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Rule of 40 in SaaS meaning and guide on how to calculate it

Written by
Nathalie Kim
Published on
December 29, 2022

The rule of 40 in SaaS is a straightforward financial framework that balances revenue growth versus profit margins. It's a rule of thumb to determine your company's health or attractiveness quickly. In this post, we'll explain exactly how to calculate it, understand the results, and apply the rule of 40 in your SaaS business.‍

Nathalie Kim
Brand and Marketing Specialist
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A primary goal of every SaaS entrepreneur is to increase their firm's value. In reality, your prospects of attracting investors and obtaining a higher valuation multiple increases in proportion to the degree to which you can show a combination of revenue growth and operational efficiency.

The rule of 40 SaaS is a crucial measure for SaaS that helps illustrate this point.

A SaaS business must follow the rule of 40. If you need to learn about this metric, you should read this article better. The rule of 40 will help you find your SaaS product's idea and predict its growth.

However, the rule of 40 has some nuances you need to be aware of.

What is the rule of 40 in SaaS?

In 2015, Brad Feld, co-founder of Techstars, proposed the rule of 40, arguing that a successful SaaS enterprise has a growth rate and profit margin of at least 40%.

Even with a 0% profit margin, quarterly growth of 40% is possible. If we adopt this concept, there are situations in which financial failure poses no threat at all.

The SaaS 40 rule is a guideline that can help you forecast how much SaaS revenue your company will make. It's based on the assumption that each customer will spend a certain amount per month, and a group of SaaS experts developed it to help founders understand how many customers they need to reach their next stage of growth.

The formula is simple: Multiply the number of months by $1,000 (or whatever your average revenue per customer) and then divide that number by 40. That's the number of customers you need to hit your next milestone.

For example, if you want to generate $50,000 in sales in one month, divide 50 by 40 and get 1,250 — so you need 1,250 customers within that period.

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3 potential outcomes of the SaaS rule of 40

Three possible outcomes for a business following the rule of 40 in SaaS;

The growth rate and profit margin add up to greater than 40%.

In this case, you can expect the business to snowball and make healthy profits. This is the ideal scenario for any business owner, as it means you can reinvest your earnings into your business and increase its value over time.

The growth rate and profit add up to less than 40%.

In this case, you must be able to keep your head above the water to stay within budget on marketing or other expenses that are optional to running your business. You'll need outside funding, such as loans or venture capital, to expand if you want it to grow faster than this rate.

The growth rate and profit add up to exactly 40%.

This is often referred to as "the break-even point" because once your revenue reaches this level, your costs will be covered by your sales alone without needing any additional investment from investors or third parties (although they may still be required).

When to use the rule of 40 SaaS: should you use The rule of 40 as a startup?

When a SaaS company's yearly revenue reaches $50 million, it becomes subject to the rule of 40. The rule's creators, which include Brad Feld, advise implementing it whenever a company reaches $1 million in annual recurring income.

According to a survey by SaaS Capital, the average time it takes for a SaaS company to earn $1 million in ARR is roughly five years. However, as a younger firm, you can get a more accurate picture of your SaaS growth curve if you look at the past 12-18 months.

On the other hand, you may hold off until you've established the bulk of your departments, found your product's niche in the market, and resolved any cash flow concerns.

Make use of the rule of 40 as part of a comprehensive health evaluation, not as the primary metric, just as you would with any other SaaS value statistic.

Might be interesting: An ultimate guide for mapping the SaaS customer journey

Key drivers for the rule of 40 SaaS: growth rate & profit

As mentioned, the rule of 40 SaaS sums up two of your numbers:

  1. Growth rate (as a percentage)
  2. Profitability margin (as a percentage)

Here's what each represents.

Growth Rate

Growth is a critical factor in determining your company's valuation. The higher the growth rate, the higher your company's value. The rule of thumb is that every 1% growth increases your company's value by 10%.

For example, a 5% growth rate would increase your company's value by 50%, while an 8% growth rate would increase it by 80%. This isn't an exact science, but it's a good starting point for considering how to value your business.

Profit Margins

Profit margins are another key driver for valuing businesses. A high-profit margin indicates that you're selling more products and services at a higher price (or providing better service).

This means you have more leverage when negotiating with vendors or suppliers, which translates into better credit card and loan terms. It also implies that you can charge more for your product and still make money on each sale.

Rule of 40 SaaS Calculation

The SaaS rule of 40 is a simple formula for calculating how long it will take for your SaaS company to break even. Here's how to figure it out.

Find the right revenue growth input

For this formula, you'll need to know two things:

  • How much revenue you've generated in the last month
  • What is the expected revenue for the next month?

Choose an accurate profit measurement

Most companies use net profit margins to measure profit. But if your business model is based on gross profits (the total amount of money brought in before taxes) or operating expenses (the cost of running your business), then use those numbers instead.

Also read: SaaS revenue model - how does it work? Explanation with examples

Benefits of using the rule of 40 in SaaS

Most SaaS companies are at a mature stage, deciding whether to go for growth or profitability. This is a tough choice, mainly because both are equally important for the success of a SaaS company.

Rule 40 helps make this decision by telling you which tradeoffs you can afford at any stage.

Compare high-quality SaaS investment opportunities

While evaluating which deals to pursue, it's essential to consider the quality of each option – not just its potential return on investment. The rule of 40 provides a way to compare different opportunities by showing how much ARR each business needs to generate annually to meet its financial goals.

Attracting new investors

If you are planning to raise capital for your business, then the rule of 40 for a healthy SaaS company is a great way to impress investors by showing them how fast your business is growing. If you have achieved significant growth within 2 years of launch, you will impress and convince investors to invest in you.

Added health metric for reporting to your investors & board

The growth rate is a great way to measure the health of any company and its prospects as well. Using the rule of 40 for a healthy SaaS company, you can easily calculate the current growth rate and compare it with previous years.

By this, you'll know that there aren't any sudden drops or rises in growth rates which could cause concern among existing investors or potential new ones looking at this metric when deciding whether or not they should invest in your company.

Enhance decision-making in the short-term and long-term

The rule of 40 for a healthy SaaS company also helps decision-makers make strategic decisions because it enables them to understand whether their product is performing well.

For instance, if you want to know whether there is any problem with your product, then use rule 40 for a healthy SaaS company as a benchmark for measuring its performance over time.

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How to Surpass the Rule of 40 SaaS

People who have an installed foundation of health will fare better than those who don't.

Healthy habits can help you achieve your maximum potential and live longer. Here are some ways to outpace the rule of 40:

Concentrate on the installed foundation: You'll want to ensure your body has all its essential systems intact, including digestion, circulation, respiration, and elimination. If something is missing from your life, such as exercise or sleep, you should improve it immediately.

Productivity in engineering: A healthy body requires low-stress levels and high energy levels. If you're not getting enough sleep or working too hard, this could affect your health. Try to improve productivity by utilizing ergonomic furniture and technology tools for productivity gains without compromising your health in the process!

Performance in operations: Focus on your unique strengths, but don't focus too narrowly. For example, if you're good at marketing and customer service, you can use these skills to grow your business quickly — even if they're not directly related to making the product.

Final Words

In a nutshell, the rule of 40 for SaaS says that about 40% of your customers are responsible for about 80% of your revenue. So in practice only a small handful of users (about one in ten) will be responsible for most of your sales.

Anyways, always remember people like using excellent software and when it is easy to get a hold of. Even though the app market adds hundreds of new apps every day, you can always find an ideal SaaS solution that will help you stay ahead of the competition with Apptension. Learn more about our SaaS development services here.