Investor Sniff Test

General logic checks and best practices to ensure your model is complete and defensible.

Kelvin Hudson avatar
Written by Kelvin Hudson
Updated over a week ago

1. Customer Acquisition should show your strategies acquiring customers in the order of expected importance. For example, if you plan for partnerships to be your largest acquisition strategy it should bring in the largest number of customers. Free acquisition channels typically bringing in fewer customers than your paid channels- otherwise it may be difficult to justify the return on investment for those paid acquisition channels.

2. Your revenue streams assumptions should show an expected change in both customer behavior (decreased churn over time, increased average # of purchases over time, etc.) as well as pricing information where appropriate (the prices customers pay per tier).

3. Your revenue ramp (or the rate at which revenue increases) should not exceed a maximum of 3x year over year unless the reasoning is narratively defensible. An example being that you only relied on low pilot testing in the first year as a tech company and already have a waitlist of customers that, once they pay, will immediately result in well over a 3x in the previous years' revenue. Typically the amount of increase in revenue from year to year should slow down after the initial years (as the revenue figures begin to increase and operational complexities increase) but not slow down to below a 1.5x (preferably 2x) in the latest year. A common revenue growth model for SAAS companies, for example, is T2D3 growth (triple, triple, double, double, double).

4. Ensure that the revenue targets you are forecasting are defensible by typically ensuring they do not exceed $100M in revenue in a 5-6 year time frame while falling within the revenue growth rate model listed above. Revenue falling below $80M in this growth model may be seen as overly conservative and too far in excess of $100M may be seen as aggressive. This should be seen as a general guideline and it's important to be aware of your target audience when shaping the revenue targets within your model. The figures provided are for a typical VC (venture capital) expectation and if you're pitching to angels, the valuations you may be trying to justify with these revenue targets may place you outside of the range of smaller investors.

5. Profitability- You're generally wanting to show your company breaking profitability after a 2-3 year span within the model. You're typically expected to operate at a loss as an early stage startup since your sales and marketing spend / salaries and other operating costs are expected to outpace revenue in the near term while you ramp for scale.

6. Margins- You'll want to make sure your margins showcase an appropriate amount of spend dedicated to the delivery of your product (COGS) and the internal operations required to operate your business (operating expenses). Specifically, for a SAAS focused company such as yours want your gross profit margin (adjusting your COGS to be higher will lower this value) to fall between 70% to no more than an 85% value in your latest years of the model (otherwise seen as month 72). Your operating margin will be expected to range from 40% to 55% at most and this is directly affected by increasing the Non-COGS expenses within the expense section as well as the salary costs on the "People" section. The higher these costs, the lower your operating margin. And lastly, net margin (which is primarily controlled by manipulating the gross profit margin and operating margin) shouldn't be above 40%. We're currently gathering specific benchmarks to reference for companies other than SAAS but your analyst can provide more information for your industry until those resources are released.

7. Within taking a look at your operating margin you'll typically want salaries and benefits costs to make up roughly 20% of your revenue (the cost of salaries should be about 20% of revenue) and the same goes for your sales and marketing expenses. You'll want to be sure you see these values out into the latest years of your model. Naturally the values may be higher in the earlier periods but they should level out at about this range in maturity (near month 72). G&A and Product & Tech expenses should also be growing month over month (and as a consequence year over year) but aren't expected to make up very large % of revenue.

8. You'll want to be sure that the costs for your people section are spread out in a way that you feel is defensible. For example, if 90% of the costs from your salaries and benefits come from an operations modeled hire you'll need to feel comfortable explaining the roles of this person / group of people within the company.

9. You'll want to be sure your cash isn't showing as negative within the platform so to do this you'll need to make sure you've figured out how much funding the model says you need and input that as an investment amount. You'll want to make sure that if you're going to ask for a 1.5 million raise for example that the model contains at least this as a justification for the funds. You can use this video walkthrough for determining funds needed: Identifying Cash Needed / Fund Raising Target

10. Practice presenting the model to ensure the narrative you're explaining is cohesive and easy to comprehend. Be sure also that the strengths and things that you expect to differentiate you from your competition that will make you more attractive to investors are visible. For example, my industry is usually heavily reliant on customer service but I've developed resources that make my customer service team more efficient over time which means I don't need to hire as many of them. You'd want the model to show that your hiring plan shows the need to hire more CS reps decreasing over time as you initially hire 1 CS rep every 50 customers but over the life of the model gravitate towards hiring 1 CS rep every 150 customers.

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