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Why Your Startup Should Care About Revenue Multiples  by@sarathcp92

Why Your Startup Should Care About Revenue Multiples

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Sarath C P  Hacker Noon profile picture

Sarath C P

Digital Strategist and Consultant, Growth Hacking Specialist worked for both startups & big brands.

Ever wondered how investors make funding decisions regarding startups?

In the initial stages, a startup only rides on a brilliant idea and a fabulous team-leading the execution. They do not have reliable, progressive data to show, especially about their profitability.

In this situation, how do you think investors gauge the merit of ideas? How do they know which startup would fetch them massive returns in the future?

A revenue multiple is the answer. 

This category of multiples is part of a wider umbrella of company valuation techniques known as valuation multiples. Let’s discuss it one by one. 

Revenue Multiples

Any valuation multiple is a ratio of one financial metric to another. Over the years, as the startup marketplace evolved, investors realized that the usual valuation techniques used to measure the profitability of established businesses do not work for startups simply due to the absence of sufficient data. Among many multiples, the ones based on revenue calculations turned out to be a good fit. 

What are Revenue Multiples?

As the name suggests, revenue multiples are valuation metrics based on company revenue. This works best for startups because revenue is the only stable value compared to all other factors. These multiples provide an opportunity to bypass complicated company valuation calculations based on earnings and cash flows. Mostly, startups do not have sufficient data to support such analyses. Thus, multiples derived from revenue values work best in this case. 

Revenue multiple is derived by dividing the enterprise value by the total revenue generated by the startup. We will get into the calculations at a later stage, but for now, it is good to know that by using the enterprise value, this multiple provides a realistic estimate of a startup’s long-term profit potential. Enterprise value not only accounts for the market cap but also a startup’s outstanding debts and cash reserves. This gives a holistic picture of the current financial health of a startup. 

Importance of Revenue Multiples in Startup Valuation

If you have spent some time analyzing investment processes, you will realize that one of the popular valuation tools is EBITDA and multiples derived from it. EBITDA stands for Earnings Before Interest Taxes Depreciation and Amortization. Early-stage companies are just starting their business process, and it is difficult to account for all the components of EBITDA. Thus company valuation based on EBITDA is not possible in the case of startups. A feasible solution is revenue multiples for startups. 

Use of Revenue Multiples in Startup 

Revenue multiple is a reliable valuation tool. But it can only function well in the hands of an experienced analyst. As a simple value, this multiple indicates nothing unless compared and analyzed with a strong foundation or working knowledge of the business and operating industry. In the hands of experienced analysts, revenue multiples serve the following purposes:

  • Helps to value early-stage companies that do not have a stable cash flow yet. This works well, especially for tech startups.
  • Revenue multiple formulae are simple and easy to calculate. It does not require too many financial components or serious accounting procedures
  • Investors and startup management can get a quick view of the profit potential of the startup. There is no need to involve professional/legal services to derive a revenue multiple.
  • It is a reliable alternative to mainstream, popular valuation metrics that rely heavily on a company’s past financial records to project its future possibilities in the industry.
  • Revenue multiples account for two types of revenue – forecasted revenue and reported revenue. Investors focused on growth prefer to use forecasted revenue, while those interested in company value use reported revenue.

How do Revenue Multiples Help Tie Back Expenses and Cash Flow?

A realistic company valuation multiple must account for expenses and cash flow. In the case of startups, though this is difficult and revenue is used as a reference point, it must circle back to analyses that justify expenses and cash flows. This can be done by using the Gordon Growth Model or the Dividend Discount Model. As per this model:

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This is the basic Gordon Growth Model. It is based on the concept that the true worth of a business is the present value only after discounting all future dividend payouts. But in the context of startups, especially tech startups, the concept of dividends may not work as their business model does not involve dividend payouts. In this case, the same Gordon Growth Model is adapted to account for the established cash flow into a startup. In this case, the following formula is used to calculate revenue multiple using the Gordon Growth Model:

Revenue multiple = Profit margin*Profit payout* (1+g) / (r – g)

This formula can only work if the startup has a constant growth rate and profit margins, and profit payouts. At times, this could be difficult for a startup as the business is just growing, and there might be some bumps on the path. This should not be taken as a negative in company valuation. Experienced analysts know that these ups and downs are part of a startup growth cycle. If nothing works, then the standard formula for revenue multiple is always reliable for a quick scan of comparative companies in the industry.

What is a Reasonable Revenue Multiple?

Revenue multiples for startups can have a straightforward interpretation. A high multiple indicates high growth and high-profit margins, while a low-value multiple indicates the opposite. But to think of it, this is a vague reading. How high is high, and how low is low? Also, in the initial stages, a startup can have a sudden growth spurt and show very high multiples to the range of 200 – 300x. But this will change and stabilize over time. Thus, analysts with true industry experience can provide a realistic picture of the true meaning of revenue-based multiples. Here is a basic range guide:

1x – 5x:

This is the base range. Startups with revenue multiples in this category are growing slow, approximately 10% per year. If this range is explored further:

  • 1x multiple works for companies with transactional revenue. This happens with companies dealing with products with low margins (e.g. Hardware) or for companies that fail and have no future growth possibilities. 
  • Less than 3x multiple may interest investors who can observe the current revenue and trust the business to generate more in the future.
  • 3x – 5x revenue multiple is an acceptable range in the investment industry. Investors entering funding cycles of startups prefer to choose companies with revenue multiples in this range.

