So today, joining me, we have an expert on the topic, Eric Youngstrom. And Eric is the Founder and CEO of a group called Onramp Funds out of Austin, Texas.
Hey there. How are you doing today?
Eric, thank you for being here.
Thank You for having me.
So, where are you calling in from?
We're calling from Austin, Texas. I'm guessing, what? 300 feet above sea level? Not quite 7,000.
Little different, little different. Yeah. I see. I have to get to 7,000 altitude to get away from the heat. In Phoenix, right now, it's like 120 degrees. So, I drive up here.
I think we're actually cool 99 today. The last few days have been over a hundred, but that's just Texas in the summertime.
Man. But you've got a nice lake out there in Austin, don't you?
A lot of them. Yep. Yep. And we take advantage of them.
Eric's Background In Working With Startups
That's cool. All right. So, we'll probably have some people commenting in here, in the chat, and asking some financial questions. And while they're thinking those up, can you tell the listeners a little bit about your background and what kind of took you to Onramp?
Sure. So, I've been helping build software companies now since 2004. I've been blessed to have been in several that have had successful exits. I, typically in the past, joined as really kind of one of the first employees, if not the first employee, brought on by the founders. And this time, I had an opportunity to actually found my own. I was really, really excited to get a chance to do that, and really did it based on spending nearly a decade in the e-commerce industry, with a company called ShippingEasy.
We launched ShippingEasy in 2012, we provided an order aggregation engine, where you could see all the orders you had at Amazon, eBay, Walmart, BigCommerce, Shopify. And then, within that, you could ship all those orders, with all the different carriers. And so, it was a great product. It really helped the small business owner operate far more efficiently. And we were probably about six months in, where we actually had one of our small business owners call us and say, "Hey, thanks to you guys, I could quit my day job and actually make this my business and my livelihood," which is just a, you know, it's a fantastic feeling, right? To know that you're a part of somebody's journey, and to get to help them along that path.
And over the 10 years we were there, four years as an independent business and another six under stamps.com, we were acquired, I just got a chance to work with hundreds of thousands of these small business owners and wanted to build a product that would meet their needs for the long term. And what better product than helping them with their finances.
The Problem Onramp Funds Solves
Yeah. So, is this a problem that you saw over and over again, in your experience working with small businesses? Or why financial, for your next business?
Well, the joke about shipping was it was the ass-end of e-commerce, and there was no such thing as an aspirational shipper, because the aspiration had been beaten out of people, with everything required to get to your first order. And when I was kind of thinking through that, I was like, "What better next job than, let's be the caret at the beginning of that train, than at the end of that train?"
And what we saw with shipping was we would have customers with good orders, but they didn't have the cash in their credit card to ship that next order. And all of a sudden they were having, then it was a chargeback or a refunded order, because they just couldn't get it out the door.
And so, when we saw this time and time and time again, it just really kind of presented there an opportunity to go out and solve that problem, right? That there's a better product for that than a credit card. And there's a real need for it, and there's a need for somebody to go purpose-build that solution, specifically for the e-commerce industry.
So, as you're saying this, I'm thinking about... Last week, I was at dinner with this entrepreneur, that has kind of a fashion e-commerce business. And she said that she has a waiting list of 8,000 customers, wanting to sign up, but she doesn't have the financing to be able to go and get the inventory. And so, she's exactly in that spot.
So, as we go through this conversation, she's the avatar in my head, that I'm thinking about. But I want to dig into what are the biggest financial challenges that small businesses have to overcome. So, I know we've got some shared notes here. I'll leave it to you if you want to just start taking us through them.
Yeah. I mean, I think, when you're starting a business, the first thing you have to do is just have the savings, your own personal savings, necessary to pay yourself while that business is getting to a point where it can generate the free cash flow necessary, that there's actually profit, and the cash flow that can come out of that business, to pay yourself. So, I'm going to assume, and for this conversation, that our listeners have that mentality in place.
But then, after that, you have to have enough capital to go off and buy your inventory, launch your online store, get a payment gateway, take photographs of your products, build the merchandising out around that, and really actually have your catalog available for somebody to come place an order.
And then, beyond that, you then start to think about things like if you're going to do your own manufacturing, do you need to buy equipment, right? Do you have to have a conveyor belt? Do you have to have, I don't know, ovens, or sewing facilities if you're making clothing, right? That kind of thing. Or are you going to outsource that? And so then, finally, you get to your finished goods inventory, and what do you have on hand to actually pay for that? And then, drive the advertising, the shipping and fulfillment costs, so that you can turn that inventory over.
