Key Metrics for Startups: Consumer vs. Enterprise SaaS

I listened to a fascinating podcast this morning in which Jason Calacanis, an early investor in companies including Uber and Calm, broke down how to measure startup success. The key metrics depend on what kind of company you’re looking at:

Consumer companies:

  • Of the biggest users, how many are retained? For example, if someone used the app 3 times a week on average last month, how likely were they to return this month? Much of your app engagement is driven by the most active users.
  • What is the customer acquisition cost versus the revenue from each customer? Half to two thirds of the spending of fast growing consumer companies is marketing, even outpacing staff salaries! And that makes sense if you’re customer acquisition cost is $50 but you can get $100 from them. You should do that all day. This is also relevant for SaaS startups.
  • For marketplaces, how often do transactions happen? Higher revenue transactions, like booking an Airbnb, can be less frequent. Low revenue transactions, like taking an Uber, need to be more frequent.
  • Also for marketplaces: what is the take rate? How much money do you get from each transaction?

Enterprise Software as a Service (SaaS) companies:

  • How many customers “land and expand”? Since enterprise SaaS tends to have a lower churn rate (customers leaving), how many become customers and then buy more licenses (“seats”) for more of their staff is key. Another way customers can expand is if you start selling more products and they buy those too.
  • Churn rate is less relevant. You don’t see as many customers cancelling because businesses put more consideration into a software purchase and then rely on it for their company’s success. A consumer is much more likely to take a flier on a Hulu membership than a company is to do so on a SaaS product. This means if you keep selling enough licenses and new, adjacent products to existing customers, you don’t even need to increase customer count much. This is less true for consumer startups.

Bonus: Dating apps face some special challenges. Facebook and Instagram sometimes ban them from advertising, and it’s very difficult to get them approved in the Apple app store. This may be because some are used to scam people and companies want to protect their users.

Some great info in this podcast! I’ll definitely be using it to guide my investment decisions. On the whole, SaaS seems a lot easier. Customers are less fickle, have deeper pockets, and are more willing to pay for something than consumers who have been trained that if it’s on the internet, it’s free.

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Photo: CEO of hot startup Clubhouse, “Paul Davison” by jdlasica is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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