Technology Leverage

I hosted a group of HBS students in a tour of startups in downtown Boston a couple weeks ago. It was a fun trek, that had us visit Dataxu, Localytics, and near-unicorn DraftKings.  We ended the trek chatting  with Paul English, the co-founder of Kayak at his venture foundry Blade.

It was great to hear the inside story of some really interesting companies, including two that have just raised substantial dough and are looking to expand their business and teams significantly in the coming years. Some of these companies have extraordinary growth rates and are poised for really great things. Most are looking to have teams that will be over 200 people over the next year or two, probably quite a bit larger in some instances.

But what I was most struck by was a stat that Paul English shared. When Kayak went public, the company had one of the highest revenue/employee of any business. Here’s what Kayak looked like when it went public:


IPO Market Cap: $1B, Revenue: $225M (2011), Employees: 185 (July 2012), Rev / Employee: $1.2M (Paul has quoted $1.5M, which makes sense given growth of the business in 2012)

Compare that with a couple other recently public companies.

Lending Club:

IPO Market Cap: $8.4B, Revenue: $98M (2013), Employees: 628 (2014), Rev / Employee: $156K


IPO Market Cap: $2.6B, Revenue: $331M (2012), Employees: 886 (2013), Rev / Employee: $374K

New Relic:

IPO Market Cap: $967M, Revenue: $64M (2013), Employees: 534 (2014), Rev / Employee: $120K

IPO Market Cap: $1.7B, Revenue: $124M (2014), Employees: 972 (2014), Rev / Employee: $127K


IPO Market Cap: $1.9B, Revenue: $137M (2013), Employees: 680 (2014), Rev / Employee: $201K


IPO Market Cap: $990M, Revenue: $134M (2013), Employees: 342 (2014), Rev / Employee: $392K

Throwing in Etsy now that the data is available:

IPO Market Cap: $1.7B (e), Revenue: $195M (2014), Employees: 685 (2015), Rev / Employee: $285K

These are pretty fascinating comparisons. Of course, these businesses are very different, and that has an impact on this metric. But it’s amazing to think that Kayak went public at a $1B valuation with less than 200 people, when all of these other companies had 300 people or more. Some of the mid-stage startups that I visited that day will have more employees in the next 12 months than Kayak did upon IPO. Pretty extraordinary.

It’s a reminder to me of something that my partner Dave often encourages us to focus on: technology leverage.  We are seeing more and more companies out there that are largely based on the time and effort of people or are about making or moving around stuff.  Those could be pretty interesting companies, but their value will be largely based on how much leverage they are going to get out of their technology to fuel attractive growth and profitability down the road.

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