Slack’s earnings detail how COVID-19 is both a help and a hindrance to cloud growth

Slack’s shares are set to fall sharply this morning, down around 16% in pre-market trading. As the company beat analyst expectations last quarter and guided within range, the selloff might feel a little surprising.

Perhaps it shouldn’t.

I spoke with a VC last week about what the new benchmark results are for private SaaS companies, and to my surprise, he said software startups don’t have to grow at 100% to be fundable in today’s market. Given what I’d heard from other venture capitalists about how so much of their portfolios had found a COVID-19 growth bump, the perspectives felt incongruous.

The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. You can read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.

Startups wanted to grow at a pace of more than 100% pre-pandemic, and some have accelerated since. So how could a startup growing less than three figures yearly be attractive? Throw in Zoom’s impressive earnings results and some warning signs from earlier this earnings cycle that cloud growth hasn’t wound up being quite as fast as expected felt diminished.

Slack’s earnings help sort out what’s going on.

Reading the company’s SEC filing related to earnings this morning, it’s hard to miss Slack’s notes about COVID-19. The enterprise communications company describes early benefits from the pandemic, along with lingering pain associated with its economic impacts. In short, the software-related COVID bump could wind up leaving a hangover in the short- to medium-term.

This helps us understand why a software startup could be VC-attractive in 2020 without a 100% growth rate. Perhaps more SaaS and cloud startups than we’ve been led to believe are struggling, which means slower revenue expansion is palatable provided that other indicators are flashing green.

To understand what could be happening to your favorite startup, let’s tease apart Slack’s COVID-19-related business notes, starting with the good news, before turning to what I’ve penciled in as the bad news — and the even badder tidings.