What does it really cost to launch a fintech startup today?
The question matters, a lot. There is so much capital flowing into fintech now — around $14 billion over the last 12 months, a 46% increase year over year, at last count — that it behooves everyone to consider the actual, hard costs for startup launch.
Famously, CB Insights has argued recently, apparently based on Upfront Ventures data, that “it’s cheaper than ever to build a startup.” Here is how CB Insights, a consultancy, puts it:
It is now cheaper than ever to build a startup and what that means is there’s just going to be more of them. They are producing at a prodigious rate right now. What took $5 million in 2000 is now . . . in 2011, was $5,000 and this was a great set of data put together by our friends at Upfront Ventures. That’s probably coming down even further, right? When you look at Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure and Google, all trying to make the cost of hosting and things even cheaper. I can see it for us, as an emerging tech company ourselves, benefiting from this. The cost of launching a tech startup is going down and that’s manifesting itself in early stage activity.
But is that true? Ben Brown of First Annapolis, another consultancy, claims that Bill Gurley, a general partner at Benchmark Capital, the venture capital firm, has said that the cost of launching a startup “has largely stayed the same, just shifted from servers to salaries.” This would presumably be the case for fintech startups, too.
Indeed, when you use The Wall Street Journal’s startup cost calculator, you can surmise that the absolute costs, outside of salaries, might not match the presumptive $1 million series A rounds that abound in fintech. Of course, the calculator is just an indicator, but it is a valuable one.
This thought is all the more striking when you consider the $12 million series B round that Moven closed today. The round brings Moven’s total raise to $24.4 million. We have heard, off the record and unsubstantiated, that Moven’s initial investors asked the fintech startup to license its technology to TD Bank in Canada and WestPac in New Zealand last year to generate money to help cover its VC investment and 40-person development team.
But this rumor was unequivocally denied by Brett King. King wrote Bank Innovation that investors would also have asked Moven “to abandon the US business all together in favor of ‘licensing’ Moven to banks,” if the company’s revenue potential was so low. “That never happened,” he wrote. “[I]nterchange-only revenue margins are tight, but we expect profitability to grow consistently in the New Year as we leverage impulse savings, wish-list financing, etc.”
Fair points all.
In truth, there are always variable costs when it comes to startup launches, and obviously no two startups have the same cost structure. But it seems too easy to say startup costs have declined. Even if today’s costs are being allocated to salaries, rather than servers, they are costs, nonetheless.
Learn about fintech innovation at Bank Innovation Israel, Nov. 10-11 in Tel Aviv. Request an invitation here.