Cash Burn Rate: Why Is It Important?

Written by

Meow Technologies, Inc.

Published on

Friday, December 22, 2023

Cash Burn Rate: Why Is It Important?

Cash burn rate is one of the most critical metrics for both startups and mature companies to measure, track, and manage.

Defining Cash Burn Rate

At its core, a company's cash burn rate measures how quickly it is using up its cash reserves and liquidity. The formula compares the cash balance at the start of an accounting period versus the end while removing the impact of outside cash injections from fundraising or debt issuance.

There are two primary methods for calculating cash burn:

  • Gross Burn Rate - This simpler formula looks solely at total monthly operating expenses. It indicates the baseline cash spending level.
  • Net Burn Rate - A more comprehensive calculation that incorporates monthly revenues or cash inflows and subtracts total costs and expenses. This shows true cash profit/loss.

The choice depends on specific business goals and needs. But net burn gives the most realistic view of sustainability.

Importance for Startups and Growing Companies

For the vast majority of early-stage startups and younger corporations, close cash flow monitoring is imperative. These businesses are often unprofitable while seeking product-market fit and scaling growth. Their survival depends wholly on having necessary financing rounds.

Venture capitalists will dig deeply into net burn rates before investing to gauge how rapidly the company will use up investment capital and when additional infusions will be needed. The burn metric also allows startups themselves to predict how long their cash runway extends before facing existential threats.

For more mature companies, sudden increases in cash burn can indicate forthcoming financial distress or suggest inefficient operations requiring cost restructurings. Avoiding unnecessarily high rates helps businesses maintain stability through market volatility.

Contributing Costs

Many line items factor into net cash burn rates, including:

  • Operating Expenses – R&D, marketing, G&A
  • Capital Expenditures
  • Working Capital Needs

The specific mix differs across industries. For example, manufacturing has high CapEx requirements and SaaS companies allocate more to engineering resources. These fixed differences make burn rate benchmarks less universal.

Modeling Cash Burn Rate Scenarios

Within financial models that project future cash flows, the burn rate assumption holds pivotal importance. By inputting monthly net burn rates based on past trends and planned investments, startups can model cash runway until the next projected funding rounds.

Conducting sensitivity analysis around fluctuations in burn rate allows creating flexibility plans if spending veers off track. It’s also possible to model the potential cash flow impact of measures to cut burn rates. These could include actions like reducing headcount, pulling back marketing campaigns, or extending the timing between financing events.

Interpreting High Cash Burn Rates

While aggressive investing in growth can justify rapid spending, investors scrutinize high burn rates for signals of dysfunction or lack of discipline. Warning signs of excessive burn include:

  • Missing profitability or cash flow milestones
  • Spending heavily on excessive perks or luxuries
  • Failure to right-size budgets for actual revenue

Even with strong top-line expansion, understanding the burn rate narrative by managing key performance indicators shows good operating practice. Otherwise raising subsequent rounds gets much harder.

Monitoring Cash Burn Rates Dynamically

Rather than viewing cash burn as a static metric, leading management teams update projections dynamically based on actual data. Combining burn rate calculators with cash flow forecasting software enables better visibility into how and why spend deviates from plans.

This data-driven approach allows executives to course correct in real-time against benchmarks before cash levels get too low. Having oversight over what specifically drives incremental burn empowers decision-making. It also keeps stakeholders aligned through cash management obstacles.

Automating burn rate monitoring further helps by saving finance teams time while enabling dynamic planning.

Key Takeaways

With cash availability dictating the lifespan of capital-intensive startups and younger corporations, the cash burn rate and cash runway metrics warrant close attention. A few key lessons include:

  • Compare gross versus net burn rates to right-size budgets
  • Model burn rate scenarios and sensitivity analysis in projections
  • Realign spending before reaching danger thresholds
  • Look deeper at performance drivers behind cash burn
  • Automate reporting for rapid response to changes

Having the right grasp of cash burn rates means funding lasts longer, reduces stressful capital events, and ultimately creates a healthier underlying business.

Meow Technologies is a financial technology company, not a bank or FDIC-insured depository institution. Likewise, Meow Technologies is not an investment adviser and none of the information presented herein should be relied upon as financial advice or a recommendation to make any financial decision nor should it be considered to be tax or legal advice. The information is the opinion of Meow Technologies for educational purposes and may not be suitable for all companies. Products, like the one described herein, are offered through Meow Technologies and are not advisory services which are only offered through Meow Advisory, LLC.** The FDICs deposit insurance coverage only protects against the failure of an FDIC-insured bank.**

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