Back to my conversation with the CEO. We were talking about the use of proceeds for the financing she is trying to raise. In her case, the business is break-even, but has the opportunity to grow into some oncoming market demand. So I asked a classic VC question; “Assuming you close the financing in Q4, 2009, what will your 2010 revenues be?” Simple question right?
Lets say that this company ended 2009 with $3 million in run-rate revenue and that the Company has two sales reps. Each sales rep. has a quota of $10,000 of incremental monthly recurring revenue (“MRR”) bookings per month. Sales reps. historically produce at 75% of quota in this company, so the incremental new bookings per month, per rep is $7,500. At its current level of sales and marketing resource and productivity, this business can expect to generate $1.17 million more in revenue in 2010 than it generated in ‘09. To get there, just multiple the $15k per month of incremental revenue the two sales reps. will generate by 78. Why 78? Because 78 is the ”sum of the digits” for revenue producing months in a year. Incremental revenue added in January will produce revenue for 12 months; incremental revenue added in February will produce revenue for 11 months; …; incremental revenue added in December will produce revenue for 1 month. The sum of digits for 12 is: 12 + 11 + 10 + … + 2 + 1 = 78. So the baseline revenue projection for 2010 should be about $4.17 million.
Now lets talk about the enhanced growth opportunity. The Company wants to hire two additional sales reps. who can be expected to produce at the same $7,500 of MRR as the two existing reps. For purposes of the example it will take a quarter to recruit and hire the two new reps and another quarter for them to build a sales pipeline given the sales cycle. Conservatively, these two new reps. won’t begin generating MRR bookings until June. Lets say there is a one-month install cycle so that June bookings convert to revenue in July. So what kind of incremental growth will these reps. generate in 2010? We don’t get to use the rule of 78 this time; no, because these reps. will produce for only six months during 2010, we use the sum of digits of 6, which is 21. That is a lot less than 78; that six month delay between making the decision to hire two new reps and getting them on board and productive really hurts. In 2010, the two new reps. will generate only $315k of incremental revenue. The business can be expected to generate $4.485 million of revenue in 2010; not meaningfully more than the base scenario without additional investment.
While this looks like meager growth, it doesn’t tell the whole story. Remember, this business came into the year with a $3 million run-rate. Without hiring the two new reps, the business should end 2010 with a run-rate of $5.16 million. By hiring the two new reps. that can be increased to $6.24 million, even though the two new reps. are productive for only six months. That incremental run-rate of over $1 million makes a huge difference and sure makes hiring the two new reps. look a whole lot more attractive than the meager incremental revenue they will generate in 2010.
Here are the key takeaways:
1) Get the Base Right: Recurring-revenue businesses are great because they are highly predictable. Applying the rule of 78s and with a little understanding of your sales resources and their productivity, you should be able to estimate your baseline next year revenue with a high degree of confidence.
2) Scaling Takes Time: The most common mistake I see recurring-revenue entrepreneurs make it to underestimate the time it takes for increased sales and marketing resource to impact the top-line. Hiring new sales people today probably won’t move the needle on your next twelve month revenue. More likely, an investment in sales and marketing won’t have meaningful impact until the following fiscal year.
3) Run-Rate Matters: You will see the impact of an investment in sales and marketing in run-rate much faster than in top-line GAAP revenues. If you are asked about what your revenues will be next year, answer the question directly, but also include a description of the difference in the run-rate you expect to end the year with under the no-growth and growth scenarios. The run-rate difference will impress much more than the top-line difference.
By the way, the CEO of the SaaS company I was speaking with got this analysis dead-right. Well done!
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(Cross-posted @ Non-Linear VC)