying the monsters

In response to the current climate, here are some strategies to keep your startup’s cap table manageable if you take the opportunistic route of a SAFE monster to keep the show running during the turbulence:

  1. Strategic use of SAFEs: Limit the number of SAFEs and use them judiciously. Every SAFE should have a clear purpose and fit within a broader financial strategy.
  2. Consistency: Standardize the terms of SAFEs as much as possible to avoid a tangled mess later.
  3. Anticipate valuation impacts: Plan for future valuation scenarios to mitigate the risks of heavy dilution.
  4. Transparent communication: Keep all stakeholders informed about your financial maneuvers and how they might affect existing SAFEs.
  5. Expert guidance: Regularly consult with financial experts to review and streamline your cap table.
  6. Lastly, implement tiered rights in your SHA: Define clear tiers in your SHA, distinguishing between major and minor shareholders based on their investment size or strategic importance. Major investors might retain right to vote on substantial company decisions, while minor investors are kept informed of significant developments without necessitating their approval for every decision. This tiered approach not only simplifies administrative processes but also ensures that you can move swiftly when necessary without compromising on transparency or governance standards.

While SAFEs are meant to simplify fundraising - or make it just possible in the current market environment - they require careful handling to avoid turning your cap table into a mythical labyrinth of complications. As we continue dealing with the 2024 funding environment, maintaining a strategic and informed approach will be key to leveraging SAFEs effectively.

Rise of SAFE monsters

It seems that in today’s opportunistic market, the concept of a clean cap table is becoming a thing of the past. Here's tips how to deal with it.