Our guest today is Eric Crowley, a tech investment banker with GP Bullhound. With investments in companies ranging from Spotify to Whoop, and clients such as AllTrails, Pinkbike, and Lingoda, GP Bullhound provides transaction advice and capital to many of the leaders in the Consumer Subscription Software space.
On the podcast we talk with Eric about his 2021 report on Consumer Subscription Software, the truth about LTV calculations, and the new era of organic user acquisition.
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- Was 2020 just a “COVID Bump,” or a shift in consumer behavior?
- Are the Bumble & Duolingo IPO multiples justified?
- How savvy developers are adapting to Apple’s App Tracking Transparency
- The truth about LTV
- The new era of customer acquisition
Links & Resources
- Match Group
- Weight Watchers
- The Dyrt
- Day One Journal
- Tech Crunch
Eric Crowley’s Links
- Follow Eric on Twitter
- GP Bullhound
- GP Bullhound insights
- Eric’s LinkedIn
- GP Bullhound 2021 CSS survey
Follow us on Twitter:
Hello, I’m your host. David Bernard. And with me, as always, RevenueCat CEO, Jacob Eiting.
Our guest today is Eric Crowley, a tech investment banker with GP Bullhound. With investments in companies ranging from Spotify to Whoop, and clients such as AllTrails Pinkbike, and Lingoda, GP Bullhound provides transaction advice and capital to many of the leaders in consumer subscription software.
On the podcast, we talk with Eric about his 2021 report on consumer subscription software, the truth about LTV calculations, and the new era of organic user acquisition.
Hey, Eric, welcome to the podcast.
Hey, David, Jacob. Thanks for having me back. It’s always a pleasure.
Yeah. Every year you release this report, so we had to get you back. This is the third annual Consumer Subscription Software Report, and I wanted to kick off just asking you a little bit about the motivation, and where your headspace is in thinking about creating this. Who the target is, and what kind of questions you’re asking yourself as you prepare this report.
Yeah. The report is the GP Bullhound Consumer Subscription Software Report. I call it CSS, which is kind of a playoff SaaS. This is the third year I’ve been writing it, and it started back in 2018. I worked with a company called AllTrails that was starting to monetize really well by selling subscriptions.
It was like a light bulb went off in my head. I was like, this is a phenomenal way to provide a consistently improving product to consumers, where the margins are pretty good. It’s easy to access a ton of different people globally through the app stores or through the web, and I just got really excited about it.
I started putting some notes down on my own, and then GP Bullhound really supported me in saying like, “Hey, this is actually a pretty big trend. There’s gonna be some amazing companies built around this space,” and companies like RevenueCat, that are supporting CSS companies, are just as exciting.
So, we’ve been slowly educating ourselves. The goal behind the report is really just to force me to do some thinking about the space. What it looks like. What it will be. As a banker, you can quickly focus on transaction, transaction, transaction, and not really do any long-term thinking about where the world’s going.
It’s putting myself in your guys’s shoes. You guys are building RevenueCat not for what the world looks like today, but for what the world looks like in three to five years. I try to take the same approach with CSS, and think about where’s the world going to go. So I talked to a lot of smart people as I put the report together. Entrepreneurs, investors, get their opinions.
You guys can see their interviews in the report, and then ultimately we publish it. The audience I like to think about is entrepreneurs, people that are thinking about starting a CSS company, or already launched one, and they’re looking to improve their metrics, or think about their target audience as entrepreneur-rich.
By partnering with them, investing in their businesses, it takes them to the next level. The other way I like to think about it, it’s my own personal scoreboard. I love to flip back two years ago and see, was I right about this company? You’re publishing in public, so people can always come back to you and say, “Man, you were way off.” So, I look forward to that.
I remember the F finding the first one, the 2018, I guess, reporter 2019, whenever the first one you put out,
2019, I think that’s how we met actually.
Did you reach out to me or? I think I found it, or I don’t remember what it was, but
We’ve had a mutual friend, Nico introduced us and said, Hey, you guys should talk about this. and then I think we just went off on a two hour tangent.
But yeah, I remember being, it’s still, there’s still not a ton of like really focused research or writing on this space. and I think that, that, you know, this will probably won’t be true for very long, right. As long as it continues to grow, but like going back to like who it’s for. I mean, I imagine it as some, you know, end of the day, if you’re employing.
Pushing into some kind of lead gen. Right. But it does provide a lot of value for, you know, even if you’re not interested in a transaction or whatever, just. Some like holistic data on a space. Cause like, I, the same, I mean, Eric, you said we’re, we’re thinking three and five years in the future. It’s like, I wish like a lot of times I’m thinking like three to six weeks in the future.
Right. and so it’s even useful, I think, you know, even if you’re, you know, I, you know, we’re, we’re in a bit of an interesting place as a infrastructure provider to be at kind of a bird’s eye view, but it. Founder on one of these CSS apps, you know, like it is useful for you to know, like what’s the meta environment, how’s it evolving, you know?
And if nothing else to like connect you with other people who have experimented with things and stuff like that. So, yeah, I think it provides beyond, beyond the, the, the lead gen aspect of it. It provides a lot of value for people. So I’m glad, I’m glad you’re, you’re still doing it.
Yeah. And just for any of the listeners, it is free. So you just go to the GP, bullhorn.com website. It’s all easy to download and then you can see all our past reports as well. So
Yeah, and we’ll drop it in the show notes. but, yeah. And, and, and speaking of all that, you know, it, it’s something we as RevenueCat want to get more into as well. I mean, just seeing how much value you’ve created in producing these reports, and we’re kind of sitting on a, you know, Processing over a billion dollars a year in, subscription revenue.
We’ve got a lot of interesting data that, that we, that I’m very personally excited to share that we haven’t, kind of had the infrastructure to, to do yet, but are, are getting there. And, so hopefully we’ll, we’ll have our own kind of, state of subscriptions that dives into the data and some of the trends and stuff in a different way than, than your kind of, strategy and higher level look at things.
But when one thing that has happened, in the actually. It was announced before your last report, but actually implemented since your last report. And that’s the app tracking transparency and iOS 14, which didn’t actually ship till iOS. What was it? 14.4 or five or something. So, so we’re kind of just now starting to see the impacts of it.
And, and, you know, you took a couple of slides in your report to start discussing it. And it really is kind of one of the biggest topics and top of mind for subscription app developers, because it really is a huge shift in the landscape. So I want it to. Start with talking about that. And one of the things you shared in the, in the presentation is that you feel like it’s a short-term pain, that’s ultimately going to lead to a long-term gain.
So I’d love to hear your thinking around what that pain is, but then also what you see the long-term game being.
Yeah, it’s a, it’s a, great point. And, you know, anytime apple or Google make changes to their, their, their app stores, right. It’s a seismic shift throughout the industry because it’s something that impacts everyone. And so everyone has to be aware of these changes and then ultimately have a plan for them.
And so I think that the change you’re talking about David is really the. The implementation of, removing tracking for a lot of, a lot of these businesses specifically, like. And so what the change did with IDFA, is it, it really deprecated the ability for, for marketers within some of these CSS businesses to really accurately target people, specifically using Facebook or some of these other social networks.
And so what it’s doing is it. It’s impacting the conversion rates on, CSS, CSS, businesses, marketing to consumers. And so if you just can’t find that person that just is in love with, for example, biking, if you’re a Strava marketer, it just takes you a lot longer to find that specific subscribers you might have to market to 10 people now to find two subscribers versus before you can market to five people and find two subscribers.
And so it just means marketing efficiencies going down. And that can mean. Growth rates. It can impact conversion rates and ultimately impact just financials of these businesses. And so it’s a pretty important consideration for any, CEO marketing team on how they go out and get their, their business in front of consumers.
If Facebook’s no longer as efficient, they have to find other ways. And so. So my, my thought is like, this is a short-term problem, right? It’s something that’s going to take people two to three months to adapt and find a new way to reach consumers. But ultimately my hope is for the space is you see the long-term game, which is what I was referencing.
People really focus on organic ways of acquiring customers. Right? So instead of just pumping ads through Facebook and trying to find someone who fits a profile, you spend a lot more time really narrowly targeting your demographic, your niche, and then finding ways for them to find your product organically either.
You know? So like a company that I work with, we sold a company called Pinkbike and so what they do is they partner with, the trade associations for mountain. And those trails associations now act almost as the marketing partner of pink bike to let consumers know about the fact that all the trail details.
Is on, is on the pink bike app or it’s called trail forks. And so that’s, that’s a really powerful, organic customer acquisition tool that they don’t have to pay for. And so you’re seeing, seeing the same thing happen with, like Strava is doing this, pre.com recently partnered with the NFL. So if your team’s got a last fourth quarter fuel goal and you need to get something kicked, you can go to pray.com and submit a prayer for your kicker. I wish I was joking. It’s a pretty brilliant idea. So I think this is really good for the sector overall, but yeah. Happy to dive into it. It’s it’s a fascinating
We it’s a callback to a sub club podcast content, but, Greg, this, the plant app, this is something that they were doing, which is like, we’re partnering with, plant nurseries. Yeah. To like, get their app into people’s hands. And, yeah, I don’t know if it’s an earned media or. Bought media, but this is more like this is earned, right?
This is like building an audience. You’ve seen it in the maker community, actually a lot, like in the indie SaaS community, more it’s a different game when it has to be consumer scale. Right? Like there’s a little bit different. You have to build maybe a bit more than you would in like, oh, just blog about.
Built this thing and that’s enough to get Indies, but you can apply the same thing, right? It’s like produce content, produce something like low investment for users to get engaged with your brand because you’re not building an app unless you have some, I mean, maybe you are, but you’re not going to build something with very high, like multiples.
Like if you’re, if you don’t have something unique to offer in the first place, but put that into like a more like lightly consumable format, start to build that audience and then make that an on-ramp and yeah, I agree. Like that’s, that’s something you own, right? Like your brand is. your brand doesn’t exist on the app store, right?
Like your brand can exist outside of these, like shifting sands and regulations and whatnot, and ultimately is like, you know, going to get reflected in your asset value if that’s something you care about.
Yeah, that’s a key thing we talk about, right. If any business that we look at that’s potentially selling or, or thinking about raising capital, right? It’s like, how are you finding your. And if you’re, if you’re one channel is Facebook, and then consequently, like doing Facebook ads or apple ads on the, on the app store, that becomes pretty challenging.
And so you want it to be such a good product, right? So it involves more work upfront. And just as you’re talking about Jacob, the product’s gotta be better. It’s gotta be more efficient. It’s got to reach consumers where they are with the problem they have. it becomes a lot more viral and a lot more sticky.
So I think, I think it’s going to be good for the sector.
You wouldn’t want to name names of course, but I am curious if. Had any clients, or just talks about anybody in the space where they were very reliant on Facebook specifically, and then, and have really struggled as things have changed. You know, I’ve been seeing some tweets around the, the consumer packaged goods space where some of these CPG companies are really struggling.
And so I’m just curious. You know, without naming names, if, if there’s any kind of high level things you could share around, apps that have struggled in this new paradigm.
Yeah. I mean, I definitely can’t name names, you know, obviously I keep everything confidential with my clients, but even non-clients, you’ve seen CACs go up 20, 30%. you see, like, if you think about like conversion rates from installs to subs, That’s a big metric of actual intent. Did you find the right user, right?
Did someone just click on it and download it? Great. But if they’re not actually subscribing that wasn’t a successful transaction for you. And so the way I think about this, David is it’s the app stores made tracking a lot harder, so it’s harder to find your right consumer. So imagine if you’re a CPG company, you walk into a grocery.
And instead of stuff, being laid out perfectly across the shelves at the right height for you, they just tossed everything in the middle of the store and said, find what you want. Just go pick it out. Right. You’re going to have much lower conversion. You’re going to have much lower purchase rates because people aren’t being targeted with the stuff they want to see.
And so I think now you have to find, you know, it becomes more of a specialty situation where you’re walking into a store that has stuff for just outdoor gear or very healthy granola. Right. And you’re going specifically to that store for that. That’s probably better in the long term, for a lot of these companies,
Yeah, but there’s, there’s a lot of, there’s a lot of folks that have benefited from this ease relative ease, right. And any sort of market disruption is going to be painful. I was like, anecdotally, I mean, David, we’ve heard on this podcast and elsewhere people who have just like straight up pause acquisition, who are like all re scrambling because yeah.
You get it tuned to this very fine knife edge. And I imagine for like consumer physical goods, like DDC stuff, it’s even worse because their margins are thinner than software. Right.
And you’ve got inventory and everything. Yeah.
It’s a totally different.
But, you know, as you do like you, the market reshuffles and the people, I can figure it out, the fastest are gonna are going to come out the best.
There’s going to be a shift though. So people under this is like that seismic shift that just shows how much of your reliance is on maybe one or two channels. Right? Two, two major tech companies sitting here in San Francisco. If you’re super, truly relying on those and you’re doing great, fine.
But if a bump happens, right, how exposed are you? And so like, this will be a benefit. Right. I think it’s going to be a huge benefit for Tik TOK. Right? I think people are finding really good ways to acquire customers through tic-tac. And so that’s a very interesting channel. I think it’d be really good for influencers, right?
If you have people that are very passionate about a certain space and then they go out and, you know, have a very core customer base that loves what they do specifically. It’s going to be pretty powerful for them to.
Yeah, and I was just gonna say, anecdotally, you know, we haven’t done a super deep dive in our data, but at a, at a high level, I was.
Bracing for our numbers to take a big dip. Like I, I mean, Jacob and I had talked about it in the spring about, you know, how, what is going to look like for RevenueCat, you know, are some of these subscription apps just going to completely unwind and people are apparently figuring it out because you know, it keeps going up until the right.
I mean the consumer, the consumer need hasn’t disappeared. Right. So maybe if they just weren’t driven, you know, it’s not going to, it can’t just disappear overnight. Right? Like if you never, if you, if you are a Coke fan who never saw Coke out again, and it’s like, you’re still gonna buy it. Right. Like there’s, there’s, there’s a certain amount of demand.
That’s just going to find the supply. But, but yeah, no, I mean, it’s hard for us to, to definitively say looking at our data and aggregators. Cause there’s so much, but they’re definitely.
Like this summer was definitely slower than we’ve had in the past. Like on my, as I’m writing my investor updates of the year and each month and stuff looking at it.
But yeah, it wasn’t like this catastrophic, you know, macro thing. And they were talking about a lot of like, you know, probably outliers that we hear about people who were affected, you know, more than others, but overall. I, I don’t think our, I don’t think our prediction last year of, of a potential recession was necessarily false.
Like it doesn’t, it definitely doesn’t feel like it’s sped up the ecosystem. Right. But it doesn’t necessarily feel like a depression, right. Maybe, maybe a slight recession or just the normalization.
Looking at our data in aggregate that, some folks use this to their advantage and actually, and, and accelerated because they knew it was coming and they did focus more on product and organic and other things. And so for whatever, you know, losses, there were. Other folks more than made up for that.
And that’s it kind of the interesting thing about working with so many, I mean, we’re closing in on 10,000 apps on revenue cat. And so, you know, you kind of have a pretty broad basket where you, you know, there are going to be winners and losers, but in aggregate subscription apps are just continuing to tick along and do really well.
David it’s like you read directly from bullets on my report. I, I, I completely agree with you.
Another thing I wanted to dive into was the, the COVID bump. Cause that’s, that’s another thing that’s kind of been on everybody’s mind is simultaneous to this. I was 14 and, and this is something we’ve talked about again internally, with revenue cat, is it. This summer was the, everybody who was vaccinated and, and Delta hadn’t kind of bumped yet.
And so, you know, may, June and July, there was a big shift socially. kind of it felt like it, especially in the U S that we were coming out of the pandemic. and, and so simultaneous to the app, tracking transparency, going into effect, we had these like societal shift. And then now we’re kind of back into it a little bit with the Delta surge, but just curious what your thoughts are on how much of the boosts we saw in 2020 really was dependent DEMEC and then how much of that will actually linger as kind of shifting consumer preferences and shifting consumer spend.
Yeah. I mean, there’s, there’s absolutely a companies that benefited from us is called the removal of inf in in-person conversations. Right? So like Bumble and DuoLingo, two companies that both went public, right. They both benefited because their, their business model is designed around, not meeting in person for the first couple of conversations.
Right. And so. There’s no way to say that they didn’t benefit. the way I think about it, though, in this, in the CSS space, it’s very similar to like the overall e-commerce space, right? Is consumers looked around to find a solution for a problem they’re having right. Instacart you couldn’t, you couldn’t go to the grocery store or maybe you felt less comfortable going to the grocery store.
So you tried an Instacart for the first time. Maybe you were, you know, thinking about meeting someone, you know, long-term but you never, you never wanted to try online dating or you couldn’t go to the bar. So you tried online dating for the first time and sorry. What the pandemic did was it really opened up people’s eyes to other options from what they’d been doing for the last 20 years, 50 years, whatever it was.
And so they had to find other solutions to, you know, their demands, their needs. And so I don’t, I think it’s absolutely a COVID bump, but I still look at it as really as an accelerant of people adopting new products and services that they would have tried in three to four years. but the pandemic kind of pushed them to try something, to move out of their comfort zone and try something new.
So, you know, I absolutely think you’ll see a little bit of a downshift in, in some of these companies that had a really big boom, right? Like language learning. People had nothing to do for four to five months, especially over some of the winter times. So people tried new hobby, tried language learning, you know, that’ll probably go down a little bit, but overall, if you look at it from like a five-year trend, It’s going to be up substantially from where it was in 20 17, 20 18, 20 19, and 2020, you know, made it look like a little bit of bump, but eventually I think those companies will continue to grow and surpass what anything they did in 2020.
Yeah, that’s really interesting.
I’ll back that up as well with the, the unreleased, Jacob looks at graphs and then gives a, gives a hand wavy descriptions of them. But we, yeah, we, we were, I was kind of bracing for it as well. And then I would say this summer was slow and like, David was. We’re not sure why. I think it was, I think it was a number of factors things have since picked up again.
But I think generally summers are slow for software a and then B. Yeah, I think we were seeing kind of like a little bit of the payback for, for COVID perhaps it’s a, it’s a vial. I think it’s a plausible theory. We don’t, it’s really hard to prove. but we have not seen, you know, we, we saw our COVID experience was really drastic.
