SaaS Articles


  • Mike

    I am an early stage SaaS start up trying to finalize my financial model for investors. The business is focused on service companies in the construction industry. I have been trying to find some data on conversion rates when using a freemium model and was hoping that someone out there might be able to give me some direction. Specifically I am looking for info to explain how many users covert from a free version of a program to a paid version. Does anyone know a reputable source for this kind of information and where I could find it?

  • David Skok

    Hi Mike, unfortunately the conversion rates for freemium businesses vary greatly from one company to another, depending on how compelling the value proposition is for the upgrade to paying. The only thing I can tell you is that in a number of successful businesses, the conversion rate has been around 3%. However, it is my guess that a lot of the businesses that try to get the freemium model working don’t get to that number, as their value proposition is not strong enough.

  • Mime

    What does SaaS stand for .

  • David Skok

    Software as a Service. i.e. when you are able to access software using your web browser, because it is running in the cloud. The benefits versus conventional software:
    – No need to ask IT to purchase servers, and run and manage them
    – No large upfront license fee

    – Easy to test the software before purchasing

  • Swati

    How are SaaS companies valued? What does a VC look for in a SaaS company?

  • Eugenia

    Hi David- I was wondering if you had any thoughts on whether third-party content-based (rather than first-party software based) subscription businesses (such as Netflix, Spotify) should be evaluated any differently than classic SaaS companies, given the significant differences in gross margin (driven in part by upfront investments that are fixed despite how many users convert).

  • David Skok

    Hi Eugenia, if you are thinking about the metrics that I suggest in SaaS Metrics 2.0, those do take into account the different Gross Margin when evaluating whether a company has good unit economics. Was that the question you were looking to have answered?

  • David Skok

    That’s a question that has a complex answer. Here are a few of the elements that will be evaluated:

    – Quality of the entrepreneur and executive team

    – Evidence of traction

    – Growth rate

    – Size of market

    – Unit Economics

    – Barriers to entry

    – Customer retention (which is evidence of how well the customers like the product)
    I hope this helps.

  • Eugenia

    Well, I believe your Q&A with “Z” bears closest resemblance to my question. To elaborate…

    I work at a startup whose business is to license content, where there are both upfront acquisition costs as well as ongoing, performance-based payouts. We have a subscription model for users to access this content. The first expense is fixed (unrelated to the number of users that decided to subscribe because of any piece of individual content) and the second variable (driven by the number of people who interacted with aforementioned content). This is different from software SaaS businesses where top line expenses are entirely variable (i.e. server costs).

    Accounting-wise for us (and our peers), both expenses are included when calculating gross margin. However, given that the unit economics of one expense improves with every additional subscriber (let’s say, $5K/100 subscribers versus $5K/500 subscribers) while the other maintains a direct, linear relationship ($1 per subscriber), should both be equally contributing to calculating a subscriber’s LTV? Or, should the upfront costs be contributed to the CAC while the GM only has the royalty payments deducted? Or something else?

    Hope that helps clarify!

  • David Skok

    Hi Eugenia, this is a more complex situation, which makes it harder to compute LTV. In answer to your question “should up front costs be contributed to the CAC” – the answer to this question depends on whether those costs are part of the customer acquisition process, i.e. sales and marketing costs, or part of the product delivery, servicing or support costs. If they are part of the sales and marketing/customer acquisition costs, they should be attributed to CAC. If part of the product delivery, servicing or support costs, then they should be attributed to Gross Margin.
    In your situation, I would be looking to try to find a way to forecast/estimate the number of people who interacted with the content, so I could predict the variable cost associated with that, and then use that as a best guess for GM for the LTV calculation.
    Best, David

  • Swati Jain

    Hi David, could you possibly throw some light on how do VCs value a SaaS business when they are looking to exit?

  • David Skok

    Hi Swati, the primary way to do this would be a multiple on revenues (either this year’s revenues if early in the year, or next year’s revenues if about May onwards). To determine the multiple, one would assemble a list of comparable public SaaS companies, and private SaaS companies that had recently been acquired.
    When you look at public company multiples for SaaS companies, you will see that they vary quite a bit. However if you plot those multiples against the growth rates of those companies, you will see a very high correlation: the higher the growth rate, the higher the valuation. The correlation coefficient is 0.78 (even after the recent market correction).
    Interestingly if you also graph multiples against Operating Profit (EBITDA) as a % of revenue, you don’t get a very good correlation (the correlation coefficient is only 0.04%). That tells you that even after this market correction, growth appears to still be the major driver for higher valuations.
    Other factors that matter:

    – Dollar Retention Rate – this is different to the Customer Retention Rate. (See references to Negative Churn in my ‘SaaS Metrics 2.0’ post). (This would likely be the second most important variable behind growth rate.)

    – Is the company the clear market leader?

    – Is there a clear path to profitability? (One factor here would be high Gross Margins. Average seems to be around 65-70%.)

    – Are there strong barriers to entry?

    – Quality of the team.

    I hope this helps. Best, David

  • Dave Ptak

    Hi David, this is really interesting stuff! I have a question about how I might project a sales team that is already in place and adding more staff using your model. Is that doable and if so how do I recommend I approach it? Thanks so much for your help!

