Posted on Apr 12, 2024Read on

History of Safe

Safe has a long-lasting history, from an internal project at Gnosis, to an independent ecosystem through a spin-off. This article walks through the most significant milestones over the last 7 years, and gives a glimpse into one of the oldest and most established projects in the Ethereum ecosystem.

The inception: Gnosis Multi-signature Wallet

Gnosis was started in 2016 to explore prediction markets as a new primitive on Ethereum. While prediction markets never found significant product-market-fit, Gnosis ended up building a lot of fundamental infrastructure—from Cow Swap, to Gnosis Chain, to now Gnosis Pay. And Gnosis just recently published a renewed Gnosis 3.0 vision for how everything will link together.

Safe’s history begins with Gnosis’ ICO in early 2017. As a result of the token sale, Gnosis needed a secure way to self-custody the proceeds. At this point, no mature and suitable solution had existed, so Stefan George wrote the code for his own multi-signature wallet, which was later open-sourced as the Gnosis Multi-signature Wallet.

With hundreds of projects following the path of conducting an ICO, the Gnosis Multi-signature Wallet quickly found adoption and became the de-facto standard for multisigs with over $1B worth of assets secured within a few years.

Early user interface of the original Gnosis Multi-signature Wallet in 2017.

Gnosis Safe was born

It quickly became apparent that smart-contract-based wallets (smart wallets) can provide unique features. This led Gnosis to build up a team and start working on a next generation solution. Gnosis Safe was born in 2018 as a general-purpose Smart Account.

Compared to its predecessor, Gnosis Safe had several benefits:

  • Gas efficiency: Used a proxy-singleton architecture, massively optimising the gas-efficiency.

  • Modular architecture: Gnosis Safe introduced a modular architecture, allowing Safe Smart Accounts to add additional features over time, without users having to migrate to a new account.

  • Formally verified: Over 6 months were invested into making Gnosis Safe the first (and to our knowledge the only) Smart Account that is formally verified.

A mobile wallet that was ahead of its time

The idea was to build a mass-friendly mobile wallet that would leverage Smart Accounts to combine what was not possible before—good UX with high security.

Looking back, the Gnosis Safe mobile wallet in 2018 was way ahead of its time, featuring functionality that is only now slowly reaching maturity and wide-spread adoption:

  • Counterfactual deployment: The Gnosis Safe proxy would only be deployed once the user actually sends assets to it, allowing for more frictionless onboarding

  • Seedless onboarding: The user could choose to create an account without a seed phrase, with the private keys being stored on the device, with the option to add a more secure key that is backed up using a seed phrase at a later point

  • **Batched transactions: **As the first implementation of transaction batching for wallets, Gnosis Safe was able to provide streamlined UX, despite only a few applications taking advantage of it

  • 2FA using browser extension or keycard: For additional security, it was possible to add additional keys using a designated browser extension or the Status Keycard

  • Pay gas fees in ERC-20 tokens: Using meta-transactions, the Gnosis Safe mobile wallet was able to allow gas fee payments in any ERC-20 token (not just Ether) stored in the wallet, a feature that is nowadays getting new traction with ERC-4337 paymasters

While the direction was right, the timing was off for the Gnosis Safe mobile wallet.

At this point DeFi did not exist yet, and there were no actual retail end-users on Ethereum yet. So due to minimal adoption, the retail-focused wallet solution was discontinued.

With meta transactions and 2FA, the Gnosis Safe crypto mobile wallet was ahead of its time.

Back to the roots

So after a less successful mobile wallet, the team went back to the drawing board. A few months later, “Gnosis Safe for teams” (later renamed to just “Gnosis Safe”) was introduced, which was a new web application that followed the footstep of the initial Gnosis Multi-signature Wallet, but built on the new Safe Smart Account.

While still targeting teams, not individuals, the new smart contracts allowed the product to reach new user-groups due to better UX features and lower gas costs. The new solution found product-market-fit within only a few months, and even a CEX (Bitfinex) started using Gnosis Safe for the cold-storage of their customer assets.

Within less than a year, over $1B worth of assets were moved to Safe Smart Accounts, building up a Lindy effect as the smart contracts were increasingly trusted.

