For a long time, “revenue” seemed to be a taboo word in the startup world. Fortunately, things have changed with the rise of SaaS and alternative funding sources such as revenue-based investing VCs. Still, revenue modeling remains a challenge for founders. How do you predict earnings when you are still figuring it out?
The answer is twofold: You need to make your revenue predictable, repeatable and scalable in the first place, plus make use of tools that will help you create projections based on your data. Here, we’ll suggest some ways you can get more visibility into your revenue, find the data that really matter and figure out how to put a process in place to make forecasts about it.
You need to make your revenue predictable, repeatable and scalable in the first place, plus make use of tools that will help you create projections based on your data.
Base projections on repeatable, scalable results
Aaron Ross is a co-author of “Predictable Revenue,” a book based on his experience of creating a process and team that helped grow Salesforce’s revenue by more than $100 million. “Predictable” is the key word here: “You want growth that doesn’t require guessing, hope and frantic last-minute deal-hustling every quarter- and year-end,” he says.
This makes recurring revenue particularly desirable, though it is by no means the be-all-end-all of predictable revenue. On one hand, there is always the risk that recurring revenue won’t last, as customers may churn and organic growth runs out of gas. On the other, there is a broader picture for predictable revenue that goes beyond subscription-based models.
Ross and his co-author, Marylou Tyler, outline three steps to predictable revenue: predictable lead generation, a dedicated sales development team and consistent sales systems. They wrote an entire book about it, so it would be hard to sum it up here. So what’s the takeaway? You shouldn’t base your projections on processes and results that aren’t repeatable and scalable.
Cross the hot coals
In their early days, startups usually grow via word of mouth, luck and sheer hustle. The problem is that it likely won’t lead to sustainable growth; as the saying goes, what got you here won’t get you there. In between, there is typically a phase of uncertainty and missed results that Ross refers to as “the hot coals.”
Before the hot coals, predicting revenue is vain at best, and oftentimes impossible. I, for one, remember being at a loss when an old-school investor asked me for five-year profit-and-loss projections when my now-defunct startup was nowhere near a stable money-making path. Not all seed investors expect this, so there was obviously a mismatch here, but the challenge is still the same for most founders: How do you bridge the gap between traditional projections and the reality of a startup?