Mental Exercise – SaaS in a mini-recession

Mental Exercise – SaaS in a mini-recession

What would happen to classic SaaS companies in an economic slowdown. Warning! This is just a mental exercise and may, or may not, have anything to do with the real world.

As a representative company, let’s go back to company ABC from our economic model at post # 40454.…

An economic slowdown hits in 2019. What happens to ABC? Remember, this isn’t a real company and this is only a mental exercise. And it’s all approximations, built on the assumptions of the model in 40454, so read that first.

Let’s remember they finished 2018 with $160 million in revenue and were growing at 60% per year.

What happens to ABC’s existing customers who paid that $160 million in 2018? Do any of them pull ABC’s great money-saving software out of their own core, and totally disrupt their own company at great cost, because there is a recession? Well, here’s a clue. Would you see any of Nutanix’s, Okta’s, or Alteryx’s doing that? Maybe zero percent, to pick a round number. Let’s figure ABC loses ½ of 1% of that existing revenue, figuring that 1% of their customers go bankrupt in about the middle of the year, so they go through 2019 with $159 million of that $160 million carry-over revenue.

Then, from 2018 they had $80 million in new contracts and $40 million in upgrades, of which only half was recognized in 2018 but of which the whole $120 million will be recognized in 2019, so we have to add $60 million to that $159 million giving us $219 million in recognized revenue.

They’ve been running a 120% dollar based net retention rate. Let’s say that drops to 5% of upgrades, down from 20%, as some wise companies will want to add money saving software. Well 5% of $160 million is $8 million, so let’s add $8 million to the $219 million and get $227 million.

How about new customers? In 2018 they recognized 40% of new customer revenue (remember our exercise, see above) 40 new added to 100 existing. In 2019 let’s say that drops to 10% of new customer revenue (a real economic downturn).

Well 10% of $160 million is $16 million of new customer revenue recognized, meaning that they now have $243 million in recognized revenue in 2019. Revenue for the year is up 52%, and they “miss expectations” but everyone is ecstatically happy as this is an economic downturn after all!

Their sales and marketing expense is $16 million for the existing customers who re-signed, $32 million for the new customers and $4 million for the upgrades, for a total of $52 million (they had to let some sales people go).

Last year S&M was $100 million on a lot less revenue, and S&M was 62.5% of revenue.

This year S&M is 21% of revenue and everyone says “Hallelujah for the recession” as this means ABC makes a sizeable profit.

Remember this is all gross approximations, but I suspect in the correct directions, if not exactly in the ballpark.

I hope you enjoyed going through it with me.


PS. This is for a classic SaaS company. Shopify is a different beast as they deal with hundreds of thousands of little companies and a lot of them might go bust in a bust, to coin a phrase. But probably not the Shopify Plus big companies that provide a large part of their revenue.


In a downturn, what are the chances of these companies offering lower prices to keep or attract business? Or some of their their customers taking longer to pay?

I agree that the intrinsic value of these companies won’t go down much, if at all, but the share price might get hit because the Jim Cramer types will tell everyone to panic. It will be a good opportunity to buy.


What happens to ABC’s existing customers who paid that $160 million in 2018?

Just a couple of points. In a recession, your overheads don’t go down but new sales certainly dry up. Just like SaaS companies can keep earning, the other software companies continue to earn support revenues, which are often 20% to 25%.

So I don’t see any particular benefit being a SaaS company offers against economic cycle. Am I missing your post by a mile?