When Customer Expansion Outpaces Churn

One of the holy grails of successful SaaS businesses is having the expansion of existing customers outweigh customer churn. Meaning, if the business didn’t sign any new customers in a year, the upgrades from existing customers would be more money than the lost revenue from customers that leave, resulting in growth for the company. A business that doesn’t have to sell anything new, but still grows, is in an enviable position.

Here are a few benefits when customer expansion outpaces churn:

  • More Money to Acquire Customers – When customers regularly grow their account, more money can be spent to acquire the initial account, providing additional options for customer acquisition.
  • Faster Growth Rates – The law of large numbers starts to kick in making it hard to grow fast at greater scale. When customer expansion is more than churn, it makes it easier to grow faster as there’s a built-in growth engine.
  • Raising Money – Investors look for unit economics that show the fundamentals of the business are strong, and excellent customer expansion, along with customer renewals, and gross margins are three of the most important metrics making it easier to raise money.

Customer expansion outpacing customer churn is the hallmark of a successful SaaS company.

What else? What are some more thoughts on the importance of customer expansion being larger than customer churn?

SaaS 1,000 for Researching SaaS Startups

Tom Blue and his company published a cool little micro-site today called SaaS 1000. From the site:

The SaaS 1000 is a list of the top SaaS companies according to employee size growth. We have created a simple algorithm that tracks a SaaS company’s 6 month employee size growth and overall employee size to come up with the SaaS 1000 ranking.

One of my recommendations for entrepreneurs researching competitors, prospects, etc. is to go on LinkedIn and check out the respective employee count for the company. This SaaS 1000 list has that data and goes one step further showing the six month employee growth rate, which is great for understanding how fast the business is growing.

For entrepreneurs researching potential business ideas, this is a great way to understand companies that are hiring fast, and thus potential markets to build a competitor.

For entrepreneurs looking for peer groups of other entrepreneurs in their city, this is an excellent starting point (e.g. it lists 25 startups in Atlanta).

Interested in Software-as-a-Service? Check out SaaS 1000.

Build a Competing Company, Internally

Forbes has an excellent article titled Starting Over: How FreshBooks Reinvented Its Online Accounting Service On The Fly. FreshBooks is a popular online accounting app (think major competitor to QuickBooks and Xero, but more focused on micro and small businesses) that’s been around for over 15 years. After 10+ years with the original application, it was clear that the product architecture and user experience wasn’t going to scale for the next 10 years.

We all know that the a full product rewrite is the kiss of death. What to do?

FreshBooks created a separate company, with a separate team, in a separate office, to build a new competitor called BillSpring. BillSpring’s goal was to build a real business with it’s own customer base, that if successful, would replace the original FreshBooks product. After two years, BillSpring was working well and customers loved it. FreshBooks made the BillSpring product the new FreshBooks product while maintaining the legacy product and not forcing customers to switch. Now, FreshBooks has a platform for the future.

Need to reinvent your company? Consider building a competing company, internally.

What else? What are some more thoughts on building a competing company to reinvent the business?

$136,000 Median SaaS Revenue Per Employee

Once the startup begins scaling, leaders from each team start asking for more resources (e.g. we just signed 10 more customers, let’s hire another person to do ‘X’). Only, outside the budget, it’s difficult to assess the overall efficiency. One of the best metrics to track efficiency is revenue per employee.

According to the 2016 Pacific Crest SaaS Company Survey Benchmarks, the median SaaS revenue per employee is $136,000:

Over time, the revenue per employee changes as the startup scales from pre-revenue through to seed stage and beyond. Each milestone often has a higher revenue per employee with ones at the expansion stage typically having $200,000 or more in revenue per employee.

Entrepreneurs would do well to track their own revenue per employee and benchmark it against other startups of similar size and scale.

What else? What are some more thoughts on using revenue per employee to evaluate the efficiency of the startup?

