Monday, March 17, 2008

Magic Number for SaaS Companies

Guest post on Will Price's blog - reposted here.

Josh James, CEO of Omniture (a Hummer Winblad portfolio company), gave an inspiring talk on building a SaaS company last week at the Opsource summit. Josh walked through the history of Omniture as a case study for building a SaaS company. He talked about the need to invest in the company with a firm hand on the wheel as the recurring revenue slowly built up over time. He outlined the different stages of evolution of the company:

1) Product: build a rock solid product. Prove you can sell it as founders before moving past this step.
2) Sell: Sell like crazy, build out a team, hire some QBSRs (Quota Bearing Sales Reps)
3) Retention: focus on churn and retention issues, hire more QBSRs
4) Marketing: spend on marketing, hire more QBSRs

The next phases, not surprisingly, also included hiring more QBSRs but interestingly it is not until later that investments in efficient infrastructure and operations hit their ToDo lists. This outline displays a strong focus on finding a product market fit and then adding gas to the fire as the market opened up. The key metric that Omniture used to decide how much gas to pour on the fire was the Magic Number.

The Magic Number

The magic number ("MN") is a metric that can be used to tell you the health of your company from the perspective of growing monthly recurring revenue ("MRR"). It is a common mode metric to compare companies MRR scaled by sales and marketing spend. The MN provides insight into the effectiveness of previous quarter Sales and Marketing spend on MRR growth. Your MN will be penalized if the spend is wasted (bad marketing, bad sales execution), if your churn is high or if the market has issues (saturation, competitive forces). It also has a very high correlation with Q/Q growth rates so in general, high Magic Numbers are good.

To calculate:

QRev[X] = Quarterly Recurring Revenue for period X
QRev[X-1] = Quarterly Recurring Revenue for the period preceding X
ExpSM[X-1] = Total Sales and Marketing Expense for the period preceding X

Magic Number = (QRev[X] – Qrev[X-1])*4/ExpSM[X-1]

For example, consider a hypothetical company with the following financials

Q1 Q2 Q3
Revenue (recurring total) 1M 1.2M 1.5M
S&M Expense 800K 900K

Then the magic number is 1.0 for the end of Q2 and 1.33 for Q3.

Fundamentally, the key insight is that if you are below 0.75 then step back and look at your business, if you are above 0.75 then start pouring on the gas for growth because your business is primed to leverage spend into growth. If you are anywhere above 1.5 call me immediately.

Josh provided the following gas-pouring throttle chart for SaaS companies to evaluate how much to invest in their go-to-market spend. The data on the charts if from Omniture and other public SaaS companies.

Calculate yours…and get back to me if it is interesting! For fun and extra credit take a look at difference in Magic Number for some of the public SaaS companies like Omniture and SuccessFactors. I can be reached at

1 comment:

Joel Lessem said...

Good Article. One exception. We are finding that companies find software more and more from online search and referral than QBSRs. We are finding much more efficient customer aquisition through investing in social media/SEO vs. lots of QBSRs (we tried that first). This is not a straw poll either....we do over 150 sales presentations a month!

joel lessem