From the monthly archives:

September 2010

Back of the Envelope: How to Estimate the Annual Revenues of Any Private Company

by Ryan on September 15, 2010

estimate revenue

Have you ever wondered how much money a particular company makes? Perhaps you just wanted to know their annual sales?   The only problem was, the company was small (i.e. not publicly traded) so there’s no public financial information available on them.   So how do you calculate their revenues?

I created a simple, back of the envelope (i.e. quick and dirty), mathematical calculation that accurately estimates the revenue of pretty much any public / private company, large or small. It’s certainly possible that I’m not the first to come up with this calc, but for now, I’ll take the credit for it. Here’s how it works:


That’s it!  It’s that simple.  Now let me briefly explain the logic behind this one.  The average American makes a little over $40,000 per year.  The costs of an employee to an employer is about 1.25x their base salary.  The additional 25% comes from payroll taxes, health insurance, worker’s comp insurance, office space for them to sit in, etc.  Therefore, the employer must bring in $50,000 ($40,000 x 1.25) for every employee in the company.  Because most companies have a gross profit of 50% or so, this means that in order to stay in business, the average company must have $100,000 in revenue for every employee in their company (($100k x 50%) – $50k) = $0 or Break Even).  The companies with more than $100k in sales per employee are more profitable (e.g. GOOG) than those that don’t (e.g. pretty much every startup company on the planet that takes VC / Angel money).

We so often hear about how well a company is doing based on their press releases, speaking engagements by their founders, etc.; however, no one ever wants to tell you exactly how much money their company makes. The next time you want to know how much revenue someone’s company is doing, don’t just ask them point blank. Instead, simply ask them how many employees they have. Every CEO will tell you how many employees they have. If they won’t tell you, just ask one of their employees how many people work in the company.  Once you have that number, simply multiply it by $100k, and you now have a quick and dirty (and in my experience, highly accurate) estimate of their annual sales.

A word of caution on startups…If the company is a startup, you can pretty much rest assured that they are doing way less than $100k per employee.  For now, assuming the company has a business model where they actually sell something), take their number of employees and multiply by $50k instead of $100k to arrive at the annual revenue estimate.  In a later post, I’ll explain how you can more accurately nail down the exact revenues of a cash burning startup. In addition, I plan to explain how to accurately estimate a startup’s market cap (i.e. how much the company is worth) in a calculation just as simple as the one you’ve read about here today.

UPDATE: I’ve been reading in the comments about how the calc needs to be adjusted upwards / downwards depending on the industry (Duh!  It’s a “back of the envelope” ESTIMATE, hence the title of this post!).  Therefore, I’ve come up with a simple adjustment such that it works for nearly any industry.  The revised formula is  as follows: