What is a Startup Financial Model and how does it work? We are going to review the full financials of Slidebean for our most important year: the year when we raised our first $250,000, the year when we grew our subscriptions by 800%.
As much as we are open and transparent about many things, we can't release detailed financials for our current company stage- but 2015 was a while ago, so we are OK with you digging in through our numbers.
We'd like you to pay close attention to:
How a Startup financial model looks.
How a startup distributes its expenses.
How much money is required to get a company off the ground.
A reality check, on the struggles you will have to endure as you start your first company.
Just in case you are new here, I co-founded Slidebean with these guys back in 2013. Slidebean is a pitch deck platform for startups. We have an AI design platform that designs your slides for you, or if you are looking for more advanced, human help, we can also get involved in writing the slides for your deck.
Alright, so we got together, bought the slidebean.com domain on May 2013 and started working on the platform. We held part-time jobs and managed other projects between 2013 and 2014 to pay our bills.
In 2014 we got accepted in Startup Chile, an accelerator in Santiago that gave us $35,000 and allowed us to dedicate all of our time to the platform. Later that year, we also went to Dreamit Ventures, an accelerator in NYC. We leveraged the Dreamit Network heavily to get into investor conversations. The presence in New York was also crucial towards getting the launch of the platform covered by the startup press...
Finally, we joined 500 Startups in the winter of 2014, raised $75,000 from them and closed an additional $250,000 from a mix of investors in New York and San Jose.
Our financials at that time were... complex, and indeed not well documented. Some money came from consulting projects we took, which were unrelated to Slidebean, so it's not necessarily a great example. If you haven't done so, you should look into our founder's agreement video, to get an idea of how to manage money at such an early stage.
But again, by February 2015, we had money in the bank, and we could start spending more aggressively- so here's the breakdown.
We started the year with $1,178 in subscriptions, and we closed it with $16,197.
We generated a total of $113,535 in revenue and spent $313,685. Yeah, that's why startups raise money, because turning a profit your first year is hard.
Now before we dig deeper into the document, let me explain briefly how a startup financial model works.
A startup financial model is usually split into SG&A (Selling, General, and Administrative Expenses), COGS (Cost of Goods Sold), Revenue, and CAPEX (Capital Expenditure).
Slidebean: COGS, CAPEX, SG&A, REVENUE
COGS: holds all of our server costs essential to the business. This includes AWS as well as any other platform or tool that the Slidebean platform needs to operate correctly.
CAPEX: we use mostly for equipment: office furnishing and computers. When you buy a company laptop, you are not spending the money but putting it into an asset, so for financial purposes, this works somewhat differently.
SG&A has all of the other expenses, including team, marketing costs, rent, insurance, and services the organization uses to execute its tasks.
Finally, the Revenue sheet not only has our final revenue metrics for the month but our financial projections. We have iterated over different formulas to calculate our future revenue.
As a SaaS business, we can accurately predict how much renewal revenue we are going to make on a given month, based on historical retention rates or churn. Coming months we estimate based on our marketing spend.
So we have a formula that estimates the dollars earned in revenue per dollar spent in marketing, including team, ads and so on... if on the SG&A sheet we scale the marketing budget, we see that reflected on the future revenue sheet.
This formula assumes, of course, that you can scale your marketing budget with the same efficiency. It would be a bold statement to say that you can triple your spend and see that reflected in your revenue- but you can make small, percentual monthly increases while adding a variable to predict that more spend will be inefficient.
Another formula we use is the support staff required by the number of customers. You can estimate that you will need to hire a new support person for every 1,000 new active customers you have on the platform.
So as your subscriber base scales (based on your predicted increase in marketing spend) so will your estimate expenses to support that user base. You can apply a similar formula to server costs and other platforms.
Calculating all this is rather complex, and every business will need a different formula, but estimating this correctly will allow you to spend your budget more efficiently. Knowing what will happen in the next few months lets you choose when and how to scale your team and your growth efforts without endangering the company.
Now, back to our own startup financial model.
We closed $170,000 of funding in February 2015. Thanks to the fact this was a convertible note, we collected the first $170,000 in February and an additional $80,000 in May. Yes, at this point I had never seen so much money on a bank account I had access to.
Startup financial model - SG&A Payroll and Salaries
We spent around $146,000 in payroll that year; which includes wages and payroll taxes.
Founder salaries were close to $93,000 for the year. You can quickly guess that we allocated about $2,500/mo per founder, or around $30,000/yr.
Figuring out founder salaries is hard, and negotiating them with your investors is hard as well. The wage of a founder needs to be enough, so you don't have to spend time worrying about your salary.
It's also important to understand that this should be good enough to get by, but not to 'save money.' Your 'savings' as a founder are the stock you own in the company, and it increases in value based on the effort you put in.
During this time we were partially based in Costa Rica and partly based in California and New York (we were exiting the 500 Startups accelerator). If it works as a reference, the minimum wage in Costa Rica at that time was around $700/mo.
Whenever we had to spend time in expensive cities, we had a small adjustment to cover the extra cost of staying in the city.
How we succeeded
Being based in Costa Rica has been, by far, one of the core reasons for our success. We have been able to attract great talent at a fraction of the cost of hosting those teams in the US. They are not an outsourced or remote team, but fully embedded in our company culture thanks to our local office.
It was only until late 2015 when we were able to scale our organization. Our logic behind this was that we wanted to prove our ability to scale our user base, and we did. Once we projected good revenue for the months to come, we allowed ourselves to hire new team members.
If you look at the startup financial model doc, you'll also find team members that made more money than me. That is totally fine at this stage. You, founder, are betting it all on this company to grow and you have the upside of being a majority shareholder. If you want to attract talented people, you are going to have to pay them market salaries.
We spent about $83,000 on paid marketing, plus an additional $4,000 on platforms or tools directly related to marketing.
We separate those tools from the rest of the services we use to calculate a full cost of acquisition for the month. While we track the effectiveness of each campaign individually, it's essential to know the average cost of a lead and a customer, taking into account everything from the ad cost, to the team executing the ads and the tools they used.
OTHER SG&A COSTS
Not a lot to add there, you'll find pretty standard business expenses. You'll see some legal costs in the model, mostly related to the documents needed to close the round.
Equipment is another highlight worth mentioning. We, founders, had to upgrade our laptops in the process, and spending $2,500 on a new MacBook Pro was an unjustified company expense when we could have gotten along with a cheaper version.
So the company bought the laptops, but we paid the company back in monthly installments.
If you are an e-commerce platform, the cost of the things you sell would be calculated here. Since we are a software platform, we only include server costs, which allows us to calculate a gross margin from the cost of running the platform.
This is not a real gross margin since the platform needs people to operate, to provide support, and so on... but you can calculate an adjusted margin if you include the cost of the support team and the marketing costs.
You'll find a lot of KPIs on this sheet, most of them are quite specific to SaaS, or are used as part of our formula to estimate revenue. A lot of this data comes from ChartMogul or from Baremetrics- so Excel is mostly for monitoring and Some points worth mentioning:
Days in the month: when you are making $5,000 a day, it makes a difference if the month has 30 or 31 days- or you know, 28.
3, 6, and 12-month trends are another good way to determine how things are moving forward, and to implement those numbers in your future projections.
We hope you found this article useful. Let us know any other topics you'd like us to write about.