4 Criteria for a 5-8x Adjusted EBITDA Software Exit

Upland Software is a publicly-traded SaaS company based in Austin, TX that specializes in acquiring sub-scale SaaS companies and rolling them into the portfolio. To date, they’ve acquired 14 companies and are actively looking to buy more. With a market cap of $480 million and an annualized run-rate of $80 million (source UPLD), they’ve executed this strategy for 7+ years.

Here are the four criteria for Upland Software acquisitions:

  • Financial Profile – Revenues in the $5-$25 million range
  • Recurring Revenue Base – Renewal Rates > 90%
  • Enterprise Applications – Built-for-purpose Enterprise Work Management
  • Geography – U.S., Canada and E.U.

According to their press release from a few months ago they pay 5-8x pro forma Adjusted EBITDA:

The acquisition is within Upland’s target range of 5-8x pro forma Adjusted EBITDA and will be immediately accretive to Upland’s Adjusted EBITDA per share.

Long term, their target is an Adjusted EBITDA margin of 40%.

Here’s how an acquisition might work:

  • $10 million/year SaaS business makes $3 million/year Adjusted EBITDA
  • Upland acquires the SaaS company for $21 million (e.g. 7x Adjusted EBITDA)
  • Upland cuts expenses and raises the Adjusted EBITDA from $3 million to $4 million (e.g. 40% target)
  • Upland’s stock trades at ~18x Adjusted EBITDA (e.g. $26 million Adjusted EBITDA expectation for 2017 with a valuation of $480 million ignoring current assets and debt – source)
  • $4 million of new Adjusted EBITDA increases the value of the business by $72 million, making the $21 million acquisition very profitable

Entrepreneurs thinking through potential exit value for their startup should understand these values and how a financial buyer might value the business.

What else? What are some more thoughts on this example with four criteria for a 5-8x Adjusted EBITDA software exit?

When the Product is the Sales and Marketing

Continuing with the theme of SaaS 2.0, there’s another important concept in that it inverts the sales and marketing process. In SaaS 1.0, a tremendous amount of money is spent on sales and marketing to take the potential buyer on a journey where they have to provide their name and email to download an ebook, watch a video, or get a piece of content. Then, inside sales reps start calling in hopes of doing a demo and taking the person through a sales process. Only, after this experience, and signing a contract to buy the software, does the buyer get to use the product. Finally, the implementation coordinators help on-board the new customer and the buyer gets to use the product, often for the first time.

In SaaS 2.0, the product is the sales and marketing. Everything starts and ends with the product so there are no barriers to begin using the app immediately. Once signed into the free edition of the app (often called the platform), there are marketing videos that explain the benefits of each module. Paid modules are explained and in-app upgrades made clear — the selling is done by the app, in the app. Sales reps are still available, but they’re there as consultants to answer questions and help with change management, not to get contracts signed. There are no contracts to sign.

The most powerful form of service is high quality self-service, with great people to help as a backup. With SaaS 2.0, the product is the sales and marketing.

What else? What are some more thoughts on SaaS 2.0 focusing on the product experience as the center of the sales and marketing?

Balancing the Short-Term and Long-Term Product Demands

Recently I was talking to an entrepreneur that’s in the process of changing their data storage architecture as the startup is growing fast and there are increased demands on the database. Only, the app is performing fine and there aren’t any slowdowns right now, but it’s clear that with the continued growth at some point there will be issues. Yet, the team doesn’t know exactly when that will occur, even after some load and stress tests against the system. Now, they’re moving forward with a heavy refactoring of code and changing of the storage architecture.

Balancing the short-term and long-term product demands is never easy. Here are a few questions to ask:

  • What percentage of current customers will appreciate this change? What percentage of desired customers will appreciate this change?
  • Do we have to implement this change eventually? Why? Why not? What instrumentation will help guide our decision making process?
  • What does the current road map have prioritized? What will have to change to make room to implement this long-term product change now?
  • Is the proposed change a temporary solution or will it support growth indefinitely?
  • What are the risks? What might go wrong?
  • How will this change affect our ability to compete in the market?

Balancing short-term and long-term product demands is never easy. Ask these questions and make an informed decision.

What else? What are some more questions to ask when thinking about short-term and long-term product demands?