6x – 10x:

This range of revenue multiples is usually found in companies with a growth rate of below 50%. Investors are choosing companies in this range usually fund startups growing at a rate of 30 – 40% per year.

10x – 20x:

This is considered a high-range multiple. Such a high range is usually seen in companies growing at 300 – 400% per year.

Pros and Cons of Revenue Multiples

As we have seen so far, revenue multiples are, on the one hand, extremely helpful, especially in the context of startups. But, like every other valuation metric, they have their limitations as well. Here is a brief summary:

Pros of Revenue Multiples:

  • Compared to earnings multiples, revenue multiples are more stable because revenue is not affected by economic changes. 
  • It is a reliable metric for early-stage companies or those struggling to generate a proper cash flow in a long time.
  • In accounting books, compared to all other entries, revenue cannot be manipulated. This makes revenue multiples a reliable option as it has lesser chances of data manipulation.
  • Revenue value is available for companies of all shapes and sizes. Unlike earnings and cash flows that depend on the business stage of a company, its growth rate, and size, revenue is generated by all companies irrespective of the above factors.
  • Investors can use revenue multiples to evaluate companies that are not generating profits at present. This is one of the biggest advantages of this metric. This is the fundamental reason why these multiples are used for startup valuations.

Cons of Revenue Multiples:

  • The biggest drawback of revenue multiples is that it is affected by the capital structure of a company. As a result, startups financed by equity show high multiples while those early-stage companies financed by debt show low multiples. But this could be misleading in terms of the future profit potential of a startup.
  • Revenue multiples based company valuation runs the chances of falling prey to internal foul play. Startup management can easily show debt financing as an equity round and project high multiples.

Factors to Consider Before Using Revenue Multiples

Revenue multiples may seem extremely simple and conversational. Investors and analysts could speak in terms of these multiples over a cup of coffee. It is that convenient. But, to an inexperienced eye, solely revenue multiple based judgments can be misleading. Here are some factors to be considered while revenue multiples:  

  • How fast have they been growing revenue: Since revenue is the basis of this valuation multiple, before looking at the actual value, analysts must consider all factors surrounding revenue generation. This includes background research into how far the startup has come along the business cycle, how consistent they have been in generating revenues, how many rounds of external funding they have handled, and the likes.
  • What is their gross margin: This is an important question, especially in the case of startups. Investors backing early-stage businesses rely on revenue multiples provided the startup management assures them about their present gross margins and how soon they expect their cash flow to be positive
  • What is the average revenue multiple of other more established companies: Analysts must be experienced enough to do this comparative study. A revenue multiple as a standalone value does not say much. It is only when the value of one startup is compared to another that investors understand how well the target startup is faring compared to other companies in the same industry.
  • What were similar startups in this industry that exited valued at: This factor is a futuristic comparison. Before relying on a revenue multiple, investors must do market research about startups that had earlier traded at that particular value. They must check the track record of similar companies, who invested in them, size of returns, and exit scenario.

Revenue Multiple Formula and Calculation

The revenue multiple formulae is very simple. It is derived by dividing the enterprise value by revenue. 

Revenue multiple = Enterprise value / Revenue

Enterprise value = Market cap + Debt + Preferred shares + Minority interests – Cash and cash equivalents 

Revenue = Total annual revenue 

Let’s approach this with an example:

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 Enterprise value = A + B + C + D – E

= $50,000,000 + $10,000,000 + $50,000 + $1,000,000 – 20,000,000

Enterprise value = $41,050,000

Revenue multiple = $41,050,000 / $25,000,000 

Revenue multiple = 1.6 x

As per this calculation, it can be said that this company is trading at a 1.6x

Example of Revenue Multiples

Valuation multiples as a group can be categorized into two types:

  1. Equity multiples
  2. Enterprise multiples

Revenue multiples per se belong to the category of enterprise multiples. The various types of enterprise multiples are:

  • Enterprise value / Revenue: This is a popular alternative to enterprise value to sales ratios
  • Enterprise value / EBITDAR: This multiple is a ratio of the enterprise value to the Earnings Before Interest Taxes Depreciation Amortization & Rental costs. This is mostly used in the hotel and transport sectors.
  • Enterprise value / EBITDA: EBITDA is a powerful substitute to company valuation situations where data related to free cash flow is absent   
  • Enterprise value / Invested capital: This ratio is used in capital-intensive industries. In these situations, the invested capital becomes an important component of valuation multiples. 

These were some basic ideas about the concept of revenue multiples. Take time to understand how these multiples are used in valuations for startups and how you can benefit by using them for your company.


Sarath C P  Hacker Noon profile picture
by Sarath C P @sarathcp92.Digital Strategist and Consultant, Growth Hacking Specialist worked for both startups & big brands.
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