SaaS valuations are getting crazier

Valuations for SaaS are higher than they’ve ever been since we started keeping track of the data in Q4 2014: of the 77 SaaS companies we follow, the average public SaaS business is trading at 10.07x revenue while the median is 9.32x. The data is below.

Negative EBITDA, positive cash flow. The median SaaS business had trailing twelve month revenue of $302mm, EBITDA of -$16mm, but positive cash flow of $20mm thanks to deferred revenue and up-front collections on annual contracts. Indeed so long as you’re growing (the median annual growth rate is 14%), investors will overlook negative EBITDA especially if the business is cash flow positive after working capital changes.

Growth doesn’t explain high valuations. As for growth, at 14% YOY, we’ve never seen it this low. It’s not terrible, but the sector historically has grown at 25% to 30%+. It’s also concerning to see growth at a low but the revenue multiple at a high. The profitability profile hasn’t changed (the majority of our list is unprofitable as it has always been), so it’s unclear to us why investors are willing to pay 9.32x revenue. The only reason we can think of is that markets in general are overvalued and SaaS is benefitting from investors generally overpaying for companies.

SaaS businesses are healthy. There is almost no debt on these businesses — banks don’t like ‘asset-lite’ businesses like software. Additionally, these companies have $166mm of cash on the balance sheet on median, equivalent to 1 years of burn (recall EBITDA is -$16mm). The number of years of cash on the balance sheet is less important given that these businesses are generally cash flow positive (median of $20mm), and indeed only 14 out of the 77 have negative cash flow. Note that 46 out of the 77 have negative EBITDA, but again that’s acceptable so long as the growth is there and cash flow overall is positive.

Recent IPO’s are killing it. The 4 latest SaaS IPO’s (Docusign, Smartsheet, Z-Scaler, Zuora) are trading at an average valuation of 19.75x revenue. That’s unreal and frankly non-sensical. It shows that now is a great time to come to market whether you’re raising money or selling the business.

So what’s this data mean for a fast growing private SaaS business? Public multiples and trends tend to guide what’s happening in the private markets: i) as compensation for illiquidity, size, and lack of profitability, prudent investors will look to invest in your private SaaS business somewhere below the 10x average unless your growth rate is demonstrably higher than 14% YOY; ii) financing will continue to come from equity, less so from debt, although we’ve seen banks like Bridge Bank get more aggressive and lenders like Lighter Capital get more creative; iii) and burning cash is still acceptable on an EBITDA basis, so long as free cash flow is positive or moving in the right direction. Finally, given the high revenue multiples, now is an excellent time to sell your business or raise money.

Sammy is with Blossom Street Ventures. Email him at sammy@blossomstreetventures.com.