# How do investors use NPV to judge whether to invest in a startup?

January 16, 2023

We have talked about the different statistical models investors can use to judge whether to invest in an early-stage startup.

One common mathematical model that investors use to judge whether to invest in a startup is the net present value (NPV) model. This model estimates the value of an investment based on the expected cash flows that the investment will generate over time, discounted to the present using a required rate of return.

Here's how the NPV model works:

1. Estimate the expected cash flows that the investment will generate. This might include revenues, cost savings, and any other sources of cash inflow.
2. Determine the required rate of return for the investment. This is the minimum rate of return that the investor requires in order to be willing to make the investment. It takes into account the investor's opportunity cost, as well as the perceived level of risk associated with the investment.
3. Discount the expected cash flows back to the present using the required rate of return. This step accounts for the time value of money, which means that a dollar received in the future is worth less than a dollar received today.
4. Subtract the initial investment cost from the present value of the expected cash flows. The result is the NPV of the investment.

If the NPV is positive, it means that the expected cash flows are expected to exceed the initial investment cost, and the investment is likely to be profitable. If the NPV is negative, it means that the expected cash flows are not sufficient to cover the initial investment cost, and the investment is likely to be unprofitable.

For example, suppose that an investor is considering investing \$100,000 in a startup that is expected to generate \$30,000 in profits each year for the next 5 years. The required rate of return is 10%. Using the NPV model, the present value of the expected cash flows would be:

\$30,000 / (1 + 0.10)^1 + \$30,000 / (1 + 0.10)^2 + \$30,000 / (1 + 0.10)^3 + \$30,000 / (1 + 0.10)^4 + \$30,000 / (1 + 0.10)^5 = \$104,973.47

The NPV of the investment would be \$104,973.47 - \$100,000 = \$4,973.47. Since the NPV is positive, the investment would be considered to be a good one.

#### Limitations

The net present value (NPV) model is a widely used financial tool for evaluating investments, but it does have some limitations that should be considered when using it:

1. The NPV model relies on estimates of future cash flows, which can be difficult to forecast accurately, especially for early-stage startups. If the estimates are not accurate, the NPV calculation will not be accurate, which could lead to incorrect investment decisions.
2. The NPV model assumes that the required rate of return remains constant over time, but in reality, the required rate of return may change as market conditions and the risk profile of the investment change. This can lead to errors in the NPV calculation.
3. The NPV model only considers the expected cash flows of the investment, but it does not take into account other potential benefits or costs that may not be reflected in the cash flows, such as strategic advantages or intangible assets.
4. The NPV model only considers the time value of money, which means that it does not take into account other factors that may affect the value of the investment, such as inflation or changes in exchange rates.
5. The NPV model assumes that the cash flows can be reinvested at the required rate of return, which may not be realistic in all cases.

Despite these limitations, the NPV model is still a useful tool for investors, as it provides a systematic way to compare the expected returns of different investments and to make informed decisions about which investments are likely to be the most profitable. However, it is important to use the NPV model in conjunction with other tools and techniques, and to be aware of its limitations when making investment decisions.