We all ascribe ourselves many labels that describe who we are to the world. One label I’ve carried for the last decade is “startup founder”, but I recently realized that MarketBeat is no longer a startup. In this video, I talk about the five signs that your business is no longer in start-up mode.
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Prefer to read instead of watch? Here’s a rough script I used for this video.
Matt Paulson here. I was thinking the other day, that everyone gives themselves labels that describe who they are to the world. I am a Christian and that means something. I am a father and a husband that means something. I am an entrepreneur and that means something. One of the labels that I’ve ascribed to myself until recently was the word “Startup Founder.” I was having a conversation with John Meyer from Lemonly about startups a while back and honestly, I can’t remember all the details about the conversation, but the person made an offhand remark that “Well, I probably wouldn’t call MarketBeat a startup anymore, it’s probably now just a business, right?” And that got me thinking. Is MarketBeat still a startup? When is a startup no longer a startup? When does a startup become just a normal business? I did a lot of thinking to try to answer this question and I’m pretty sure MarketBeat is no longer a startup. In this video, I want to walk through the line of thinking that helped me determine that my startup is now just a regular business.
I founded American Consumer News, LLC, which is the holding company for MarketBeat, in 2008 and actually started the business a couple of years before I incorporated. Yes, the business model has changed a couple of times since I first started a personal finance blog in 2006, but really MarketBeat as a company is probably close to 13 years old. Initially the company was a single personal finance blog, then it was a network of personal finance blogs, then it was a conglomerate of internet businesses, then it was a conglomerate of financially-driven Internet businesses and then in 2013 or 2014 it became a primarily financial newsletter business called Analyst Ratings Network and then in 2015 we changed the name to MarketBeat and the business model hasn’t changed significantly since. My thought is that if a company is at least 10 years old, the company has probably “figured out what it wants to be when it grows up” and has a clear business model that isn’t likely to change much and that’s probably a sign that MarketBeat as a company is no longer a startup.
The second reason that a startup is no longer a startup and the second reason that MarketBeat is no longer a startup is that the company survives off its own revenue and generates a healthy profit margin. MarketBeat has never taken any venture capital and if someone came to me today and offered an strong valuation to invest in the company, the answer would be no. I don’t need the money because MarketBeat generates healthy cashflow and doesn’t need any outside capital to continue growing. I think when a company can consistently live off its own cashflow and continue to grow, it’s probably past the point of being a startup.
The third reason that MarketBeat isn’t a startup anymore is that growth is no longer exponential. In the first few years of MarketBeat, it wasn’t uncommon to see growth rates of more than 100%. In 2013, 2014, and 2015 we saw revenue grow by more than 100% per year for three consecutive years. Of course, we’ve had some healthy growth since then. Our company grew by 43% last year and is likely ot grow 25-30% this year, but that growth is no longer exponential and it’s unlikely ever going to be exponential again. If all goes well, we’ll continue to grow by 15%-30% per year and make a nice healthy business. MarketBeat should easily be a $10 million/year business next year, but it’s somewhat unlikely to become a $50 million/year business given the size and scope of the industry it operates in. We’ve had great growth, but it’s definitely slowed down, and that’s okay, but it’s a strong indicator that we’re not in start-up mode anymore.
The fourth indicator that MarketBeat is probably no longer a startup is that it has an established brand and people in our category know what MarketBeat is and what it’s about. MarketBeat as a brand may not mean much to children, college students or people early on in the workforce, but it means something to the older generation that has developed some wealth and invests in individual stocks. There are about 40 million individuals in the United States that own individual stocks and about 2.85 million of those people have been subscribed to MarketBeat at one point or another, so MarketBeat has really hit a level of brand penetration with its core audience. Since it is an established and well-defined brand, that’s probably a sign it’s not a startup anymore.
The fifth and final reason that MarketBeat isn’t a startup anymore is that we’ve stopped doing things that don’t scale and focus primarily on scalable marketing strategies. We know what our unit economics are. Our goal is to pay $1.00-$3.00 to get someone in the United States who invests in stocks to join our email list with the hope of making $7.00 to $8.00 off them over the course of two years. When someone asks us to advertise with them, I usually know ahead of time whether or not it’s going to work because I know exactly what I can afford to pay to acquire a lead. We have established, proven marketing strategies that allow us to grow. We’re not trying to find growth hacks or get a journalist to write about us anymore. We’re past those things, so that’s another nail in the coffin that MarketBeat is past its startup phase.
So, those are the five indicators that your startup may no longer be a startup. It’s been in business 10 years. The business survives off its own revenue. Growth has become linear and not exponential. The business is an established brand and the business has repeatable and proven marketing strategies.
I am kind of sad that MarketBeat is no longer in startup mode, because MarketBeat was successful early on because I was willing to try everything and jump on every opportunity to see what worked. Eventually I figured out how to acquire a financial email sign-up cheaper than just about anyone else and that allowed us to build MarketBeat into the business it is today. I think that’s it for this video. Thanks for watching!