5 Characteristics of Attractive Economic Models for Entrepreneurial Companies

Source: Scott Maxwell, OpenView Partners

How do you know that you have an attractive economic model? The ultimate economic model has 5 characteristics:

1. Your cost of acquiring new customers is low relative to the cash flow that they generate for you once they become customers.  This is a pretty simple idea, but really important to capital efficient growth.  To grow, you generally need to invest cash against growing your go-to-market engine (some combination of sales and marketing) and that investment is returned by new customers giving you cash in the form of gross profits (customer revenue less the costs that you have to serve your customers).  The better the return on investment per unit cash invested in new customer acquisition, the better your economic model.

2. Your existing customers have high gross profits/margin.  The more gross profits (again, customer revenue less the costs that you have to serve your customers) that you get from your existing customers, the better your economic model.

3. Your Customers stay with you for a long time and increase their business with you over time.  The longer your customers stay with you and the more you grow your gross profits from them over time, the better your economic model.

4. You can get away with a small amount of R&D for your existing customer segments and still maintain/grow your competitive advantage to your current customer segments.  Assuming that you are maintaining/growing a reasonable competitive advantage over your current and potential competitors, the lower your R&D spending relative to your gross profits for your current customer segments, the better your economic model.  This is a tricky point, as you do need R&D spending to maintain/grow your competitive advantage and make sure that new competitors can’t easily come in and take away your market. Also, you may have R&D investments separate from the R&D spending associated with competitive advantage aimed at your current customer segments (that might open up new segments, help to improve aspects of your economic model, or be associated with some other benefit to your business).

5. You can grow in your current customer segments for a long period of time (the longer the better).  The longer you can grow your current business with the same economic model performance, the better your economic model.  Another way of saying this is that you want a large enough target market.

If you don’t understand these 5 basic economic model components for your business, then you have some work to do if you really want to get on top of your complete economic model.  If you understand your economic model, but you don’t have to have all 5 characteristics that create the best economic model, then your understanding can lead you to some management focal points.  For example, you should be able to generate some insights on areas of your company that you could be working on to achieve a better economic model and the insights will also be helpful in determining your growth strategies going forward (more on this in later posts).

Note that I have specifically NOT included either the level of sales and marketing investment or the R&D associated with developing new customer segments as part of judging the attractiveness of your economic model.  These are investments that need to be looked at separately so that you can more clearly judge the attractiveness of your economic model.  In other words, you can have a great economic model while having a high level of investment in sales and marketing, R&D, and/or investments other areas of your business, but in order to judge the attractiveness of your economic model, you need to sharply look at your economic model by ignoring the level of the investments that you are making.


The most attractive economic models have low cost of customer acquisition, high gross margins, and customers who stay with you and build their business with you over time.  In addition, the costs associated with running your business and increasing your competitive advantage are small relative to the gross profits that you make as a business, offering you a great bottom line opportunity now or in the future.  Finally, you have a market size that is large enough for you to grow for a long period of time.  If you have all of these characteristics, you are all set.  If you don’t, perhaps there are some insights that you can identify that will help you to improve your business.

About Scale Finance

Scale Finance LLC (www.scalefinance.com) provides professional CFO services, Controller solutions, and support in raising capital, or executing M&A transactions, to entrepreneurial companies. The firm specializes in cost-effective financial reporting, budgeting & forecasting, implementing controls, complex modeling, business valuations, and other financial management, and provides strategic help for companies raising growth capital or considering M&A/recapitalization opportunities. Most of the firm’s clients are growing technology, healthcare, business services, consumer, and industrial companies at various stages of development from start-up to tens of millions in annual revenue. Scale Finance LLC has offices in Charlotte, NC, the Triangle, the Triad, Southern Pines, and Wilmington with a team of more than 30 professionals serving more than 100 companies throughout the region.