The Only Metric That Matters Right Now: Burn Rate

Scott D. Clary
Scott D. Clary
7 min readMay 22, 2024


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The Only Metric That Matters Right Now: Burn Rate

Let’s talk about the one financial metric that’s probably keeping you up at night (or should be): burn rate.

If you’re building anything ambitious — a startup, a high-growth business, or even a passion project with serious potential — understanding your burn rate is non-negotiable. It’s your financial heartbeat, the indicator that tells you how long you can keep chasing your dreams before the cash runs out.

The Brutal Truth

Here’s the raw deal: Most businesses fail not because of bad ideas, but because they run out of money. They get caught in a death spiral of overspending, underestimating costs, and misjudging market traction. It’s a painful, avoidable fate.

What Burn Rate Really Means (Beyond the Jargon)

Your burn rate isn’t just a fancy accounting term. It’s the speed at which you’re converting cash into progress (or lack thereof). A high burn rate means you’re either growing fast or burning through capital inefficiently (or both). A low burn rate might mean sustainability, but it could also signal that you’re not investing aggressively enough in growth.

This Isn’t Just for Startups

Think you’re immune because you’re not a venture-backed startup? Think again. Even profitable businesses have burn rates. If you’re reinvesting profits into growth, you’re still burning through cash. Understanding this dynamic is key to making smart strategic decisions.

Now, here’s where I’m going to add my own flavor to this conversation. Burn rate isn’t just about survival; it’s about optionality. The longer your runway (the more months of cash you have left), the more freedom you have to experiment, pivot, and negotiate from a position of strength.

In the next segments, we’ll dive deeper into:

  • How to calculate your burn rate with ruthless accuracy (no sugarcoating allowed)
  • The different types of burn rates and why they matter (gross vs. net is just the beginning)
  • Strategies to extend your runway and maximize your optionality (this is where things get interesting)

Your Financial Runway and the Power of the Pivot

Let’s get down to brass tacks. It’s time to calculate your burn rate. No guesswork, no wishful thinking — just cold, hard numbers.

Calculating Your Burn Rate

Here’s the formula, stripped down to its essence:

  • Monthly Burn Rate = (Starting Cash — Ending Cash) / Number of Months

Simple, right? But the devil is in the details. Here’s what you need to include:

  • All Cash Outflows: Payroll, rent, marketing, software subscriptions, legal fees, the fancy coffee machine in the break room — everything that’s leaving your bank account.
  • Exclude Non-Cash Expenses: Depreciation, amortization, stock-based compensation — these don’t directly impact your runway.

Gross Burn Rate vs. Net Burn Rate

Now, let’s get a bit more nuanced. There are two types of burn rates you need to understand:

  • Gross Burn Rate: This is the total amount of cash you’re spending each month, regardless of any revenue coming in. It’s a measure of your operating costs.
  • Net Burn Rate: This is the difference between your gross burn rate and your monthly revenue. It’s a more accurate reflection of how quickly you’re depleting your cash reserves.


Let’s say your company started the quarter with $500,000 in the bank. After three months, you’re down to $350,000. Your gross burn rate is $150,000 per quarter ($50,000 per month). If you had $20,000 in revenue each month, your net burn rate would be $30,000 per month.


Once you know your net burn rate, you can calculate your runway:

  • Runway = Current Cash Balance / Net Burn Rate

This tells you how many months you can operate at your current burn rate before you run out of money.

The Power of the Pivot

Remember, your burn rate isn’t set in stone. It’s a dynamic metric that can — and should — change as your business evolves.

Here’s the key takeaway: The longer your runway, the more flexibility you have to make strategic pivots. You can experiment with new products, enter new markets, or adjust your business model without the pressure of an immediate cash crunch.

The Art of Extending Your Runway (and Your Options)

Let’s get strategic. You’ve calculated your burn rate, you know your runway, and now it’s time to play the long game. This is where the real magic happens.

Extending Your Runway: It’s Not Just About Cutting Costs

While reducing expenses is certainly part of the equation, it’s not the whole picture. In fact, a relentless focus on cutting costs can actually backfire, stifling innovation and growth. The goal is to optimize your burn rate, not starve your business.

