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Demystifying SaaS, go-to-market, VC, and more

Learn about terminology in enterprise and consumer product development, fundraising, go-to-market strategy, and more — written in plain English.

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Annual contract value (ACV)

The average yearly value of one customer contract or subscription. SaaS businesses that focus on annual or multi-year subscription plans use ACV to measure sales metrics. 

ACV formula: total contract value divided by total years in contract. For example, if a customer signs a five-year contract for $100,000, the ACV is $20,000. 

ARR (annual recurring revenue)

ARR might seem similar to ACV, but it’s not. ARR accounts for recurring revenue across several contracts. ARR is the metric that SaaS companies expect to repeat and grow year over year.

Average sale price (ASP)

The price that a certain category of a product is typically sold for. To calculate the ASP, take the total revenue earned by all products in a product class and divide that amount by the total number of units sold. 

Learn more in Scale your sales team to win the early majority by Unusual Co-Founder John Vrionis

Beachhead market 

A small market with specific characteristics that make it an ideal target to sell a new product or service. The choice of the market is based on the compatibility between the resources available, the product, and the market itself.

A board of advisors or advisory board 

a group of experts and specialists selected by a company’s CEO and management team to provide advice and support for business development. A board of advisors is an opportunity for startups to fill skill gaps in leadership and, ideally, get unbiased perspectives. Board advisors tend to specialize in a particular area of knowledge, such as finance, law, product development, or accounting. 

Bottom-up or bottoms-up

Bottom-up sales is the process of casting a wide net to capture multiple leads, inviting them to use your product, and encouraging them to buy your software. One way we see founders get tripped up is when the term “PLG” (product-led growth) is used synonymously with “bottom up” to describe the strategy for GTM (go-to-market). We often describe the Modern GTM as a process that deploys a “sandwich” or “pincer” strategy when it comes to engaging with a prospective customer when we explain the reality of successful execution. By this, we mean that the Modern GTM includes both PLG and top-down execution. The combination of the two enables a startup to successfully engage with both the USER and the BUYER personas. Learn more in The Unusual Modern GTM User/Buyer Journey.

Burn rate 

the rate at which a company spends venture capital to finance overhead before generating positive cash flow. Startups’ valuations are often measured by their burn rate, when they’re unable to generate a positive net income in its early days. Seed-stage investors and venture capitalists tend to provide funding based on a company’s burn rate. How to calculate burn rate: starting balance minus ending balance divided by number of months.

CAC (customer acquisition costs) 

the sum of the costs to acquire customers divided by the number of acquired customers. Acquisition costs include online and offline expenses to obtain a customer. Common CAC include advertising, Cost Per Click (CPC), and marketing, sales, and customer service employee wages. 

By comparing ACV to CAC, companies can figure out how long it will take to make a profit on a contract. When you compare ACV to CAC, if the annual contract value doesn't offset the cost of acquiring a customer, there’s likely a problem with the sales process.

Cap table (capitalization table) 

a document that defines the people who own portions of a company. Cap table spreadsheets tend to include information about a company's equity ownership capital, such as common stock, preferred stock, and convertible equity.

Learn more about the business of cap tables in How Carta won their first 100 customers: an interview with Carta Founder Henry Ward by Sandhya Hegde

Churn rate 

refers to attrition or the percentage rate at which customers stop subscribing to a company's product or service. In order to grow, companies must make sure that their new subscriptions are higher than lost subscriptions during a specified period of time. Different industries tend to vary how often they measure churn — such as monthly, quarterly, or annually. To calculate churn, start with the number of customers you lost during a time period and divide that by the number of customers that you started with during the same period. 

CRM (customer relationship management) 

refers to strategies and tools that companies use for acquiring, onboarding, and retaining customers. The main goals of CRM systems are to streamline processes and improve communication with customers.

Design partner

trusted product testers who provide critical feedback and help fill in missing gaps in a company's product offering during the early stage of product development. 

Startups should aim to find design partners who will provide high-quality feedback about using their product before it becomes GA (generally available). Selecting the right early design partners can make all the difference in the trajectory of a startup, and ultimately determine its success or failure. In our experience, the best founders start with ~80% of what the right product is and complete it by working closely with optimal design partners who help clarify where the additional functionality and polish needs to be.

Learn more in Picking the right design partners at the Seed Stage.

Founding insight

the bedrock intuition that a founder builds their company on. Ideally, a founder has first-hand experience living the pain that drives the belief that now is the time to build a new solution.