And we have not seen. Similar, like back off from that, like, it has been like, it has been like we just compressed six months and I’m saying partially, this is just revenue casts, individual story because of where we were last year. But then I think also it’s, it’s indicative of the system in general.
It’s like, I think, yeah, we just compressed a whole bunch of, like consumer behavior change into like a very short period of time. And yeah, we’re not gonna be able to keep that up. Right. We’re not gonna be able to continue. To, to crunch that in, or we’ll run out of consumers eventually. But, but it doesn’t look like everybody’s, you know, because, you know, I think the story for CSS in general, it’s like we’ve delivered value for people, right?
Like it’s, it’s a good, it’s a good product, right? The whole line, not every product is good, but in general it’s like a it’s, it’s a decent deal. And so I, I think more people discovering that. Yeah, it can only get bigger, right.
Yeah, I think we talked about it in our first year, our first time together, right on the last podcast, which is if these businesses are truly making consumers’ lives better, this is going to be a very long-term.
And speaking of that, and the two companies you just mentioned, in the, Time since we last spoke, but Bumble and DuoLingo went public and some other consumer subscription, apps went public. so tell me a little bit about your, your perspective on the, the public investor. Excitement for CSS.
I mean, we’re seeing pretty high multiples in the both of those IPS did, did very well. so what are you seeing in the, in the public investor space?
Yeah, I think, I think the public market has really woken up to this business model, the power of it and understanding, you know, it’s public markets. They do a lot of pattern matching, right? If they’ve seen something be super successful, they look for something that looks similar to that. And so I think a lot of people are waking up to, how powerful Salesforce is not waking up.
They’re well awake, very aware of SAS businesses. But I think they’re seeing that same pattern starts to take, hold on, CSS. It just has different metrics. Right? And so, you know, Bumble’s now public, the match group’s been public for quite some time. Once I spun out of IAC, you’ve got Netflix and Spotify, which are fantastic examples of the international global reach of Content, and how consumers are very sticky for something they love.
And so. These businesses who can get to scale really quickly, like you nuMe, right, is a competitor to weight Watchers. Weight Watchers has been around for decades, but Newman built a better mouse trap and they acquired customers at a really quick rate.
And, you know, they’re well over 400 million in revenue and ready for the public market.
So I expect them to go public. Pretty soon. And so I think there’s going to be a lot of businesses that follow them that are using this, this metric. So, and then that’ll cascade all the way through, from public market investors as, as exit opportunities all the way down to, you know, series a series B investors, seeing this business model work and scale.
Yeah. I mean, I guess my, like, what’s your, like, I, I, when, when we started seeing these go public in the last, like couple of years, so, well, I mean, honestly, it’s like, Since we started RevenueCat, like was actually the, kind of the first unicorns, even like, I guess Bumble might’ve been passing unicorn when we got started, but like there weren’t a ton and now it’s like every, every month there’s a funding announcement for a CSS company.
That’s a, that’s a university. I mean, partially that’s just like valuations going up and stuff like this, but like, how do you see. The evolution of this market. Long-term, you know, so DuoLingo pops becomes the first, you know, are they going to be like Salesforce and just be dominant in that space forever?
Or do you see it being maybe more dynamic than sasses?
I think it’s a little more dynamic than SAS for, for a couple of reasons. One, new consumers like to try stuff, right. And so if it’s with like a Salesforce or something, right. That integrates into your day to day operations from a business model perspective, right. So if something breaks there, right.
Is very high.
Yeah, it’s a little higher, right. And it’s not just you using it. It’s your entire business. Right? So you’ve got 10 people using this product or 20 people or 5,000, depending on the size of your company.
Right. In CSS.
It’s it’s you, maybe you and your family. Right? So it’s a little bit of a different switching cost.
So that’s, that’s one. However, these companies can scale a lot of. and they can, they don’t have like the heavy, heavy cost and, you know, on the sales and marketing side. So I think they have an ability to actually get to profitability a lot faster, especially if they have an organic customer acquisition engine.
And so I think that’s going to be a big difference between that, between CSS and SAS.
So, yeah, you mentioned the metrics are different. What are, what are the metrics that folks are, public investors are looking at for these companies that it might be different from a SAS company?
Yeah. I mean, a lot of them are the same metrics, but the numbers that are like good are different, right? So like on a SAS business model, right. Revenue growth is just as attractive as a CSS business model revenue growth. Right. Everyone wants to see high double digits, triple digit numbers on revenue growth.
But like an interesting thing is net revenue retention. Now that’s very different, right? In CSS, you typically don’t upcharge people or have additional seats be filled because it’s just one person. Right. So, you know, maybe you get an.
It’s not much expansion opportunity.
Yeah, you can, you can do maybe some, some packages, upgrades, and people are starting to experiment that you can pack it and you can experiment with bump, bundling
But it’s certainly never going to be greater. It’s never going to be net positive, right?
No, you’re never going to see a net positive number where a lot of the SAS businesses, right.
People are looking for net revenue, retention, numbers of north of one, 20, 120% net revenue retention
I mean the opposite of churn, right. Which if you have a CSS business with opposite, Congratulations. like
Yeah. You’re doing something well, and I haven’t found it yet, but yeah,
You might be the only one
Yes, I think that’s right.
Quick, point though, to counterpoint to what y’all were both just saying, of all the apps, dating app, it’s totally slipping my mind.
Tinder. partnership. David, look at us. We’re like on a wavelength.
They, they have in-app purchase. They have consumable in-app purchases to boost your, profile. They’re one of the few that I’ve seen that could potentially actually have a. A a positive, net revenue retention. whereas most subscription apps are just a subscription. it’s going to be interesting to see if other subscription apps can pull off that sort of model that you could actually generate a, a net net revenue retention.
I think you nailed it, David. So that’s coming from. Right. I think people first experimented with, Hey, how do I get someone to buy my product every year or every month? Right. And now is how do you make it even better? So they’re starting to listen to their core users. And we talk about this a little bit on the LTVs.
And what do these people want and what makes this experience even better for them. And I think you nailed it with Tinder, right? It’s the most, it’s the easiest thing to convince people to, to encourage more is more, you know, more relationships, right? People love more relationships and people are willing to pay for that.
