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The value of software revenue may have finally stopped rising

Startups are raising record sums around the world, thanks to several contributing factors. But the free ride could be ending.

Startups are raising record sums around the world, thanks to several contributing factors. As The Exchange explored yesterday, historically low interest rates have helped venture capitalists raise more capital than ever, to pick an example.

Low rates have helped startups in another manner: As yields fell for certain assets, investors chased returns by betting on growth. And in recent years, the investing classes turned their attention to public software companies, bidding up the value of their revenue to record highs.

This raised the worth of startups in general terms, and private tech companies’ comps enjoyed a steady, upward climb in the value of their revenues. If the value of a dollar of SaaS revenue was worth $1 one year and $2 the next, the repricing was good for private companies even if we were tracking the metrics from the perspective of public companies.

The free ride could be ending.

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I’ve held back from covering the value of software (SaaS, largely) revenues for a few months after spending a bit too much time on it in preceding quarters — when VCs begin to point out that you could just swap out numbers quarter to quarter and write the same post, it’s time for a break. But the value of software revenues posted a simply incredible run, and I can’t say “no” to a chart.

The pace at which software revenues were repriced upwards in the last few years is simply astounding. Per the Bessemer Cloud Index, back in 2016, the median revenue multiple for public SaaS companies was around 5x. When 2018 began, median SaaS multiples had expanded to around 7x.

That’s a 40% climb in pricing, but it proved to be just a foretaste of the feast to come.

By the end of 2019, the median figure had appreciated to around the 9x mark. And today it has shot to just under 18x. That is why software companies have been able to raise so much money, earlier, and in larger chunks. Every dollar of recurring revenue they sold was worth $5 in market cap in mid-2016. At the end of 2019, that same dollar of revenue was worth $9. And today, for the median public software company, it’s valued at around $18.

There are nuances to the data, but we care less about exacting definitions than the directional change it describes: The median value of SaaS revenues more than tripled from 2016 to 2021. That’s an insane amount of growth.

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