The Hierarchy of Recurring Revenue

25 Jul 2016

John Warrillow

John Warrillow is the founder of five companies, and the bestselling author of "Built To Sell: Creating A Business That Can Thrive Without You," which was recognized by both Fortune and Inc. magazines as one of the best books of 2011. His new book is titled "The Automatic Customer: Creating A Subscription Business In Any Industry." A regular contributor to Inc.com and The Globe and Mail, Warrillow was called one of the “Top Ten Business-To-Business Marketers” by B2B Marketing. Assessing businesses for over 15 years, he shares his expertise in areas ranging from entrepreneurship, sellability and the benefits of subscription-based marketing to build and sustain success.

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One of the biggest factors in determining the value of your company is the extent to which an acquirer can see where your sales will come from in the future. If you’re in a business that starts from scratch each month, the value of your company will be lower than if you can demonstrate the source or sources of your future revenue. A recurring revenue stream acts like a powerful pair of binoculars for you (and your potential acquirer) to see months or years into the future. Creating an annuity stream is the best way to increase the desirability and value of your company.

The surer your future revenue is, the higher the value the market will place on your business. Here is the hierarchy of recurring revenue presented from least to most valuable in the eyes of an acquirer.

No. 6: Consumables (e.g., shampoo, toothpaste)

These are disposable items that customers purchase regularly, but they have no particular motivation to repurchase from one seller or to be brand loyal.

No. 5: Sunk-money consumables (e.g., razor blades)

This is where the customer first makes an investment in a platform. For example, once you buy a razor you have a vested interest in buying compatible blades.

No. 4: Renewable subscriptions (e.g., magazines)

Typically, subscriptions are paid for in advance, creating a positive cash-flow cycle.


Also on StartupNation.com: The Hidden Goal of the Smartest Business Owners


No. 3: Sunk-money renewable subscriptions (e.g., the Bloomberg Terminal)

Traders and money managers swear by their Bloomberg Terminal; and they have to first buy or lease the terminal in order to subscribe to Bloomberg’s financial information. 

No. 2: Automatic-renewal subscriptions (e.g., document storage)

When you store documents with Iron Mountain, you are automatically charged a fee each month as long as you continue to use the service.

No. 1: Contracts (e.g., wireless phones)

As much as we may despise being tied to them, wireless companies have mastered the art of recurring revenue. Many give customers free phones if they lock into a two- or three-year contract.

When you put your business up for sale, you’re selling the future, not just the present. So if you don’t have a recurring revenue stream, consider how best to create one, given your type of business. It will increase the predictability of your revenue, the value of your business, and the interest of potential acquirers as they look to the future.

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