I recently had an interesting conversation with a very smart hedge fund buddy of mine. We were of course talking about investment ideas, given many of us were holding either cash or gold, and I threw out Salesforce.com. It is generating 15-20% free cash flow margins, growing revenues at 30%+, with a solid recurring base. This led to a discussion of valuing SaaS companies.
As venture folks trying to build companies, we tend to focus on operational metrics like Annual Contract Value (ACV), Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR), Average Selling Price (ASPs), and Churn. Both Byron Deeter of Bessemer and Will Price formerly of Hummer Winblad have done very nice posts here. My friend’s perspective was entirely different as a public market buyer. He looks at everything through the valuation lens. He said the metrics above are all interesting, but he and his peers tend to focus on Lifetime Value of a Customer. Essentially wrapping many of the components above to look at the DCF value per customer. It is very similar to how analysts look at cable companies on the overall value per subscriber. An obvious point he made, but framed from an entirely different angle, was that small changes to churn assumptions would lead to drastic changes in the overall valuation and associated multiples of a company. While one can focus on the revenue or FCF multiples, it’s really the LTV that he cares about.
As a venture investor, I had never really thought about the public market perspective on my companies. But it got me thinking about adding it to the key list of metrics our SaaS CEOs think about, because someday, we hope they will be selling that LTV metric to the Street. Its component parts are made up of all the metrics we track, but creating an explicit metric often generates focus, and it’s probably one to think about early on in building value.
What do you think?