Learn more in Raising a Seed or Series A round and see more specific tactics in the Unusual Outreach Playbook

General availability (GA) 

the release of a product to the general public. Whereas beta or limited release versions are intended for testing and user feedback purposes, when a product reaches GA, it is considered officially available.

Holistic hiring

a people-forward approach to recruiting and hiring that recognizes the need to bring the entire company along for the challenging task of scaling during hyper-growth. When done well, everyone’s on board to drive the company’s mission forward. Learn more about how it works by reading Holistic hiring for hyper-growth or watching the video series.

Ideal Customer Profile (ICP)

An Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) represents the types of companies that need your product enough that they would pay for it.

Your ICP will need to include personas for your user and your buyer. A user represents the direct consumer of your solution, and a buyer represents the person with the influence and authority to make a purchasing decision

Clearly defining your ICP, BUYER persona, and USER persona gives your whole team a “true north” they can refer back to when making decisions, increasing your likelihood of making it past the seed stage.

IPO (initial public offering) 

the process of offering shares of a private company to the public to purchase. An IPO is typically underwritten by an investment bank(s), which also arranges for the shares to be listed on stock exchanges. To hold an IPO, companies must meet requirements by exchanges and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). 

Key performance indicators (KPIs)

A method of measuring a company’s performance compared to a set of targets, objectives, or industry peers and how it’s progressing toward goals. KPIs help to figure out a company's strategic, financial, and operational achievements, especially compared to the competition. Some of the most common KPIs are revenue growth, profit margin, client retention rate, and customer satisfaction.

Lighthouse customers

Lighthouse customers are well-known and respected brands whose logos can provide credibility and visibility for an early-stage business.

Liquidation preference

Liquidation preferences come into play when the company is sold. A liquidation preference is a clause in a contract that details the payout order in case of a liquidation. A company's investors or preferred stockholders get their money back first, ahead of other kinds of stockholders or debt holders, in the event that the company must be liquidated. Read more in VC term sheets: What to expect in Seed Extension rounds in 2023.

Metrics, Economic buyer, Decision criteria, Decision process, Paper process, Identify pain, Champions, Competition (MEDDPIC)

sales qualification methodology that's popular in enterprise sales. It's essentially a checklist for information you need to know, things you need to do, and people you need to develop relationships with.

Modern GTM (go to market)

One of the most important determinants of a startup’s success is the founder’s ability to successfully execute on the correct go-to-market (GTM) strategy. The optimal GTM for an enterprise startup is vastly different than it was a decade ago.

Founders must now embrace that the correct GTM begins at product strategy and demands that a founder function as an expert conductor of several major functions in the organization. Enterprise startups that executed with the old enterprise GTM model had engineering and product teams that did their work in a more serial, siloed fashion, and sales and marketing were tasked with finding the best way to penetrate an organization and complete a sales process. In the Modern GTM, the teams in the organization are much more interdependent.

Read Understanding the Modern GTM for early-stage founders by John Vrionis

MVP (minimum viable product)

an early version of a product that looks and feels like a simplified version of the eventual vision. In tech, an MVP is oftentimes launched in the market with basic features but enough to gain attention of consumers. The final product is officially released after getting sufficient feedback from the product's initial users.

Read How to design minimum viable self-serve product experiences for enterprise software by Sandhya Hegde

Network effect 

A phenomenon in which the value of a product, service, or platform depends on the number of buyers, sellers, or users who leverage it. Typically, the greater the number of buyers, sellers, or users, the bigger the network effect. Examples of successful network effects include Facebook and YouTube for social media; Uber and Lyft for rideshare; and Etsy for ecommerce. 

OKR (objectives and key results)

a goal-setting framework for tracking objectives and outcomes with specific and measurable actions. OKRs help teams focus and align on clearly defined goals, usually with three to five key results, and specific measurements to keep track of progress. 

We created The Modern GTM Planner spreadsheet to help founders understand how to achieve user adoption and revenue goals. This tool converts the user and revenue goals you want to achieve before your next fundraising round into activity and OKRs for you and your team.

PLG (product-led growth)

In a product-led growth (PLG) strategy, a self-serve product experience forms the core foundation of a customer relationship, driving both customer acquisition and retention. All other factors — such as whether you offer a credit card–based payment flow or you’ve hired sales representatives — are tactics that you choose to fit your target customer’s needs at the right time in the right way. 

See Introduction to PLG (product-led growth) by Sandhya Hegde.

Post-money valuation

the valuation of a company after investors have made their investment. This tends to be the pre-money valuation plus the total amount of investment in the fundraising round.