Here are some strategies to consider:

Revenue Acceleration:

  • This is the most powerful lever you have. Increasing revenue not only extends your runway but also validates your business model and attracts investors.
  • Explore new sales channels, expand into new markets, optimize pricing, and upsell existing customers.
  • Remember, a dollar of revenue is worth more than a dollar of cost savings.

Cost Optimization:

  • This doesn’t mean slashing everything to the bone. It means identifying areas where you can be more efficient without sacrificing quality or growth potential.
  • Negotiate better deals with suppliers, optimize your marketing spend, and eliminate unnecessary expenses.
  • Consider variable cost structures that scale with your revenue.

Strategic Fundraising:

  • If you’re a startup, raising capital can significantly extend your runway. But it’s not just about the money. It’s about finding the right investors who can add value beyond just cash.
  • Look for strategic partners who can open doors to new customers, markets, or technologies.
  • Be prepared to give up equity, but don’t undervalue your company.

Non-Dilutive Funding:

  • Explore options like grants, loans, and revenue-based financing. These can provide a cash infusion without diluting your ownership.
  • Be aware of the terms and conditions, and make sure they align with your long-term goals.

Operational Efficiency:

  • Streamline your processes, automate repetitive tasks, and leverage technology to improve productivity.
  • Focus on your core competencies and outsource non-essential functions.
  • Build a lean, agile team that can adapt quickly to changing circumstances.

Pro Tip:

Remember, your burn rate is a reflection of your choices. It’s not a destiny, it’s a decision. By making smart, strategic decisions, you can extend your runway, maximize your options, and build a business that not only survives but thrives.

Your Financial Freedom Playbook

We’ve covered a lot of ground in this series, from calculating your burn rate to strategic runway extension. Now, let’s distill it all into actionable insights that will empower you to make confident financial decisions and build a thriving business.

Key Takeaways:

Know Your Numbers:

  • Understanding your burn rate, both gross and net, is not optional. It’s the foundation for making informed decisions about your business’s financial health.
  • Calculate your runway regularly. This gives you a clear picture of how much time you have to achieve your goals and make necessary adjustments.

Optimize, Don’t Just Cut:

  • A lower burn rate doesn’t always mean a healthier business. Focus on optimizing your spending, not just slashing it indiscriminately.
  • Invest in areas that drive growth and revenue, even if it means a slightly higher burn rate in the short term.

Revenue is King (or Queen):

  • The fastest way to extend your runway is to increase revenue. Explore all avenues for growth, from new markets to innovative pricing strategies.
  • Remember, a dollar of revenue has a more significant impact on your runway than a dollar of cost savings.

Fundraising is a Tool, Not a Goal:

  • Raising capital can be a powerful way to fuel growth, but it’s not the only option.
  • Explore non-dilutive funding sources and consider bootstrapping if it aligns with your values and goals.

Build a Culture of Financial Discipline:

  • Encourage transparency and accountability around financial matters.
  • Empower your team to find creative solutions for optimizing costs and increasing revenue.

The Power of the Pivot:

  • A long runway gives you the freedom to experiment, pivot, and adapt to changing market conditions.
  • Don’t be afraid to change course if your current strategy isn’t working.

Your Mindset Matters:

  • View your burn rate as a tool for empowerment, not a source of anxiety.
  • Focus on building a sustainable, profitable business that creates value for your customers and stakeholders.

Your Financial Freedom Playbook:

  • Track your burn rate monthly: Make it a non-negotiable part of your financial reporting.
  • Set clear financial goals: Define what success looks like for your business and align your spending with those goals.
  • Communicate openly with your team: Share your financial strategy and empower them to contribute to your success.
  • Be proactive, not reactive: Don’t wait until you’re running out of cash to take action. Plan for the future and make adjustments as needed.
  • Celebrate your wins: Acknowledge your progress and celebrate milestones along the way.

Remember, building a successful business is a marathon, not a sprint. By mastering your burn rate, you’ll gain the financial freedom to make bold decisions, pursue your vision, and ultimately achieve your entrepreneurial dreams.

Onward and Upward,




Scott D. Clary
Scott D. Clary

👋 | Host @ Success Story Podcast 🎙️ | I write a newsletter to 321,000 people 👉