Safe co-founder, Lukas Schor, introducing the new “Gnosis Safe for teams” wallet, at Devcon Osaka (2019)

Specifically because of its modular architecture, Gnosis Safe also become a primary actor in the explosion of the DAO ecosystem that started in 2020. Innovations like SafeSnap enabled founding teams to hand over control of accounts (admin keys / treasuries) to a community, enabling progressive decentralisation.

To date, most DAO treasuries operate on Safe, and a range of sophisticated treasury management teams (Karpatkey) and tooling (Zodiac Modules, Coinshift) have emerged, creating further network effects.

Becoming critical infrastructure

In 2021, Gnosis itself transitioned into a DAO: GnosisDAO, with multiple projects being part of the GnosisDAO ecosystem such as CoW Swap, Gnosis Guild, Karpatkey and Gnosis Chain.

At the same time, Gnosis Safe saw continued growth in adoption. The initial focus was on user-groups that benefit most from the additional security and modularity of the Safe Smart Account, like crypto projects and DAOs. But over time, more and more user-groups organically started adopting Gnosis Safe as the product become more mature, reliable and accessible, including Market Makers, VCs, high-net-worth individuals and (NFT) collectives. Probably the most notable user being Vitalik Buterin himself, who moved a majority of his ETH holdings to Gnosis Safe that year.

Gnosis Safe also took a significant leap towards interoperability and scalability by going multichain. This also resulted in Gnosis Safe becoming a key piece of infrastructure that every new network (whether L1 or L2) required in order to allow for consistency across networks for teams securing their protocols with Gnosis Safe.

Additionally, Gnosis Safe expanded its (DeFi) capabilities with “Safe Apps”, to provide a convenient way to interact with the vibrant ecosystem of Ethereum apps directly within the wallet interface.

User interface of the current Safe{Wallet}, with features like batched transactions and in-wallet Safe Apps.

Drop the Gnosis, It’s just “Safe”

In 2022, it become clear the Gnosis Safe was more than just a product and that it will require a range of tailor-made solutions to optimize for the various user-groups that started using Gnosis Safe. So the GnosisDAO community decided to spin-off the project. The mission of (now) Safe being to grow an entire ecosystem around the Safe Smart Account with the goal to eventually have every user-group and use-case on Ethereum benefit from Smart Accounts.

After a successful fundraise from strategic investors, and the incorporation of the Safe Ecosystem Foundation, SafeDAO was formed in 2023.

“SafeDAO’s mission is to establish [smart accounts] as the default means for interacting with web3. (…) Through open source components and ecosystem initiatives we are nurturing the Safe Ecosystem, consisting of wallets, infrastructure, tooling and services.” (SafeDAO Constitution)

In 2023, Safe also launched Safe{Core}, the developer suite focused on fostering a vibrant ecosystem of wallets and applications leveraging Safe Smart Accounts. In the same year, Safe also reached new high-scores like 1M Safe Smart Accounts created across various use cases from AI to social, gaming and identity.

Some examples:

  • AI Agents make up some 50% of the Safe transactions on Gnosis Chain through Autonolas

  • Safe Smart Accounts deployed through Worldcoin create 100,000s of transactions each month

  • (a web3 TikTok) onboards >20,000 users to smart accounts in 48 hours

It’s still early

Now, in 2024, Safe has become THE smart contract securing the second-most assets with $100B after the ETH Staking deposit contract. Over 7 million Safe Smart Accounts have been created and world-class applications like Worldcoin and Gnosis Pay built their solutions powered by Safe. Today, over 200 projects integrate with the Safe Smart Account.

Having worked on smart accounts for the past 6 years, we’ve seen a clear trend towards smart account adoption over time and have become more confident every year that, eventually, every account on Ethereum will become a smart account.

Safe’s journey from a multisignature wallet to a comprehensive ecosystem largely relied on consistency, a security-focus, and following an open-source ethos, which are values that should be carried far into the future.

There still remains plenty of challenges to be solved such as cross-chain abstraction, modularity, wallet interoperability, economic sustainability, etc, so consider this just the beginning of the story for Safe.

Safe contracts secure more than $100B in digital assets.

Safe’s Mission: Make every Ethereum Account a Smart Account

The core mission of Safe is to accelerate the transition to smart accounts. Through open-source technologies and ecosystem support initiatives, we promote the benefits of smart accounts and enable users and developer to take advantage of them. To date, Safe has already onboarded over over 7 million users and $100B in digital assets to smart accounts. And we are just getting started.

More than 200 projects are building on Safe.

Follow Us!