Pre-money valuation 

the amount that an investor and the company agree to deem the company to be worth just before an investor's investment. The pre-money valuation determines how much the investor will pay per share for the stock they purchase.

Pre-Seed funding

A startup’s early-stage funding round in which investors provide capital to a new startup in exchange for equity, typically when the company's founders are just beginning to operate. The Pre-Seed may happen after an angel round of investment or “bootstrapping”. At Unusual Ventures, we write checks ranging from $1–2 million for Pre-Seed, $4–5 million for Seed, and $10–12 million for Series A rounds. Venture capital terminology fluctuates, but in general, Pre-Seed is the funding round before the Seed and Series A stages. 

Learn more in How to raise Seed and Series A capital

Product-market fit (PMF)

The concept of a company being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market. A startup's lifecycle can be grouped into two phases: pre–product-market fit (PMF) and post–product-market fit. When your startup is pre-PMF, your singular focus is getting to PMF. 

Read How to find product-market fit: the counterintuitive secrets by John Vrionis and Sandhya Hegde

Read Finding Product-market fit for consumer products by Sarah Leary, co-founder of Nextdoor

Proof of concept (POC)

an exercise focused on determining whether an idea can be turned into a reality. A proof of concept is meant to determine the feasibility of the idea or to verify that the idea will function as envisioned. In , a proof of concept shows whether an idea is feasible from a technology standpoint. For startups, a proof of concept would demonstrate financial viability.

Pro rata

means in “equal portions” or “in proportion” in legal and economic contexts. Pro rata typically means that each person or party receives a fair share in proportion to the whole. A pro rata clause in an investment agreement gives an investor a right to participate in at least one future financing round to maintain their percentage stake in the company. 

Sales enablement

breaking down the complexity of a sales process into practical ideas through scalable and repeatable practices that will lead to increased revenue. In simplest terms, it’s the systematic process of teaching others how to sell effectively. 

See Fixing Seed-Stage sales for enterprise businesses.

SAM (serviceable available market) 

the total portion of a market that a company can possibly acquire. SAM — along with TAM and SOM — are acronyms for three metrics to describe a company’s market.

SDK (software development toolkit)

a set of software tools and programs in one installable package. Also known as a devkit, that software companies provide to developers to build applications for specific platforms. SDKs tend to include building blocks, debuggers, and a code framework specific to an operating system (OS).


sales development representatives and business development representatives, respectively.

Shift Left

The Shift Left principle started with testing but is now used in other disciplines such as security and deployment. The philosophy of Shift Left is to take a task that's traditionally done at a later stage of a process and instead perform it during earlier stages. 

As an example, with the traditional Waterfall model, testing is done just before releasing the product into production. This means that major problems discovered so late in the process can lead to redesign and lengthy delays. Shift Left testing addresses this by involving testing teams early in the process. With a focus on prevention, issues can be solved early on before they become significant.

Learn more about shift left in Snyk’s OH SH*T moment: How developer focus forged this $8.5B security unicorn.


SOM (serviceable obtainable market) 

focuses on how many people in your SAM can realistically benefit from buying your product or service in the near future.

TAM (total addressable market or total available market) 

the total amount of money that a company can possibly earn by selling their product or service. TAM is an essential metric in gauging a startup’s growth potential. Unless your company is a monopoly or has no competitors, keep in mind that your company will share TAM with other companies.


Winning over buyers requires human-to-human engagement and the supporting material and process to go along with it. This is what we call a “top-down” business model in our Modern GTM framework. Learn more in The Unusual Modern GTM User/Buyer Journey

TTA (time to aha) 

The period in which a software product demonstrates its first differentiated value proposition. This is not to be confused with small moments of delight and learning in general. For instance, if you are new to Webflow, your first big ‘aha!’ moment could be simply picking a great template for your blog within five minutes of setting up an account. 

The nature of the ‘aha!’ experience needn’t necessarily include a full implementation of your product. The aha moment could be anything from a realistic sandbox to a pre-filled template or a partial implementation that mimics your product. 

Learn more in Nail your self-serve product by Sandhya Hegde

User Persona

A user persona represents the ideal customer who needs your product enough that they would be willing to pay for it. While finding a desperate customer is one of the key ingredients to finding product-market fit, it is equally important to not sell to people who will not convert to paying customers.

A well-defined user persona can help consumer startups build their product roadmap, develop marketing messages, prioritize partnerships, and optimize sign-up flows.

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