See also: Seed Round Template Library
Post-money (as opposed to conventional pre-money) valuation caps have become more of a thing in early-stage startup convertible rounds. The primary benefit of a post-money cap is that it makes it clearer to investors what percentage of the cap table they are purchasing as of the day of their investment, because the “all-inclusive” valuation cap incorporates all SAFEs and/or Notes the company has raised, even if they haven’t been formally converted or modeled on the cap table. In pre-money caps, what you are buying is more ambiguous.
The extra transparency of post-money caps can be a very good thing. But as I’ve written before, and many others have pointed out, the default post-money SAFE that YC published a few years ago had a very anti-founder “gotcha” built into it. Not only did it commit to a specific % of the cap table today, but it also gave investors aggressive anti-dilution protection for any future dilution from more SAFES or Notes, all the way until an equity round in which everything converts. Tons of companies have gotten burned by this, not understanding that YC’s Post-Money SAFE structure forces the common stock alone to absorb all dilution until SAFEs convert. This is way worse economically than other financing structures for early-stage.
Frankly, YC’s decision to make its SAFE instrument so investor friendly was surprising, even acknowledging that they, as investors, surely have benefited financially from it. Giving post-closing anti-dilution protection to SAFE investors isn’t necessary at all to give them the real primary benefit of a post-money cap, which is clarity as to what they are buying today. If I’m investing into a company that already has raised some SAFEs or Notes, I surely would like a hardened commitment as to what post-money valuation I’m paying for today, but I don’t see why I should expect protection from future dilution. For that reason, we published a “fixed” post-money SAFE template. With a few added words (clearly reflected in track changes for transparency), it “fixes” this anti-dilution problem in the YC template.
Acknowledging the benefits of even a “fixed” post-money SAFE, the truth is a lot of investors around the world, and in the U.S., still aren’t comfortable with SAFEs. They think SAFEs generally skimp too much on investor protection. For example, particularly in a down market like today, some investors would prefer the debt treatment of a convertible note. Even in 2023, we still see quite a few deals closed on convertible notes instead of SAFEs. I represent exactly zero VCs or tech investors, and what I’ll say on this topic is that in reality the differences between SAFEs and Notes are not super material; and never worth losing funding over them. Go with whatever works, and just make sure you have good advisors to protect you on more material points.
Most convertible notes I see today still use the older-style of pre-money valuation cap. There’s no reason why founders, in choosing to raise on a convertible note, should be stuck only with pre-money valuation caps, given that, as I described above, there can be very good reasons for using a post-money structure.
For that reason, I’ve taken the convertible note template that’s historically been publicly available here on SHL, and made a post-money valuation cap version. The benefits of a post-money valuation cap’s clarity, but under a convertible note structure. Just one more potential template to leverage in closing an early-stage round. Importantly, it does not have YC’s harsh anti-dilution mechanisms built in. The purpose of this post-money cap is to reassure investors as to what they are investing in today. There is no promise of anti-dilution for future fundraises because, in my opinion, there shouldn’t be.
The usual disclaimers apply here. This is just a template, and it is intended for use with experienced counsel. I am not recommending that founders use this template on their own without experienced advisors. If you choose to do so, do not blame me for any negative consequences.
Related recommended reading: Myths and Lies about Seed Equity. As useful as SAFEs and Convertible Notes are for simple early-stage fundraising, my impression is that they tend to get over-used, sometimes in contexts when an equity round really makes a lot more sense. Make sure you understand the full pros and cons of an equity round, including potential “seed equity” structures that are simpler and cheaper to close than full “NVCA” equity docs. A lot of the over-use of Notes and SAFEs stems from myths and falsehoods often shared in the market about equity deals.