And what we see in the industry is there's really a need for different types of capital. You can think about long-term capital, this is almost bringing investors on, who are going to have a stake in your business, owning equity. You can think about midterm capital. Do I need to buy a forklift for my warehouse, right? I'm going to pay that off over two to five years. And then, you think about working capital. And that really is capital that turns over every two to, let's call it, 18 weeks. So, really high velocity capital.
And what we know about the e-commerce segment, especially for the SMB, let's call it businesses with less than, let's say, $5 million in revenue, that a lot of the profit that the business owner would live on, would use to pay their own salary, is actually it's there from an accounting principal standard, but it's not there from a cash flow standard. Because it's getting put back into inventory, back into advertising, back into shipping and fulfillment. And it's not there actually to go pay your mortgage, right? Or to buy dinner for your wife tonight or that kind of thing.
And so, what we've built is a product that really solves that one working capital piece there. But there really is needs across all three of those kind of stacks, the long-term, the medium term and the short-term.
The Challenges Of Funding A Product Business
So, I think you make a great point here. And I want to just emphasize this, for people that are just getting started in business, if you're listening and you're just trying to figure out how to cover their own salary needs. A lot of people will leave a job and they'll have that security of a paycheck, and then, their first priority is, how do I make enough money to scramble and get that paycheck back?
And if they're in a service business, it's a little bit easier, because you cobble together some services for time, but it sounds like what you're talking about, and what Onramp focuses on with e-commerce, is more a product space, right? And if you are producing products, there is a long cash flow cycle to be able to buy the equipment, buy the supplies, the raw materials, the labor, produce this stuff, store it, hold inventory, sell it, market it. And then, you finally, at some point, gets to cash the checks and put them back in the bank.
And so, for anyone that's listening, I think this is a great education on what it takes to build a product business, because it's not easy.
It's not, it's not, you're exactly right. We are exclusively focused on those e-commerce businesses that are producing a physical product, right? Something that converts the digital into a physical set of steps, and delivers a product that's made of atoms, right? You can touch and hold. And that does have a cash conversion cycle, right? You have to go buy inventory. It might take a month for that inventory to get to your warehouse. It takes a couple of days to break it down. So, it's in the component pieces, you can ship one at a time. And then, you have to generate those orders, right? And that order comes in. Great, I've got to take that iPhone case off the shelf, put it in a box, put a shipping label on it, give it to a carrier. A couple days later, it gets to my customer.
You know, if it's Amazon, I might be another 14 days, before that deposit hits my bank account. If it's Shopify, it could be three or four days.
And then, great. I've now sold one unit of a thousand, that I bought in bulk for inventory, but I got 999 to go. And it's probably not until the last hundred units are sold, that the profit's actually generated, that can come back out of that business. But when you're down to your last hundred units, well, you need to buy the next thousand, or you're going to run out of stock before, you know, you're not going to have stock when you sell the last hundred, right?
So, it's that cycle, that turnover cycle, that we really exist to go support. And, I think, there's a real need for that. And when we do that, what that unlocks is the profit of that business, that can then flow back into that business owner's bank account, right? It becomes, then, that profit then becomes salary. They can pay themselves and they can decide, is it all salary or should part of that go into growing the business? But now, if I've got a million dollar business with a 15% profit margin, can I take out a hundred thousand to pay myself and put 50 into the business, alongside what Onramp does, to grow faster?
So, I want to dumb this down even more. And, let's say, someone's starting a business and a common thing when you're starting a business, sometimes you borrow money from friends and family, or sometimes you go out and you get an SBA loan, and you get like this lump sum of cash, that you may use for all of the short-term, midterm, long-term purposes that you described in the beginning. And so, do you think that is just a less sophisticated business owner? Is that what someone has to do at the beginning, in order to get mature enough to pick the right different sources of capital, for the right costs in their business?
I think, it's a bit of both, right? I mean, I think you do have to kind of look at what your own personal assets are, and friends and family is a great method, right? If you've got everything dialed in and you can go work with friends and family to raise capital, tell how you make those early investments, but eventually, you also have to understand what is that turnover cycle, right? From whatever product it is you sell, what's the cycle from, I go place this order for raw materials, converts to finished goods, converts to in my warehouse, converts to sales, to my customers, and then, enough is back in, that I can then go wrench and repeat that cycle, right?
