Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) is an amazing model with great recurring revenue, high gross margins, and strong industry growth. That said, scaling a SaaS startup is expensive. Very expensive.
Once you’ve crossed the desert and reached profitability, you can control you own destiny, especially if profitable, however modest, is true profitability paying market wages, and not just ramen profitable. Now, break-even or slightly profitable is great, but scaling the business and staying ahead of the market requires significantly more investment. The real challenge is when the law of large numbers kicks in based on the size of the customer base and the renewal rate. In order to grow, the number of new customers signed monthly has to keep growing because the number of customers leaving keeps growing.
Scaling a SaaS business is expensive because the primary expense of the business is people, and people need to be hired and trained in advance of customer acquisition. With the SaaS model, customers don’t pay a large sum of money up-front, rather they pay monthly or quarterly, often with an annual contract. The lifetime value of the customer is great but payment is spread out over years, with a decent chunk of the first year’s revenue going towards sales and marketing costs for customer acquisition, leaving little left over to staff up engineering, support, services, and back-office functions.
To recap: first year customer revenue almost all goes to sales and marketing, payments are spread out over years, and people are the largest expense, which need to be hired and trained in advance of delivering value. To scale a SaaS startup, sales has to get out in front of churn, which is always growing on an absolute basis assuming the the churn percentage stays constant and the business is growing. Along with significant investment in sales and marketing, all other core aspects of the business need investment in advance of customer growth.
What else? What are some other reasons scaling a B2B SaaS startup is expensive?