Sam Baker, Principal at Scale Venture Partners, has been a venture capitalist for six years. Before that, he gained operational experience at Box in both an Inside Sales role and in a Strategy and Planning role.
Scale's culture has a very quantitative-oriented DNA, including having its own benchmarking organization known as Scale Studio. Benchmarking delivers reality to every Scale portfolio company and aligns the founder and the investor on a metrics-oriented approach to decision making.
The first topic we approached was what metrics are most important to a Series A and Series B investor? Sam's initial response was not to rattle off a list of metrics but to discuss the importance of "context" in today's investment environment. As an example, Sam shared that the "maturity" of the company is a primary driver of how best to use metrics.
Scale has identified and uses four (4) Vital Signs of SaaS that include: 1) Growth; 2)Efficiency; 3) Churn, and; 4)Burn. A small description of the four vital signs below:
Growth - How quickly is revenue growing
Efficiency - Quantity of revenue compared to Sales and Marketing spend
Churn - Do customers stick around and buy more, OR do they leave
Burn - What is the rate of cash consumption to grow a SaaS company
When asked about a benchmarking framework that Scale uses - he first highlighted it depends on who is consuming the benchmarks (which role) and what is the stage and maturity of the company. Scale's benchmarking framework is very extensible to enable an increased aperture on the metrics being utilized. For example, when a company dramatically increases investment in Sales and Marketing, Customer Acquisition Cost efficiency metrics become more important.
Next, Sam recommended avoiding benchmarking and metrics overload, which requires a company to identify the most important and most informative metrics to how the company is currently trending and will be trending in the near term. Moreover, be prepared to add or change metrics that are most relevant to the growth stage.
Scale has a couple of unique metrics, including Instantaneous Compound Annual Growth Rate (iCAGR). The benefit of iCAGR is it provides a real-time and is most sensitive to growth or shrinkage today, versus being biased by the average effect of quarterly or annually metrics. As an example, if growth is down in the most recent quarter, but the previous three quarters had higher than normal growth it can identify potential risk or new trend in company performance.
Another metric that Scale uses is "Growth Persistence" which investors use to measure the rate of growth over time. For example, if a company grows 100% one year, and then 85% in year two and 72% in year three, it would reflect an 85% median growth persistence.
How to avoid "metrics overload"? This is especially important in board meetings when the "metrics creep" can often happen. First, make sure everyone knows the company's "North Star" and how each metric directly impacts the North Star. Second, gain agreement up-front with the investors and board members on those metrics that are most important, that they are presented in a manner that is easy to understand and ensure the metrics tie back to the source systems being used.
Sam provides a very insightful and instructive perspective on using metrics and benchmarks to inform a SaaS company's growth journey - especially from an investor's perspective, which is so critical in the 2022 investment environment.