And so, you know, then what else, what else could this go down the path of, right. What other options could people pay for additional services? Or what we’ve seen is like marketplaces or transactions spinning on. Right. So if you have a really passionate user base and they’re going out there doing, camping, for example, like on, on the dirt, it’s a camping site, right?
What about doing a marketplace to buy and sell use tents right now is not a subscription, but now if someone’s paying, like, okay, now they bought something through your marketplace and you get 10% of that purchase price. So there’s going to be a lot of stuff. I think that happens there, to encourage that, to encourage that LTV numbers start rising, I just haven’t seen a ton yet, make it happen above
It’s a scale problem. I need to do that either be at such scale for that to make sense. So I was going to say for anybody, listening to this, that hasn’t reached 20 million in ARR, probably north of that do not add a marketplace to your
I totally agree with that. Very, very much focused focus, focus.
And so I would even say like closer to 50
Yeah. I mean, until you’re like, how do we get this thing public? Or how do we show, like, how do we show like N plus one revenue streams, right? Like it’s kinda more what it’s about than it is necessarily the revenue generated.
I’m just a dreamer though. You’re just a realist. I’m here, I’m here. And you’re just telling me all that stuff that could go wrong.
One of the things you just kinda touched on that I wanted to dive deeper into was, was a truth about LTVs. And I love this slide on the, on your presentation, kind of defining these two cohorts, which I’ve never heard, defined this way. And I really loved the analogy and I’m going to start sort of stealing it from you and use.
And crediting you of course. but in the presentation you define, tourists and locals, and then talk about kind of the importance of identifying these different cohorts. So tell me about Who the locals are and why that matters and who the tourists are and how companies can start, analyzing their data to understand this and better target marketing, better, craft the experience in the app and, and those sorts of things.
Yeah. So we’re going to geek out here guys, and, really go deep into STSS. Right? So this is where, this is where my brain goes sometimes on a Saturday night, which is just exciting. but so the way I’ve been thinking about CSS a lot, and so the LTV component of CSS, which is lifetime value, Which I’m sure all your listeners are very, very well aware of is kind of like how much money can you make from this consumer over time.
Right. And it’s a function of your pricing and it’s an, a function of your turn rate. And so, a lot of people are very focused on this metric as investors or buyers, right? Because it’s effectively, how valuable is your customer? So it’s an extremely important metric. The problem with this metric and lots of other metrics is it’s, it’s derived from an app.
Right. It’s looking at all your users that come into your, in your ecosystem is paying customers. And then how do they perform over time? and it’s, it’s driven, it’s driven off an average of all your users. And so when I’ve gone through some of my client’s data and you look at their user base, right, we, we quickly discovered there’s a, there’s kind of two different profiles.
And I won’t use any names here, but let’s just, let’s just say it’s, a walking company, right? So you’re, you’ve got people that go out and they, they sign up, you have a hundred people that. And 20 of them start walking every day and they’re, and they, this is what they love and they’re tracking, they’re walking and you’ve got another 40 that do it for like a month or two.
And then they kind of drop off and then just like, I’m going to go do biking or skateboarding or something. And I switch and you’ve got another people that sign up. They subscribed to it because their friend pressured him into it and they hate walking and they’re never going to walk again and they turn off immediately.
Right. So you kind of have those three different groups, some that are just going to do whatever. Some that do it for two to three months and then leave. And then some that do it the first month. And then say, forget this. I’m never going to use this again. And so the problem is your LTV of each one of those three groups are very, very different.
And so what, we’ve, what we’ve been guiding investors and entrepreneurs, as they think about their growing their businesses, really find out who those locals are, who those people that are going to come and use your app every day, every week, every summer, whatever, whatever the metric is that you’re looking.
And find ways to measure that, right? Because ultimately that’s who you need to bring to your community. And one, those people make the community run more robust, right? Cause they’re constantly contributing feedback into the. To, they’re much more likely to stay around with you guys. And so you need to find those tools that they’re looking for.
Right? Like seeing around the corner and saying like, okay, this person loves walking. What else can I provide them? What about a weather forecast? So now that they are about to go out and walking, you know, what does the weather look like? And, oh my God, this is now, this is my one-stop stop for, for walking.
And so I think w we’ve been guidinGP Bullhound’s like if you use the averages as a broad metric and that’s great, and you should, because investors are going to want to know that, but, but really dig deep into your, your cohort and understand like who’s using this every day, all day and what do they need. And so if you can really identify that and show that LTV to, to invest in.
I think you can get people a lot more excited than just like that average LTV, right? Cause this shows them potential of what it can be over three to five years, which is really important if you’re two or three year old company. Right. And try to convince someone to invest in you showing them that lifetime value of the tour or the locals is going to be a lot more valuable than that average.
I mean, if you think about just as the, you know, I think it’s one of the, you highlighted one of the hard parts of assessing these businesses early on, is that yeah. Your cohort, your total subscriber base is very heavily biased on like your most recent cohort, because often you’re also growing, right?
Like that’s often, like your most recent cohort might be the size of your first five, you know? just because, and for that reason you can really have scurry looking data. but you know, if you think five years from now, mostly. Those other two groups you mentioned there they’ll have turned out from most cohorts.
Right? And then the only ones remaining for four years of cohorts will be these locals and these long-term retention. And then your total subscriber base is gonna look very different than it does today. Right. And yeah, I’ll admit revenue. I’ve tried to solve this problem in the product. And we still are trying to solve this problem in the product.
It’s how do we like show people? Cause you’re, you’re dealing with a mixed population, right? And like you, you can also also run into a problem with begging the COO or like doing very, like, look, you got to invest in and say like, look, look how great my retention is. If I just ignore them. Bad users. Right?
Like, let me just look at the good ones. Right. But there is something there in that. What you’re talking about, Eric, that long, that very long-term view is that if these users really do retain for a long time, eventually they will be the lion’s share of. Subscriber base. And that churn that we talk about, like, you know, if you’re adding 1% of your total user base, the most you can experience off of that as like 1% of churn, right.
Versus when you’re adding half, you know, if you have 110,000 subscribers and you add 10,000 in a month, that’s going to be a huge effect to your overall subscription subscription base. Right. so yeah, I think, I think, you know, we certainly have a lot to build on the tooling side. Right. And I think it goes to what you’re talking about.
