Revenue and Runway – Why every cent matters

A month ago on Techcrunch, Michael Arrington wrote about “Twitter’s Revenue Dilemma”: “Your valuation can actually go down once you turn on revenue.”.

“Turning on revenue” frames it as a binary thing. You’re either making money or you’re not. It completely disregards the most important variable in finance: Time.

With the tiniest trickle of revenue you can extend your runway infinitely. That means you never have to raise another cent and you even have money to fund your growth. Let’s take an example:

Say you’re a consumer web business. You have some growth and some traction. You close an angel round for $400k in Month 1. In month 2 you start spending it and your burn rate is $25k for salaries, office and hosting. It takes you 4 months to get the product into shape and launch.

In your first month of launch you make a meagre $500 bucks. And lets say you suck at marketing and your revenue increases by $1000 per month so that a year after you launch your product (17 months after getting funded) you’re making $12,500 per month in revenue.

Even two years after getting funded you’re still only making $19,500 which is far from breaking even.

But what this does it it slows your burn rate enough and buys you enough time so that you never run out of money. That means you can keep paying yourself a full salary and growing your business and you never run out of cash. In month 29 your bank balance drops down to $12,500, but then it starts increasing again because in Month 30 you break even.

If you didn’t generate any revenue in the first 18 months you run out of money in month 17.

You might argue this approach stifles growth. So be more aggressive, increase your burn rate to $200k and raise $3 Million. The same logic applies. Early cash-flow that is far from break-even can extend your runway to infinity (and beyond).

This matters for founders more than anyone else because it means you can raise a single round and never have to give away any of your equity ever again.

The sheet below shows the two scenarios – with and without revenue. [I’ve reoriented the flows vertically for readability]