Rethinking the Rule of 40: Bessemer's New Growth-Weighted Approach

In the world of SaaS (Software as a Service) and tech startups, the "Rule of 40" has been a longstanding benchmark for assessing a company's health and potential. Traditionally, this rule states that a company's combined growth rate and profit (typically EBITDA) margin should equal or exceed 40%. This simple metric helps investors gauge whether a company is growing rapidly enough or maintaining profitability at acceptable levels.

However, as market dynamics evolve, especially in an era of rapid technological advancement and shifting consumer demands, the traditional Rule of 40 might need a rethink. Enter Bessemer Venture Partners (BVP), a leading venture capital firm renowned for its deep expertise in scaling SaaS businesses. Bessemer proposes a novel adaptation to the Rule of 40, placing more weight on growth over free cash flow (FCF), reflecting the modern landscape where growth is often the primary driver of long-term success.

Understanding the Traditional Rule of 40

The Rule of 40 is simple:

Growth Rate + Profit Margin >40%

This metric balances growth and profitability, ensuring that companies are not sacrificing one at the expense of the other. For instance, a company with a 25% growth rate and a 15% profit margin would meet the Rule of 40.

While this rule has been effective, it often underrepresents the value of hyper-growth companies strategically reinvesting profits to capture market share. For many modern SaaS businesses, especially those in aggressive growth phases, the traditional balance may only partially encapsulate their strategic priorities.

Bessemer's Growth-Weighted Rule of 40

Bessemer's adaptation to the Rule of 40 emphasises growth more heavily, recognising that growth often dictates long-term viability and market leadership in today's competitive landscape. Their formula might look something like this:

Weighted Growth Rate + Profit Margin >40%

In this new approach, the growth rate is given a higher weight, say 1.5x, to reflect its enhanced importance. For example, the modified rule could be:

(1.5 x Growth Rate) + Profit Margin >40%

This adjustment acknowledges that a higher growth rate, even with lower current profitability, can signify a robust trajectory toward future profitability and market dominance. It allows investors and stakeholders to appreciate better companies strategically focusing on scaling their operations and capturing market share.

Why Weight Growth More Heavily?

1. Market Dynamics: Speed and scale often trump short-term profitability in fast-evolving markets. Companies that can quickly capture market share are better positioned to monetise their user base later.

2. Investor Expectations: Venture capitalists and investors often prioritise growth, understanding that early-stage profitability can sometimes hinder a company's ability to scale rapidly.

3. Competitive Advantage: Rapid growth can establish a competitive moat. By prioritising expansion, companies can become market leaders, making it harder for competitors to catch up.

Counterarguments and Considerations

While Bessemer's growth-weighted approach offers a more nuanced view, potential drawbacks and counterarguments to this strategy must be considered.

1. Sustainability of Growth: One of the main criticisms is that prioritising growth excessively can lead to unsustainable business practices. Companies might overextend themselves, investing heavily in customer acquisition without establishing a stable revenue model. If market conditions change or funding becomes scarce, these companies might need help maintaining their operations.

2. Profitability Matters: While sometimes secondary in early stages, profitability remains a crucial indicator of a company's long-term health. Focusing on growth at the expense of profitability can lead to a burn rate that outpaces revenue growth, ultimately threatening the company's survival.

3. Market Conditions: The success of a growth-weighted approach heavily depends on favourable market conditions. In a downturn, access to capital can dry up, and companies without a path to profitability may find themselves in precarious positions.

4. Valuation Risks: Overemphasis on growth can lead to inflated valuations. If growth slows or fails to meet expectations, these companies might face significant valuation corrections, harming investor confidence and employee morale.

5. Sector-Specific Dynamics: Not all industries benefit equally from a growth-weighted approach. Sectors with long sales cycles or significant regulatory hurdles might find this model less applicable, as rapid growth may not be feasible or sustainable.

Real-World Implications

Consider a SaaS company with a 30% growth rate and a -5% profit margin. Under the traditional Rule of 40, this company would score 25%, falling below the benchmark. However, with Bessemer's growth-weighted rule:

(1.5 x 30%) + (-5%) = 45%

This company has now exceeded the threshold, highlighting its strategic focus on growth over immediate profitability. While this paints a positive picture for the company in the short term, investors must be vigilant about its long-term sustainability and ability to eventually turn profitable.

Balancing Growth and Profitability

While Bessemer's adaptation of the Rule of 40 reflects a deeper understanding of the modern SaaS landscape, a balanced approach is crucial. Companies must strike a balance between aggressive growth strategies and prudent financial management. Even if deferred, establishing a clear path to profitability should remain a priority.


Bessemer's growth-weighted Rule of 40 offers a fresh perspective on evaluating SaaS companies, aligning more closely with today's tech-driven market realities. However, it also necessitates a careful assessment of sustainability and market conditions. As the tech ecosystem continues to evolve, so too must the metrics by which we gauge success. Bessemer's adaptation is a step in that direction, emphasising the critical role of growth in building tomorrow's market leaders. Still, it must be tempered cautiously to ensure long-term viability and stability.

I hope you have a great week.