Air. We’re very early. Like, I think we’ve just kind of solved infrastructure, like infrastructure. I mean, I would even say kind of, cause there’s a lot for us that we need to do yet. but as far as like data science and actually yeah. Being able to outside of a spreadsheet, understand this stuff. It’s it’s, it’s not trivial.
It’s not trivial.
It’s extremely hard. And I think like, cause there’s so much more you could do once you’ve broken those two cohorts into tourists and locals, right? Like how do you acquire the locals versus how do you acquire the tourists? Are tourists coming through like Facebook, apple store and the locals are coming from referrals.
Okay. So maybe your Facebook spend, is that even worth doing the spending on right. If they’re, if they’re turning off after a month or two, you know, subscribers is a vanity metric, right. If they don’t. All right. You can grow. We talked about this in our 2020 report. We have like this cheetah versus thoroughbred.
Right. And it’s really easy to show a ton of growth. And you’ve got all these subscribers and everything is fantastic. Right. But if those subscribers get tired and they turn off right away, you kind of probably wasted money on them. Right. Maybe you got paid back in a month, right. So you didn’t lose like on the CAC spend right in here, but you’re not building your business.
Right. You’re just gonna you’re pinching pennies.
But not a lot of work. Right? Like it’s not actually getting translated into business
Exactly. So is it better to kind of focus on the product, right? Figure out what those, those, tourists are using and spend less time on the marketing side and really nailed the products like, Hey, you’ll probably grow slower, right? And That’s an issue. That’s a risk you have to take, but maybe you can grow more efficiently, more capital efficiency.
Capital’s free now, so that’s not a
That’s a fair point of half my fault, I’ll take full responsibility for some of that.
I think it’s interesting how this like feeds into, you know, kind of going back to targeting and ad targeting how often. Optimized Facebook campaigns on like trial conversion. And that doesn’t even that doesn’t, that’s all your tourists and your locals. I mean, maybe some of those that never even start a trial would be cause, but there’s a lot of tourists in that group that started trial right.
Or convert a trial. And a lot of people are targeting off of that. Right. And so as these methods become less. Good. it will force it’ll force developers to yeah. Maybe do one of these scary things actually talk to users, right? Like actually like find those locals, like go in your analytics. And I think just the thing as you were talking about, I just want to point out that, like, I don’t think you necessarily need to define this off of monetization retention either could just be retention, like pure usage retention, but it could also be engagement.
Yeah. I think about the way Facebook, Oriented their growth teams very early on, which was like findinGP Bullhound that connected, like that was a really key step for them in their product, was to get people to make like three or four. I forget there’s some number of friends and they oriented all of their growth efforts around that.
Find the thing that people do in your. Shows that they’re engaged and give them opportunities to show that. And then, you know, you can use that as an indicator. Okay. Talk to those folks and actually talk to them, right? Like find out, always put something in your app that lets you reach out to them in some way.
And like, have you can get on a zoom call. I’ve done. It’s easier now in SaaS land because like, I, I, I, people I’m an app. People like I know how to talk to them, but when we were, when I was working in consumer. Phone calls were more awkward, right? It was different. You’re not going to books like outside of computer land, but still like just incredibly valuable.
And, and, and, and I think like, you know, if we want to talk about the way to build the way to fully realize how CSS is going to, I’m just going to go all in on your turmeric, by the way, I said, I’m going to,
I’m going to push it. We’re going to standardize. But
It’s not trademark, but knock it out.
All right. So to fully like, to fully realize the potential to like help problems for people.
Like, I think we need to lean into this more of this model. Right. Rather than I’ve always kind of like had an uncomfortable relationship with how our RevenueCat fits into the like hyper fast monetization stuff. Right. I’m like, get users, check your CAC, put more money into Facebook. Right. And so, the more the industry gets away from that. The happier I am. I don’t know. Like you said, maybe it doesn’t go quite as fast, but I think the overall Tam will be larger. Right? If we take that approach,
Think that’s right. And, you know, I mean, I’ve talked to a bunch of founders that haven’t raised capital. Right. And they build something that like their users love. Right. Like, so I don’t know if you guys saw the deal with day one that got bought by automatic braised almost as your outside capital.
Right. He built.
Big fans that they won.
Yeah. Yeah. I was a big,
I got it’s an awesome business and he did that exact same thing. Right. He just listened to his users. He didn’t care about vanity metrics grew really nicely. Right. And it wasn’t like, you know, he’s not getting tech crunch publishing, but that’s fine. Right. You know, on an amazing business.
And then, you know, I’ve got a fantastic exit out of it. So I think, I think people are really waking up to that’s a very much a possibility here in the.
Yeah, one thing I wanted to highlight too, in that graph that you made, and for people that are listening to this, you can go to the show notes. We’ll have links to the, Eric’s presentation and you can find this chart, but to visualize it
Page 18. it open right here.
Following along at home, the, line for the locals drops.
So, you know, even, even for locals, you’re going to have some turn early on, but then it essentially flat lines. and I’m sure you did that very purposely to kind of illustrate how. How long term some of these, these, this retention can end up being, and it’s something we’ve actually been talking on the podcast about recently is that we’re so early in the space.
We don’t even really know what, how to measure LTV. Cause you’re going to have people who ended up subscribing for decades. and years and years and years, if not decades. And so, and, and then, you know, to your point about the cheetah versus thoroughbred, another great chart in the patient number, Jacob Page number
Cheetah versus thoroughbred but in that tuna versus thoroughbred, The other aspect to locals, and we’re kind of touched on it earlier is that those cohorts start to stack. So when you identify this cohort, that is going to be a very long-term cohort. That’s going to stay subscribed and have very low churn. You, you acquire a hundred thousand this year, and then they’re still there next year.
And you put a hundred thousand on top of that. And those are still there next year. And by year three, you know, you just continue to grow this pie of people who are very, very sticky in the product. And I think that’s part of what. you know, what you’re talking about with delinquent and Bumble and other companies is like, we’re still just starting to understand even as different as this is from SaaS.
We’re starting to see similar dynamics as far as. Early on the churn is so high, but then you do have this really strong stickiness over the long-term that, that, that can build a really healthy business of people who really love your, your product and really are invested in it and are going to stay for a really long time.
So yeah, I just wanted to point that out that, that I, I love that aspect of the chart of how flat that line is for the locals.
