The T2D3 Path to SaaS Growth and $1B Valuation

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T2D3 stands for “triple, triple, double, double, double,” and was introduced as a concept by SaaS (Software as a Service) investor Neeraj Agrawal. In brief, the metric-turned-method involves two years of tripling annualized revenue growth, then three years doubling it.

The premise is that SaaS businesses that can follow the T2D3 revenue growth pattern go from $1-$2 million to over $100 million in annual recurring revenue (ARR) in just 5-6 years, and earn a $1 billion valuation.

Often, investors can provide insights into a business’s value that inspire owners to see their growth and profitability in a new light. This was the case with the Rule of 40, and is also the case with T2D3. First explored in 2015, T2D3 is still used today.

When he introduced T2D3 in his article, “The SaaS Adventure”, Agrawal explained how he’d gone from using it as a metric, to encouraging businesses he had invested in to meet the defining characteristics of each phase involved. Since then, other SaaS businesses have tried to emulate the journey.

The T2D3 path to success

While T2D3 certainly isn’t the only path to a $1 billion valuation, it’s a well-documented way to get there. In fact, it’s the route taken by such well-known companies as NetSuite, Salesforce, and Zendesk.

T2D3 isn’t typically a first step; rather, it’s a course taken after a product or service idea has been fully fleshed out, partners identified, and a product-market fit established. Ideally, a business taking on this approach has already reached $2 million in ARR and has acquired a few good-fit customers.

Once that has been established, the ‘go-to-market’ path to $1 billion is as follows:

T2D3 Year One: Triple to $6 million

For many businesses, tripling to $6 million in ARR is a take-all-you-can-get effort. Founders will accept all deals, even from customers who aren’t a great fit, just to build revenue.

This is less than ideal, however. A better approach is to focus on creating a small but focused sales team that knows who their ideal customer is and how to make the most of market peaks. With stronger customer fits and a sales team primed to take advantage of upswings, a more stable base is built for continued growth.

T2D3 Year Two: Triple to $18 million

During your second year of the T2D3 cycle, you’ll learn quickly whether customers like your product or service enough to renew, or whether they’re churning out. If they like what you provide, they’ll also likely tell their colleagues about the business, assisting with customer acquisition. This is why those good-fit customers in year one are so important.

At this point, the sales team is likely growing and demanding another layer of management. While this pushes founders/CEOs away from sales, it also frees them up to focus on more important things for the journey ahead.

T2D3 Year Three: Double to $36 million

By the third year, a strong sales team with multiple managers should be formed with sights set on international sales. Here, Agrawal emphasizes quality over quantity: it’s better to have a strong but small presence in a few countries rather than a weak presence in many. Deep connections with international references and leaders will go a long way down the line.

T2D3 Year Four: Double to $72 million

At this point, operations become a focal point. Strategic hiring, promoting, and managing is key to adjusting to non-linear growth and getting partners or reseller channels to work. Agrawal’s tip? Don’t push for resellers until you’ve hit a $50 million run rate—this will help resellers prioritize your business over others.

T2D3 Year Five: Double to $144 million

Crossing the $100 million threshold unlocks the door to a $1 billion valuation, assuming other metrics look strong. At this point, looking into the Rule of 40 as a new metric is worth considering. With time, a business can cross the threshold of $1 billion in ARR. SparkPost set its sights on this goal after announcing their T2D3 success in 2017.

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Is T2D3 right for your business?

It’s important to note that while T2D3 is used as a metric by investors to predict a business’s success, it isn’t an indicator of success in and of itself. Many things besides valuation factor into that measure.

For example, experts often highlight the fact that public companies can be unprofitable but highly valued. How can this happen after a phase of rapid growth? With some research and data-crunching, Capshare found that the answer may be free cash flow (FCF).

The correlation between FCF and enterprise value was actually stronger than that between revenue and enterprise value, and FCF can be increased by raising revenue or profit, meaning profit may be just as good at achieving high valuation. This lines up with marketing specialist and venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki’s belief that “sales fixes everything.”

If you have the income, cash will flow, making everything else about running a business easier.

Here are some examples of highly valued businesses without T2D3-style growth:

Qualtrics. SAP paid $8 billion for Qualtrics last year, despite Q3 revenues of $372 million and 42% year-to-year (YTY) growth. At 20x revenue, it’s an impressive valuation. Qualtrics attributes this to their profits, while others note the rise of “feedback economy,” which gives the survey and feedback provider an edge.

PluralSight. PluralSight also went public last year after achieving unicorn status with their educational software. The business credits high profit with their valuation, and promises to make waves in the growing corporate e-learning market. Worth noting, of course, is that the business was founded in 2004 and bootstrapped funding until finally seeking venture funds in 2013.

There are advantages to leaning on profits as these businesses have done. While venture capitalists tend to have diversified portfolios which spread risk, the average SaaS founder does not. An investor can weather a blow to a new startup much better than the founder of that startup can, and that can affect both decision-making and sustainability. If a recession occurred, cash streams dried up, or money otherwise became hard to come by, high profits offer a much better buffer for a business than rapid growth. As Capshare points out: it’s better to be low-growth and profitable than bankrupt.

With those examples and considerations, it’s hard to deny that success can be found without the heavy focus on rapid growth. That being said, growing too slowly does have drawbacks, as venture capitalist Christoph Janz points out in his blog post, “How Fast is Fast Enough?”

While achieving $100 million in ARR is possible to do slowly, it is exponentially more difficult because growth rates tend to decline, not rise, over time.

Slow-growing companies also struggle to attract the best talent, a requirement for SaaS ventures with high sights, and tend to fall behind faster-growing competitors scooping up talent and customers. An intentional slow-growth plan can blow up in a business’s face if the conditions aren’t right.

As with any metric or method, none stand alone

Raising your valuation is important, but it is not the only indicator of business success.

Actual success can depend on many things, like the ability to weather recessions or other market storms. It means knowing when a money-raising effort promises a solid return on investment, versus when it’s a desperate grab at preservation.

In his original article, Neeraj Agrawal calls T2D3 a “sure-fire” way to reach SaaS go-to-market success. It may very well be. He also admits, however, that it is not the only way to achieve goals and hit high valuation. Remember that to use it, it’s important to consider the greater context of what your business’s success looks like.

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Tags: SaaS Saas Metrics SaaS Strategy

Jacob Varghese

VP of Marketing, Fusebill. Jacob is a full-stack, senior B2B marketing executive with proven strategic and execution capabilities. Over the past 15 years, he has successfully developed and deployed various demand generation, lead generation, and customer acquisition strategies that align with business goals.

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