Design a Recurring Revenue Model for your Startup


One of the first things that a venture capitalist looks for in assessing an investment opportunity is the revenue model of the business.  More specifically, they are looking for the frequency of that revenue stream, and whether or not it is recurring and easily predictable.  The rationale behind this is that investors prefer businesses that maximize the lifetime value of their consumers, and get maximum leverage and returns on the initial marketing cost of customer acquisition (which they are funding).  This lesson will teach you how to design a winning, recurring and predictable revenue model.

Let’s compare 2 different businesses: iExplore’s adventure travel business vs. Verizon’s mobile phone service.  iExplore’s adventure travel business is very expensive to market, trying to find the affluent consumers that can afford a $5,000 vacation.  Let’s say the cost of customer acquisition is $1,000 per customer, which eats up a good portion of the $1,500 (30%) gross margin on that trip sold.  Which would be fine, with a high frequency purchase.  But, adventure travelers only buy a big vacation like this every couple years.  That’s a long time to wait to drive repeat sales and to leverage your upfront marketing investment, hurting the lifetime customer value calculation.

On the other hand, Verizon’s mobile phone service appeals to most everyone, regardless of demographics.  Everyone needs a mobile phone these days, so the company is not looking for a needle in the haystack when it comes to a target market for their service.  So, Verizon’s cost of customer acquisition will be a lot lower, closer to $300.  And, at $100 per month for their service, they will drive a large and recurring revenue stream over a 5-year period totaling $6,000 (assuming clients will remain with them and the company’s service stays competitive over that period).

That is a 20x relationship between revenues and initial marketing cost for Verizon, and a 10x relationship for iExplore (assuming 2 vacations purchased in a 5-year period).  What Verizon has that iExplore doesn’t have is high predictability of future revenues.  Customers are locked into 2-year contracts, and customers largely stay with the same carriers beyond the initial contract, assuming they are happy with the service.  So, they pretty much have locked-in good visibility to their future revenues for the next few years.  At the same time, iExplore’s customers may or may not buy a second vacation, in a market that is highly cyclical and subject to big economic swings in demand for discretionary products of this nature.

It is pretty clear that Verizon beats iExplore, in terms of who has the better revenue model.  Their service appeals to a lot more potential customers.  Their cost of acquisition is a lot lower.  Their lifetime value of customer revenues is a lot higher.  And, most importantly, their future revenue stream is a lot more predictable, which in the world of startups seeking capital from venture capitalists means everything.

So, as you design your revenue model, make sure it is highly recurring and highly predictable in order to maximize the odds of securing capital for your business.

Reprinted by permission.

About the author: George Deeb

George Deeb is a managing partner at Red Rocket Ventures, a Chicago-based startup consulting and fundraising firm with expertise in advising Internet-related businesses. More of George’s startup lessons can be read at “101 Startup Lessons — An Entrepreneur’s Handbook.”

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