Earlier this week, I wrote about the increase in cash compensation and decline in equity grants to VPs of Engineering and Product in startups]. I received a lot of comments about the analysis, and in particular hypotheses to explain the data. I dug a bit deeper into the data set to find an explanation. Founding employees keep more equity today than ever through the Series A and Series B.
What a difference three weeks make! Since I wrote "The Correction in SaaS Company Valuations", SaaS company valuations have continued to fall. As a basket, SaaS companies have fallen 33% from their highs (median), wiping all the gains for the last year. To make that point more explicit, below I've charted the total value of public SaaS companies over the last ten months. In that time period, the aggreggate enterprise value has fallen from greater than $150B to $117B today.
Since 2008, there has been a secular trend to increase cash compensation and decrease equity to startup management teams. Tho two tables above tell the story for VPs of Engineering (VPE) and VPs of Product (VPP) across the US broadly and in the SF Bay Area. In the past 5 years, VPEs have benefitted from a 10 to 16% increase in their cash compensation, but have seen their equity grants fall by 17-19%. The same pattern holds true for VPPs: an 8-26% increas in cash and a 25-30% drop in equity grants.
The chart above compares the contribution of two hypothetical inside sales people with $400,000 quotas to an early-stage startup's finances. In this case, contribution is the 18 month revenue of sold customers tallied cumulatively minus the salary costs of $100k annualized of the sales person. I've modeled a six month linear ramp for the sales person to reach 100% of quota. w
One of the key metrics that I don't think gets enough notice when reviewing the health of a SaaS business is revenue-at-risk or RaR. For SaaS businesses with quarterly or annual contracts, each month some subset of the customer base's contracts must be renewed. The RaR is the sum of the revenue from these customers in a given month or quarter. RaR is a useful measure because it captures the company's opportunity to minimize lost customer revenue. Identifying customers at risk and proactively engaging them, cultivating a relationship and providing them account support can meaningfully improve a SaaS company's churn rates.
Pricing is one of the hardest things for startups to get right because there is no universal and constant price optimum. As a SaaS startup's product evolves and offers more features, the product's price points should increase. As a sales team or marketing team engages different customer segments, price points may vary wildly. The contract for a F500 should have very different pricing than a startup, because of the stark contrast in the different companies' willingness to pay and value associated with buying the product. When competitors influence the market place, price points may change. Conferences, seasonality, news events, business development relationships, sales promotions all may impact pricing.
Tien Tzuo, the founder and CEO of Zuora and former CSO/CMO at Salesforce, knows SaaS businesses better than most. So when he pens an opinion about the subscription economy, a term which I believe he coined, I read it with great interest. Yesterday, Tien wrote "These Numbers Show That Box CEO Aaron Levie Is A Genius", explaining Box's business and growth in great detail.
When the meeting first appeared on my calendar, I incredulous at the idea of a management coach. "A business shrink who would sap another hour from my frenetic day," I thought. I was a few months into being a product manager at Google and stressed because I was in over my head. Most difficult of all, I lacked any type of formal authority. Google structured its product teams to have authority through influence, not direct management of engineering teams or marketing teams or sales teams. The brilliance of the engineers, marketers and salespeople I worked with amplified this challenge. We were all holding each other to very high standards. I walked into my first meeting with my management coach frazzled with the demands of the PM job and frustrated to be allocating an hour to the meeting.
Last week, we proved SaaS startups are raising more than they have in the past and newer SaaS companies seem to be generating more revenue per dollar invested. But do newer SaaS companies actually spend less on sales and engineering than their older counterparts?
If you visit Yahoo Finance today, type in the ticker of every SaaS stock, copy and paste the image into a document, you might create a chart that looks like the one above. A cursory glance at the plunging lines in most of these names might send you into a panic, only to tweet in alarm that the bottom is falling out of the SaaS market. Chicken little. Chicken little.