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Founders often describe their unit economics in terms of their LTV/CAC ratio - the ratio of the Lifetime Value (LTV) of a customer to the Cost of Customer Acquisition (CAC). The CAC/LTV metric can be a powerful metric to unpack the health of the go-to-market team of a company, as Netsuite has shown. But this figure is often meaningless for early stage startups.
The startup acquisition market is off by roughly 35% year-over-year. Why the decline? One consistent response from potential acquirers is that they are waiting for tax reform to happen. If it does happen, and when acquirers do decide to pursue acquisitions, I suspect we will enter a very acquisitive environment for three reasons.
Initial Coin Offerings, a fundraising mechanism for companies using cryptocurrencies as a mechanism to buy their service, seem to be upending the world of venture capital. Filecoin raised $250M through an ICO. Tezos raised $232M. Bancor raised $153M. These are massive amounts of money. Recently, I've been wondering how prevalent ICOs are and whether they could potentially be a substitute for venture capital.
One of the major trends facing SaaS companies today is the rising cost of customer acquisition. Data on this trend has been difficult to find. Fortunately, Patrick at ProfitWell sent me his survey results across about 800 companies. The chart above shows the increasing cost of customer acquisition on a per company basis. Those surveyed have observed a ~65% increase in cost of customer acquisition over the last five years.
Starting in January, public software companies will report their financials using ASC 606. Normally, accounting changes are not that interesting, but ASC 606 will change several of the key attributes and benchmarks SaaS startups use. The two most important changes are changes to revenue and profitability.
Last week, I participated in two discussions about the changes in the SaaS world. I believe they are fundamental. The most important force shaping the industry today is competition. The level of competition in many core SaaS segments is intense.
A startup's competitive advantage is execution speed. That quickness stems from a CEO's ability to decide and this ability separates the great from the good. According to a recently published Harvard Business Review article, one of the four key behaviors distinguishing exceptional CEOs is deciding with speed and conviction.
Recently, a VP of sales told me about the way he views the dynamic between inside and outside sales when managing a sales team. Inside sales is the drumbeat, a highly predictable sales organization whose consistency enables outside sales to swing for the fences. I never heard it expressed quite this way, but I do think there's some truth to it. To prove it to myself, I ran a Monte Carlo simulation for hypothetical startup.
Shopify is an exceptional business. There are not many software companies who can nearly quadruple their enterprise value in two years. But Shopify has grown from $2.7B in enterprise value to more than $10B. What are the metrics behind this behemoth?
How do you help someone when that person knows substantially more about the question than you do? This is one of the most fundamental and frequent questions in management. I came across it first as a product manager. Then as a manager of teams. And last as a board member. In each of these situations, have interacted with people who knew substantially more about their area of expertise.