And so, an SBA loan is a good approach to that. The challenge is most SBA loans are not available to you when you're just starting, right? There actually needs to be a couple years of track record, and financial statements, and things like that.
Friends and family are great for that, your own personal savings are great for that, but you have to have a plan that says, "How do I keep this engine turning over?" And if you haven't planned that part of it out, that's where we see a lot of small business owner struggle.
Yeah. I remember early on, in my first and second businesses, when I was just getting them started, or even this business, third business of mine, I had a spreadsheet that was kind of week by week cash flow. Dollars coming in, dollars going out, how is the bank balance changing, week over week, forecasted 12, 13 months into the future?
Do you think that's the most basic thing for someone to start with? Or what does someone need to have figured out, before they're even mature enough to have a conversation with your company?
The Financial Basics You Need To Understand
I think they need to understand that, right? We have customers who come to us who don't understand that, and what ends up happening, and it's an unfortunate part of America, right? But we've been trained from birth to think about borrowing as much money as we can, for as long as we can, at the lowest interest rate possible. And that makes sense if you're buying a house or a warehouse, right?
It doesn't make sense if you're buying inventory, because if I borrow today's inventory needs with a two-year payback period, well, what happens when you're sold out of inventory at the end of the quarter? You need more. And now, you actually haven't finished paying back that first loan for inventory that sold last quarter, and yet, you need to go get more money for this quarter. And so, really one of the things that we try to help people understand is taking that spreadsheet, right?
Like, how does money come in and out every week? In advertising, that money flows out, but it generates demand, that then turns over kind of on a two to six-week basis. Shipping, you're spending that based on demand that was created by that advertising dollar, that now an order exists, that turns over on a kind of a three to a three-day to 21-day basis.
And then inventory, in normal times, COVID times are different, right? We see a lot of variation without inventory, but in normal times, inventory is kind of a 60 to 120-day turnover cycle.
So, it's really helping people understand that, pay it back as it sells, is actually a far smarter way to run working capital, than maybe an SBA loan with a two-year payback period. But if you've spent it too soon, then you don't have it when you need it. And if you're holding onto it, and waiting to spend it each quarter, but now you're paying interest on funds that you're not going to deploy for 90 days, or 180 days, or 360 days, so that becomes to the cost as well.
Working Capital For E-Commerce
Right. So, can you walk us through the mechanics of how your product works? And I'll just share... One of the things we did early, as a SaaS company, Software as a Service company, is we were able to use our recurring revenue, our monthly recurring revenue, to get some debt financing, to go and get those customers. And it has a similar sort of payback mechanism, but I'm curious, if you could just explain yours, for any e-commerce sellers out there. And I think, even if people aren't in e-commerce, just the insight that these types of vehicles are available, could be applicable to their business.
Sure. Yeah. So, I mean, let's take kind of an easy example. Inventory financing, right? So, inventory is one of the line items where we like to go finance. Let's just assume you sell, I'm going to use this iPhone case, as an example, right? You sell these things, that take 25 bucks a pop, and they cost you five. And you're going to sell a thousand in the quarter. So, you go borrow $5,000. You get a thousand units in, and now, every day you're getting a few of those sales across the finish line. And at the end of the quarter, you're going to be sold out. And if you need a month, the headway to get that next thousand in, that means at day 60, you need to go get the next thousand units, you need your $5,000 to bring it in.
And so what we suggest is, if you think about working capital finance is, every time you sell one of these units, you actually pay $5 down on that line. So, that by the time you're 90 days is over, that full line is paid off as you've sold, right? So now, if you think about borrowing, what you haven't done is tied up your own $5,000 in inventory. You borrowed for that. And then, every time a unit sells, that's when you actually incur the cost of inventory, you incur that $5 cost. But you've done that, when $25 is coming in for this case, having been sold and shipped and delivered to that customer, and you got a happy customer, you've got revenue, and you've reduced your financing exposure on the back-end. So, just really thinking through, how does money come in and out, and how do you pay it in the cycle of that.
Which is different than, let's say, financing a truck, or a forklift for a warehouse, where it's not tied directly to sales. It's going to help sales, it's going to help you scale your business, but that's something you'd pay back over two to five years with more like automotive payment terms, and things like that, where it's just a different mentality of that asset value, right? It's not an asset that goes away. Whereas, your inventory, is an asset that is only an asset on the books, while you have it in stock. Once it's out of stock, it's gone. So, don't carry a cost of it post-sale.
