What are key differences between a Crowdfunding SAFE and a "Traditional" SAFE?

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Brian Belley
Brian Belley  replied:

For the complete answer we drafted to answer this, please read our complete blog post on Traditional SAFE vs. Crowdfunding SAFE.

A brief summary of some of the key differences include:

1. Crowdfunding SAFEs may have optional conversions: in some crowdfunding SAFEs (such as Republic’s Crowd Safe), shares convert at the next equity financing round at the discretion of the issuer (i.e the startup). While most traditional SAFEs are forced to convert at the next qualified financing round, many crowdfunding SAFEs give the company the option to either convert to equity or defer conversion until a later time.

While this may sound like a bad thing for investors at first, there are situations when investors can actually benefit from this delayed conversion (e.g. they may actually experience less dilution due to follow-on raises than other equity investors).

2. Crowdfunding SAFEs may convert to Shadow Series shares: in the Republic Crowd Safe, the SAFE may convert to shadow shares, which means the same class of shares (e.g. Common vs. Preferred) as other investors, but with limited voting and information rights.

3. Crowdfunding SAFEs Investing via an SPV: When you invest in a SAFE on Wefunder, you’ll often be investing in a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV). While this is typical for angel investors on sites like AngelList, this means you’ll actually be investing in the SPV (e.g. “Company X, a Series of Wefunder SPV LLC”), and not be directly investing in the company itself.

Investing in an SPV may have potential tax implications (because the SPV is an LLC). Furthermore, investing in an SPV may have implications in terms of the potential future liquidity of that investment due to complications when listing SPV shares on a secondary market.

4. Many Crowdfunding SAFEs are still Pre-Money: while the standard Y-Combinator SAFE was changed to convert based upon post-money valuation in 2018, many of the SAFEs used on crowdfunding sites today are still using pre-money valuation for the conversion price.

5. Some Crowdfunding SAFEs may have repurchase rights: something that most VCs and angel SAFEs would never have is a “repurchase rights” or “redemptive clause”. These terms allow the company to buyback SAFE investors at the company’s discretion, which typically happens if a later-stage VC wants to “clean up” the cap table (i.e. get more control and ownership for themselves) or when the company is doing well and wants to buy out early investors. It's my personal opinion that investors should typically avoid SAFEs with these terms. These terms put the company’s best interests at odds with that of the investors’.

The good news is that I personally have not seen any SAFEs recently with these repurchase terms (although I have seen some Common Stock offerings on some platforms with repurchase rights, so be careful!). It seems that crowdfunding portals have realized that these repurchase rights often end poorly for investors and are used by issuers who might not have their crowdfunding investors’ best interests at heart.