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December 10, 2012
Your Development Dilemma: Growth vs. Capital Efficiency

The dilemma has become quite acute these days since there’s been an
expansion of available capital from VCs to fund growth companies. The
more capital available, the more capital is raised, the more capital is
spent, and the more capital is burnt.

I spoke with Greg Gianforte last week about this topic. Greg is a huge proponent of building startups organically, and he actively shuns VCs.

His point of view is that companies burning capital in pursuit of
hyper growth or market share “land-grab” are copping-out. CEOs should be
driving their teams to operate within the company’s capital means, and
should be working very hard to uncover efficiencies and differentiations
that would drive growth and profit. Spending your way into growth is
very risky, and can result in reduced equity value for your
shareholders.

Clearly there are many companies that have successfully adopted the spend-your-way-into-growth strategy. Jive, Box.net, and Hubspot
come to mind. But there are thousands other companies that have tried
to play that game and failed miserably. You just don’t hear about them
as loudly as the ones that are successful (for now).

So, if you’re about to raise capital to fund new growth, you
must make sure you have the basic elements required to achieve
capital-induced hyper growth:

1) Your Market Is Big Enough

Make sure there’s enough perspective buyers of your solution to
support your growth plans. Spare yourself the top down market sizing
(Gartner says our market is $1B growing at 15% a year). They are
meaningless.

Your market size is very simple. Figure out your target buyer. Figure
out how many of them exist in your target geography. Figure out how
many of them you can convert into customers. Multiply that number by
your average revenue per customer. Et voilà!

2) Your Service Is Differentiated

Does your product or solution truly stand apart? Do you regularly win
against your competition? (Small tip: Please don’t fool yourself into
thinking that you have no competition. You do. You either don’t know it
or you’re ignoring it.)

As a company grows, it becomes more challenged to deliver the
competitive advantage it used to when it was a smaller company. It
starts with the founding CEO spending less time with prospects and
customers, and rolls down the organization. So don’t assume what
differentiates your company today will be sustainable without a lot of
hard work.

3) You Recognize Growth Is Harder & More Expensive the More You Grow

Founders usually think that growing ten-fold from $1 million in
revenue to $10 million is as easy as growing from $100 thousand to the
first million. It is not. It is ten times harder and more expensive.

Revenue growth rarely scales linearly. And growth percentages drop
the bigger you get. Acquiring customers gets more expensive over time
rather than less. So make sure to temper your growth projections, and
double your cost assumptions.

4) You’ve Achieved Capital Efficiency

Only spend more on acquiring more new customers if
your cost of customer acquisition is profitable. A dollar spent in
acquiring a new customer should generate at least a dollar in recurring
revenue. If your revenue is non-recurring, then that dollar should
generate 3-4 dollars in revenue. If not, then don’t spend more money on
sales and marketing until you have figured out how to optimize your
customer acquisition cost.

The more money you raise to grow your revenue, the less time you will
spend on optimizing your operation and improving your product/service
delivery. Always be aiming for organic growth, and only spend more if
you have a highly efficient and profitable operation.

Firas Raouf is a Venture Partner with OpenView Venture Partners.  You may find this post, as well as additional content on OpenView's blog located here.  You can also follow Firas on Twitter (@fraouf) by clicking here

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