The tech startup challenge: profitability vs growth?

by James Ker-Reid - June 11, 2021

Growth or profit? For B2B tech startups, it’s the million-dollar question. 

Both of these outcomes are highly valuable for businesses. And most founders strive to position their businesses for both maximum growth and sustained profitability. Unfortunately, we know that it is incredibly difficult to attain both at the same time. In the end, it comes down to understanding the difference between the two and making an educated decision on when to shift your attention and resources to each one. 

So, what is the optimal ratio between the two?

Exploring the rules of growth and profitability 

Completing some online research will highlight that there are numerous rules of thumb out there for assessing whether your B2B tech startup has the right growth-profit balance. The now famous “Rule of 40” suggests that a successful SaaS startup’s growth rate plus profit should add up to 40%. Which means if you’re growing at 60% per quarter, you can afford to lose 20%. 

The basic idea is that early stage startups should aim for high growth, prioritising unit or cohort profitability, not overall company profitability as the company invests in product and service development and scalability.

Growth 

There’s organic growth and growth by acquisition or partnership. Usually for a B2B tech startup, organic growth will be the priority. That can include increasing the workforce, increasing the customer base and increasing the volume of sales. 

However, with this comes increased risks with additional obligations, and with fast growth and rapid expansion, businesses can run into problems with maintaining quality.

Research shows that 93% of B2B tech companies fail to reach Series A funding.

If you want to run a successful startup that will last, you have to learn how to measure startup growth. 

In light of recent economic and market conditions, most notably the implosion of WeWork, growth isn’t enough to attract investors anymore. 

Profitability 

Profits are important to every business, and it’s no surprise that most entrepreneurs seek to become profitable quickly. Unfortunately, only two in five startups are profitable, and other startups will either break even (1 in 3) or continue to lose money.

Sometimes, achieving true profitability comes at the expense of growth. Instead of reinvesting profits into sales, marketing and employees, founders use profits to build the bottom line and net cash. 

For a new startup, one of the greatest advantages to focusing on profitability is the ability to maintain financial stability without relying on outside investment. 

Finding the right strategy to balance growth and profitability 

Startup founders need to strike a balance between growth and profitability in order to secure investment and sustainably grow their business. 

Some of the key ways to strike the right balance include: 

Cash flow – as a general rule of thumb, it is recommended that you should have enough cash saved up to cover a minimum of 6 months’ worth of expenses.

Cash conversion cycle – analyse the time (days) it takes from e-signature to invoice sent and to the invoice being paid, decreasing this time will bring new much needed cash into your business and fuel your growth.

Establish targets – set a minimum profit level and allow for growth-focused investments with any profits that exceed that target.

Market fit – it’s important to generate revenue during the early stages, in order to verify that customers will pay for your product.

Cost-to-serve equation – this analysis will pinpoint exactly how profitable a particular customer will be and which ones may actually generate losses for the business. Then you can establish the value of that customer and weigh that against the risks. 

Customer referrals – asking your existing customer base for recommendations, means new customers can be secured with minimal investment, even if referral fees are due, it’s when you receive the revenue. A strategy like this will help to grow the business and generate profits simultaneously. 

All sized companies need to be agile and learn when to shift their focus between growth and profitability at different stages of the life cycle. At Sales for Startups we work with Pre-Seed to Series A startups to create comprehensive agile strategies to support overall goals. 

To find out more download our Winning Sales Strategy or book a consultation call with our CEO & Founder James Ker-Reid. 



Further Reading

The M-A-T Effect for B2B tech startup founders
James Ker-Reid
September 6, 2021

The M-A-T Effect for B2B tech startup founders

+Read More
James Ker-Reid
May 28, 2021

Optimising sales and marketing operations to increase leads

+Read More
Aligning sales and marketing
James Ker-Reid
August 5, 2021

Sales for Startups partner with Eleven to prove why aligning sales and marketing is crucial

+Read More