  • Ashish Jain

    Hi have one of the best blogs I have seen on SaaS business models. I have 2 question on your “SaaS Economics – Ramping a SaaS Sales Force” spreadsheet.

    1) First of all, is their any updated version of it available? The one I have is from your post from 2010. Do those principals still apply or have you seen changes in last 4 years that the spreadsheet does not account for?

    2) My business model is almost all monthly subscription with no commitment. I am trying to build a sales team with a model using 20% fixed – 80% variable upon attainment of monthly recurring revenue and new customer quota. I plan to payout commissions monthly. Your spreadsheet is great but I am facing a challenge because you have annual booking model instead of Monthly RR to define target. How do I change/ fill the following fields to work your spreadsheet for my business model?

    target annual bookings

    Annual Bookings

    Monthly Bookings (ACV)

    Monthly Bookings (MRR)

    Thanks in advance.

    Also wanted to ask if you provide any consulting services to help entrepreneurs created their sales compensation and planning strategy?

  • David Skok

    Hi Ashish, thanks for your kind comments. The principles are unchanged since originally writing this post, so no need for a new model.
    Secondly with regards to finding a great firm to help you with your sales team questions, try Matt And Trish Bertuzzi at the Bridge Group. Mention to them that I sent you and they should take good care of you. There is a blog post that I did with their material here:
    With regards to how to change the model to monthly, unfortunately that is a bit of work (not too much) but beyond the time that I have available. I apologize for not being able to help you further, but hope you can find another financial modelling type who can help you.
    Best, David

  • marcus

    How should a sales force be aligned in a transactional/self service model? The clients pay as they use our service and the sales function is much more service/training/consulting oriented.

  • Jizelle

    I stumbled upon this –

    And it says the following –

    For SaaS companies, however, the EBITDA
    being generated today (possibly none) is not a good
    proxy for future potential earnings because growing
    SaaS businesses are making large, up-front, and
    completely discretionary investments in growth which
    are all expensed in current EBITDA.

    I still do not understand why not EBITDA ?
    I do not understand the bold and underlined part.

  • David Skok

    Hi Jizelle, I had a lot of trouble understanding what question you are asking in your last two sentences. Could I ask you to explain with more words? Thanks, David

  • Jizelle


    Sorry. I should have been clearer.

    My question is why is revenue used in multiples as opposed to EBITDA ? Most other industries use EBITDA in the denominator. Why SaaS companies do not use EBITDA.
    Some part of it I put it in bold and underline but that feature did not work.
    The bold and underlined part was – “which are all expensed in current EBITDA”. I do not understand this part. What is meant by – expensed in current EBITDA ???

  • David Skok

    Hi Jizelle, if you read my “SaaS Metrics 2.0″ post ( you’ll see an explanation why traditional accounting and valuation metrics don’t tell the right story for SaaS businesses. I think that will quickly answer your question.
    Best, David

  • Rohan Srivastava

    Your blogs have been a life saver for me in the past few days. By far the most simple and easily understandable

    I have been working on revenue model for SaaS companies. So, I classified them on the basis of a.) Source i.e. 1.) from your core product & services 2.) from your partnerships and integrated services ( like salesforce and Veeva).
    Second classification is on the basis on b.) Nature of revenue i.e. Recurring revenue or One time revenue.

    Is there any other classification that I can look into. For example, I am struggling to understand where do I put revenue generated from Network effect as it is not a direct revenue stream.
    Similarly what should be done with ancillary sources of revenue?

    Thanks in advance. Looking forward for your help.

  • David Skok

    Hi Rohan, Can you tell me more about why your revenue from Network Effects is not a direct revenue stream? In the circumstances that I can currently envision, it would be just additional accelerator on the main revenue stream. Thanks, David

  • Frank

    David, thank you for all of the content, especially the excel spreadsheet with defined charts that help us determine LVL. We are into year 3 as a start-up and capturing market share using the first version of our software. Some articles you’ve written are dead on regarding our product. One user type, one workflow, very straight forward and to the point solving one need of our customer base. Customers have thus been asking for more, so we have been developing. We are B2B. Our new version is due out in a few months and it is going to look and feel different, while servicing the need better and faster. It’s going from one workflow to many, and one user type, to many. We often go on-site to conduct our new account training. My question is, how would you handle a roll out of a new version to existing accounts? It technically is an upgrade because it will be different. Going forward, there will be ongoing updates so we don’t see this having to happen again.

    If you’ve already written to this point, please post the link.

    Thank you!

  • David Skok

    Hi Frank, it’s not clear what question you are asking, but I think you’re asking about pricing and packaging. i.e. do you give all the new functionality to existing customer for the same price as before, or do you package this into a separate module and charge more for it as an upsell.
    If you are a very young business, the answer to this question may not matter much as you’ll only have a small installed base, and this won’t be a big money making proposition. You might care more about making your current customers into highly reference-able advocates versus maximizing the money you can extract from them. In which case you could give this module to them as a one-time bonus for being a past customer. But it is a good idea to think about how to modularize the functionality so you have flexibility in the future to create differently priced versions of the product for different audiences, and to have a way to expand your revenue from existing customers. There is a blog post on this topic here:
    I hope this helps.