I mean, you, you can see it in your own spending patterns, right? Like how many of you guys have subscribed to Netflix or Spotify for more than five years? I bet it’s a good chunk of your listeners. Right? So, I mean, if I look at my phone, right, I’m going to subscribe to all trails for the next decade,
Yeah, I’ve got CSS. I I’ve started subscribing to in 20 13, 14, like as
It was a thing,
I’ve, been a script user for four years and I still download audio books or download other books from like the San Francisco library. Cause I’m probably the cheapest banker of all time. but you know, I still use script
It’s finding margin, Eric you’re finding margin. That’s what that is.
Exactly. I’ve pinched counties all day.
But yeah, so I mean, I, I think those tails David to your point are still being written. And so that’s the whole point, right? If you use average LTV and you say, all right, well, we have 30% churn that math means you lose every user in three years, and that’s just not how it works. And if with really good businesses that are delivering value, right?
And so then once you convince people of that, right, the investment case becomes a very different company.
And speaking of that, you, you had a great, slide on investor benchmarks. And so I wanted to get to that real quick, tell me about how you, how you thought. These different metrics. And what, and how investors think about these metrics? Because you know, we’re talking about LTV and in there you have LTV to CAC of you, you know, for a really strong app, that investor would be super excited about.
You’re closest to. Six X versus less than three X, you start to cool off. So, yeah. Walk us through each of these metrics and kind of how you think about it, how you think investors think about it, And even how that’s kind of maturing as we understand the space better.
Yeah. And just to note like these metrics are all different for different types of businesses, right? If you’ve been around for a year, these metrics are very different versus if you’ve been around for 10 years, right. If you’re in high growth, you know, venture back, spending a lot of money, these metrics look very different than if you’re a bootstrap business, you know, just trying to inch out.
You know, 10% growth a year. Right. So they can be very different. And the important thing is how does the story of your business and what you’re trying to accomplish tie to these metrics? Right. So that’s what we spent a lot of time talking to founders about is, is what’s good based on what you’re trying to do.
Right. So it’s just how you, how do you tell your story through the metrics? but yeah, so a couple of your points on the S on the slide, we talk about like user growth rates, gross margins, LTV to CAC, churn rates, free to paid conversion rate, and then sales efficiency. and then, you know, just to talk about something different, we, we talked about LTV a little bit earlier, but maybe talking about, churn, right.
And so like how quickly do people churn off? Right. And so that’s, there’s a couple different ways to interpret churn, right? It’s one, they didn’t find your product. Too. They thought it was really expensive. or if they’re not turning, they really love something you’ve put together. Right. And they decided to pay you multiple times for that either monthly or annual.
And so what we just try to do is try to tell the story of where the business is at and where it’s going by looking at these metrics. And so, you know, that’s why it’s so important to truly understand these metrics, because if you don’t understand the metrics, it’s hard to tie that to the story. so we spent a lot of time with any client or even non-clients just talking about this stuff to truly understand, you know, what investors care about.
And it’s, you know, if someone’s buying the business, they may care a very good. They may care about very different metrics for someone who’s investing your business for growth, right? So someone’s going to put 40%, $40 million on your balance sheet to go grow. They may be focused less on LTV to CAC now because your LTV is not formally formed, right.
They don’t know how good it is, but they will focus very heavily on churn, which is a reflection of how good your product is and how good you’re finding consumers that love your product. Right. So those, those are metrics that they may focus. They made me more comfortable spending a lot of money in the next two years.
Right. So your CACs going to look a lot worse because they watched, you acquire a lot of users to make the platform a lot better. Right. And a lot of CSS businesses, right. UGC is a, is a, is a spinoff of user activity on the post. Beautiful uploading photos reviews. They’re adding new new items on, on the platform for other users to use.
And so it’s worth spending more money to get those people in the first two to three years because your platform becomes that much better and that much more valuable, right? So you may be willing to burn down to a, an LTV to CAC of three X or something like that in the near term, or sometimes even two extra one X, because it’s a land grab for those.
Once you’re on their platform right now. You want to see that LTV to CAC, start to move up a little bit, right? So you start to put it to four or five, six X, LTV to CAC. So it’s all about where your business is. It’s each different stage, but it’s important to have a story and a message around why your numbers are, what they are.
Of the, I have the slides up in third slide, 37 for anybody who’s following along at home. all of these as a veteran SAS CSS person, every annual user growth rate, gross margin to be cash I’ll clear me, sales efficiency ratio. Can you talk about that one? Cause that one’s, that one’s, not as a little foreign to me.
Yeah. It’s, it’s a, it’s more of a metric that’s come out of SAS just to be honest. So it’s thinking about like, it involves like how, how many users are you gaining? It’s how much revenue you’re gaining versus how much money are you putting out there? So it’s a little bit of a different metric. and most CSS businesses don’t get to that yet because they typically don’t have heavy sales team.
And so we’ve included it because you’re starting to see some of these CSS businesses really start to grow. And so how much revenue gaining versus how much revenue you’re losing and how much is it costing you to do that? And so that’s when you’re starting to get into like the tens to $20 million of, of, marketing spend a year, it’s, it’s, important to understand like how efficient is that spend being, and this is the best metric
We, it says called sales, but you actually throw in marketing, spend in there as well. So it’s like all go to market spend
Yeah. Are using head count, not just like the ad dollars. right.
It’s like a fully loaded CAC number, like
Your, all of your people telling Facebook what to do,
Yep, exactly. Exactly.
Content graders, like all that stuff, right? Yeah.
If you’ve got a hundred people running around campus, right. Promoting your app. Right. Okay. How much those people cost. Right. So it’s an important way to think about how much you grow. And it’s a way to think about like how well can you grow a capitally efficient capital with limited amounts of capital.
So it’s an important one. We look at it, it’s typically a later stage, right? So you’ve gotta be like north of 20 million of
So he’s going to be super high when you’re small, right? Because you’re, you’re your.
Sir. Request important.
People are discreet. Right. And that you can’t, you’re not continuous. So, and also your, your, your revenue just grows less because of like, you know, you’re smaller, you’re less, well-known like, you’re less is momentum is things like this.
