Startup Investment for Short-Term ROI or Long-Term Enterprise Value

As a startup there are a number of different ways to invest precious capital. Some investments, like building a minimum viable product, are obvious whereas others like buying ads on Google vs LinkedIn aren’t obvious until some modest amount of money is spent. Well, there’s another area that needs more thought from entrepreneurs: investments that don’t have a short-term return but do create significant long-term enterprise value.

Let’s look at an example to see long-term enterprise value in action:

  • On average it costs $500 to generate a new customer that pays $1,000 per year
  • Revenue is recurring and has 70% gross margins, so $500 in customer acquisition gets $700 of gross margin in year one
  • Customers stay for an average of four years ($4,000 in revenue at 70% gross margin results in $2,800) — customers staying for an average of four years implies a 75% per year renewal rate (1/.25)
  • Enterprise valuation for the company is three times the annual gross margin
  • An opportunity arises to acquire more customers at $1,500/each which results in a year one loss ($1,500 > $700 gross margin) but is profitable over the average lifetime of the customer ($2,800 lifetime gross margin) and increases the value of the business $2,100 (3 x the $700 gross margin)

In this example, assuming no cost of capital and no discount for future cash flow, spending $1,500 to acquire a customer that pays $1,000 per year, easily pays for itself when looking at the lifetime value of the gross margin of the customer and the long-term enterprise value of the business, assuming OK renewal rates and readily available access to capital. It’s important to get a complete picture of the value of a customer when determining the amount to spend that still generates a positive return on investment.

What else? What are your thoughts on startup investments for short-term ROI or long-term enterprise value?

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