Should Startups Focus on Growth or Profitability?
This question has been asked in every major business on the planet. From concrete manufacturing companies in the 1950s to PayPal in the 1990s, and now the Facebook and Uber empires of today. They created a great product, have started to gain traction, recently got funding, and now they must ask, does the company focus on growth, or profitability? A point needs to be made from the outset: It’s mathematically impossible to maximize growth and profitability at exactly the same time. You’re either doing one or the other, and often it’s these decisions which will ultimately determine the success of your company.
Questions to Consider
First ask this question: “When should my company start worrying about making money?” This isn’t simple to answer because there are many subtle distinctions which need to be made for a right answer to appear. Are you a business-to-business (B2B) company? What is the economy like? Are you a first mover? Have you already achieved funding and is it easy to get additional funding? What are your personal goals with this business- are you trying to run a global company or a niche money-making side business?
Based on the above, if your company is business to consumer (B2C) than it’s smart to focus purely on growth. Reason being is the consumer behaviour is notoriously fickle while corporate behavior is relatively static. This means a B2C company needs to pour money into advertising spending while locking down their user base. Let’s look at Facebook as a case study.
When Facebook initially started they didn’t have a clear revenue model but the executives did know they had something groundbreaking on their hands. They reasoned it was critical to gain the user’s first, in massive spending sprees for growth, and would figure out the revenue model second. Thus, the Facebook advertising platform was born, and out of it a multi-billion dollar revenue stream.
Money for Growth
Let’s look at this problem from a different angle. We already asked if there was easy access to capital, either in the form of private equity or venture capital. Now, let’s assume you decide to pursue an investment from a private equity fund. If you do this they’ll most likely lay down the business with debt in long or short-term loans. Now, if you’re a tech company it’s not smart to go down this route, because tech companies generally need to focus on user growth. However, if you’re company is building a physical product, then going through a private equity firm might make sense.
Rules of Thumb
If you’re a technology company that requires user interaction for viability, than obtaining users should be your primary goal because the greater volume of users you have, the greater amount of time people will spend using your product. Thus, it’s in your interest to focus on rapid growth from the outset with plans to weather unprofitability. Eventually you’ll have to monetize but it can be unwise if done too soon or before critical mass adoption.
Second, if your company is developing physical products which are capital intensive and growth is achievable, but at a slower rate than profitability will be your best option. Reason being is that your company’s main goal will be reducing costs of production for goods sold, which inevitably leads to greater margins. Your massive growth will come from an initial public offering (IPO) which infuses the company with liquid capital which can then be used for greater growth down the line.
If you’re a startup looking for resources to help you succeed, Tandon Group has provided numerous startups with business advice and funding support for over four decades.
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