Well, we’re starting to run low on time, but there’s so much more I want to talk to you about, but just to hit one last thing. I also love this chart you did, of Pandora versus Spotify. It’s such a. And encapsulation, really everything that we’ve been talking about on this podcast is to see how well Spotify revenue has compounded over the past few years versus a Pandora, which, which look was the juggernaut.
You know, when, when, when Spotify started. so, so walk us through this chart. And in how and why you think, you know, Spotify was able to, to grow the way they did while Pandora really struggled. And obviously there’s a ton of, you know, other business factors and execution and other things. But, but I think overall, this does speak to the power of CSS.
Yeah. And this is, this is something we did back in 2020 when we were just trying to decide like, Hey, what’s is this CSS thing real? And, and a big question you get from, from investors. And listen, I think a lot of them have stopped asking this question because the case studies are out there is why would someone pay monthly or annually for something they can get for free?
And by get for free, it means listening to, or watch. Right. And so I wanted to see like, alright, graphically or like actually numbers to will people, more companies make more money by making that really hard decision and say, pay me for what I’m giving you first. I’ll give you something for free and exchange every half hour, you watch two minutes of ads, right?
That’s a really hard question to say, because it involves you putting a lot of value in your product. And so entrepreneurs, you know, product developers have to. Is this worth money or am I giving something out to people that, Hey, they’ll kind of use it if they get it for free. Right? So it’s a, it’s a gut check for people to say, like, did I build something that someone will buy?
That’s hard. That’s really challenging. Ask yourself, especially if you’ve started with advertising. and Spotify, you know, listen, they were a small company based in the Nordics, right. Versus Pandora US-based juggernaut and, and raised a lot of money. Right. That’s a tough challenge. And so they took a really tough thing and said like, Hey, we’re going to get.
And make people pay for our product and we’re going to make it better. But the crazy thing that happens though, right, is you make so much more on a user from subscriptions than you do from average. Right on advertising. You’re trying to pick up pennies per subscription on some or pennies per user on the subscriber.
You’re making 10, 20 bucks a month, depending maybe maybe $60 a year for a subscriber. So the amount of users you have compounds so quickly, and then if you have that heavy retention, all of a sudden, you’ve got these really thick layers of cashflow that come in every year, use that cashflow. You invest it back in.
He invested back in product and you do it again and again and again, and all of a sudden you’ve got a better product. And if you have a better product, people will come to it. And if it’s something that they’re using daily, right. Why would you not be comfortable like paying five bucks? Right. If I think about like how much my Netflix subscription is, right.
It’s $11 a month or something like that. Right. Well, I probably watch 10 hours of Netflix a month, right? So I’m paying a dollar an hour to be entertained. Pretty good deal. And so, like, I think if people, people start doing that math and you start to see like how powerful that that subscription is for user versus an ad driven, it becomes pretty interesting.
And so I think you’ve seen this case study play out over and over and over across CSS, where if you build a good enough product, you know, a 10 X product versus the free option, people will pay for it.
And Spotify does double dip as well, which is interesting is that they have a good enough free tier and people can listen for free.
But they choose to spend, even though they can. And so, so Spotify is a great example of, of double-dipping with a great freemium tier, but then a good enough product in a compelling enough reason that people will pay.
Yeah, another dimension. I don’t know the specifics of Pandora and Spotify. It’s like fundraising history, but if you have like the subscriber. Subscription revenue momentum makes capital more easy to access. And you look at some of this. I think of some of the strategic stuff that Spotify has done. Like they got the Beatles on Spotify pretty early on and lets up, they spent big on partnerships and Content and stuff.
And if you have momentum, if you have hard dollars, it’s a lot easier to go to an investor and be like, Hey, like I want to raise X million dollar. Revenue growth. I have, like, this is very clearly a business. I can remember raising money in the pre revenue is everything era or like trying to raise money.
And it was like a lot harder. Right. Cause it was just like hand waves and we’re going to grow and like, and now it’s like, yeah, for better or worse, you go over the curtain and you show something. Right. But the big benefit too, I think for founders, it’s not just for investor, for founders. It’s like, yeah, you build a great business.
You’re building a safety net, right? Like if you can’t fundraise, it’s not the end of the world. Like you have options. And I think that’s part of the reason why also, I mean, now we’re getting into fundraising like macro, but that’s part of the reason the funding environment is crazy because businesses are sturdier than they’ve ever been.
Like they need capital less than they’ve ever needed it. Right. And so like, that’s why it’s gotten cheaper. or, you know, evaluation’s gotten higher same thing. Right. So, Anyway. Yeah. And this is a fascinating to put this. I already was not on here, which was my horse. And I was like really pulling for them.
And then it gets to a whole different story of why that’s not on there. But, but yeah, it’s fascinating.
Well, I think that’s a really fun place to end the story of Spotify, one of the biggest juggernauts in the space. We’re going to include in the show notes a link to the report, a link to your LinkedIn and Twitter to follow along.
Anything else you want to share as we wrap up?
No guys. Always a pleasure to join you. One thing for your audience users, we are trying to make the GP Bullhound CSS report a resource for founders. This year, for the first time ever, we did include a link to a survey.
So, if you want to contribute your data, what we’ll do is aggregate everything, anonymize it, and then we’ll provide back a summary to users to say, “Hey, here’s your LTV to CAC. How does this compare to other founders at this stage?” We are trying to be a resource. I’ll probably give you guys that link, if you don’t mind. We’d love to have as many people as possible. No pressure.
Of course, all of it would be anonymized. This isn’t a marketing tactic for us. It’s us giving back to the community. We’d love people to take a second to do the survey, but if not, don’t hesitate to email me, tweet at me, hit me on LinkedIn with questions, comments, and specifically stuff We got wrong. Absolutely love to hear where we can learn.
Because we’re not building, we’re just talking about what you guys are doing.
By the time you print this thing, it’s like, stuff’s changed, right? Like it’s changing so fast.
The whole Apple thing when we were publishing was happening everyday. And I was like, this is unbelievable.
And wait to...
Since July, and I have to change every minute. Yeah. I had to change a PowerPoint. You guys had to change code. So I think one was a lot harder.
Well, it was great having you on, Eric, and we’ll have to make this an annual thing.
Yeah, we’ll see you next year.
See you in 2022.
All right. Thanks David. Thanks Jacob.