Hi, I'm a partner at Redpoint
. I invest in Series A and B SaaS companies. I write daily, data-driven blog posts about key questions facing startups. I co-authored the
book, Winning with Data
. Join more than 16,000 others receiving these blog posts by email. Subscribe.
Earlier this week, I published benchmarks on What Percentage Of Revenue Should SaaS Startups Spend On operating expense? Several founders asked to see this data broken down further. What fraction of operating expense is spent on sales & marketing, and what fraction of operating expense is spent on engineering? Most businesses spend 2x more on sales & marketing than engineering.
Imagine you've just been named the head of a bustling New York City restaurant challenged by one issue - customers complain about the customer service. A data-driven person, you search for a metric to evaluate the current customer service to validate the complaint and then track as you experiment with the restaurant's operations. What metrics would you employ?
In 2001, Salesforce spent $35.6M on payroll and generated $5.4M in revenue. NetSuite spent $38M on payroll generated $17M in 2004. as both of these companies scaled and approached IPO, the operating expense ratio (OER) or operating expense divided by revenue, asymptotes to 0.8. For every dollar of revenue, both of these companies spent $0.80 in payroll at scale.
A few weeks ago, I had first my customer support experience of the future. I was in a meeting when my Android's caller ID told me American Express was calling. I stepped of the conference room and answered the call. A machine-generated woman's voice identified itself as the American Express fraud department. "Do you have a bluetooth headset or headphones you can use with your phone?" she asked.
Public companies are often required to disclose the process of their acquisition. LinkedIn's sale to Microsoft is described step by step in an SEC disclosure and it offers both a peek into how these massive acquisitions are consummated, and also illustrates the best practices for how to run a process, both acquisitions and fundraisings.
About $1B has been invested in early stage SaaS startups as of November 1. Over the last nine months, marketing startups have raised more dollars in aggregate than any other segment. The chart above shows the early-stage investment dollars by buyer within the organization. Operations teams following second, with human resources focused startups in third. Notably, sales startups raised the least amount of capital.
At my first programming job, I met a colleague who took all his notes in XML. He liked the fact he could structure them well, create programs to search and process them, and display them in many different ways. Most importantly, he future-proofed his notes. Because they were structured, he could transform his notes into any new format. That was my first exposure into the world of productivity hacking.
The number of vendors selling to sales and marketing has exploded from 500 to more than 3000 over the last three years. Are we reaching the end of an expansionary cycle? The software pendulum tends to swing between software suites, offering a collection of different tools, and best-of-breed point solutions.
Demand generation is a critical limiting factor to the growth of many startups. I had the opportunity to moderate a panel of demand generation experts recently at Heavybit, an incubator in San Francisco. I asked the panelists, how well understood is demand generation, considering it is one of the core elements of business needs to sustain its growth? Unanimously, the panel concluded it's not very well understood.
Startups fail when they run out of money. Startups run out of money when they lack focus. Without a maniacal focus on serving customer needs in a unique way, startups can flounder amidst competition. Without product market fit, the business is challenged to generate strong metrics and faces fundraising challenges. That's why it's critical to identify and focus on your startup's competitive advantage.