Hmm. So, it almost reminds me of, maybe this is oversimplifying it, but Kevin O'Leary, Mr. Wonderful and Shark Tank, here you're saying, talking about the royalty structure.
You know, I'll lend you a half a million dollars, and you pay me back a dollar per unit, until you've paid back $600,000, or something like that. Is that too simple?
It's not too simple. It's a great way to think about it, right? But, in our case, what's a little bit different, it's just not a royalty. Your inventory costs five bucks a unit, we've given you five bucks a year for it. But, as it sells, then make sure you're paying that five bucks back, so that what's not happening is you now have a financing cost that you're still paying down, but there's no asset against it, right? And he's thinking about that in a very similar way, it's just that his asset is, he's bringing the Mr. Wonderful brand, right? And then, trying to help you drive those sales, and that's what his royalty's for.
And so, sometimes his royalties are in perpetuity. I imagine that, with any kind of debt vehicle, there is some kind of interest rate. And so, do you calculate that on like an APR-basis or a cost of the funds over the working capital period?
Yeah. Because we're high velocity, and because we're working with small business merchants that really haven't hit the criteria to start working with banks and things like that, we're not the lowest cost capital. And we don't pretend to be. What we are is very, very cost effective capital.
So, our merchants, and business owners, tend to borrow roughly 20 to 25% of their expected 90-day revenue, and they're using that to pay for the inventory, and then to fund shipping and fulfillment and advertising. What we do then is charge a fee, typically about 1% of the actual sales value, while that loan is outstanding, is paid in fees. And so, 1% on 20% of that, actually revenue you're borrowing.
And the reason we do it this way is, you know, we've run different scenarios, but it's a really easy way for a business owner to think about, "A hundred percent of my revenue generates my 15% profit margin. I'm going to borrow 20% of my revenue, so I'm going to borrow almost, what is that, 133% of my profit, I get from Onramp. For that, I'm going to give Onramp 1% of my profit. And so now, hey, I had a 15% profit margin business. Now, I have a 14% profit margin business. But what I really have, on that a hundred percent of revenue, is that cash available. And so, that revenue is going to be 500,000 this quarter. Those guys just gave me a hundred thousand dollars in cash, and I was only going to generate $70,000 in profit."
That's a good trade, right? I can go, "Now I have my salary out of the business. I have money to go put back in the business. I can go put some money away into savings, maybe pay college tuitions for kids," that kind of thing.
And what we really saw, and one of the impetus for this, is if you look at a lot of the big aggregators, the guys who raised, what was it, 12 billion in 2021 to go buy all these small e-commerce brands and roll them up into bigger companies, what they're really offering is kind of about 75% of annual EBITDA, to about 200% of your profit. And what they knew was, these business owners were so exhausted of not being able to get the profit out of the business, they would take these low ball offers.
And what we're trying to do is go back to that business owner and say, "Don't. If you could actually get that profit out of the business and pay yourself, would you ever stop running it? And if your ambition is that you want to go build a billion dollar brand, then we're going to be with you on along a part of that journey, your early stage, until you can scale into a bank. And we're excited for you that you've graduated out of us."
And if your guy says, "Look, I want a lifestyle business. I actually don't want to spend all my time working. A million dollars in revenue and $150,000 salary is enough," we're happy to be that guy's partner forever, because what our goal is here to help you achieve your aspirations, not to tell you what that aspiration should be.
Well, I think, it's definitely something that everyone listening needs to consider, is financing their business and their growth with debt. A lot of people want to finance that growth, or their billion dollar dreams, through a VC or private equity.
Partner Capital Vs. Working Capital
And so, how would you say that something like this, a vehicle like this, compares to the decision to bring on partners in the business? When might people want to bring on that kind of capital, and a partner, versus bring on the working capital to fund their inventory?
Yeah. I mean, I think it's a personal decision, right? Like, what kind of control do you want? How many VCs really are available to e-commerce business owners? I think, it's probably less than 5% of all e-commerce businesses get venture capital funding. Now, there's probably a whole lot more to get friends and family, and those people become your partner, right? And they have a stake in the business, but it's different than bringing a VC on.
You know, I've heard stories about Under Armor, that those guys use capital very much like Onramp's working capital solution, and until they are about $200 million in revenue, because they looked at it and said, "Hold on. Yes, we pay a high interest rate for that capital, but the cost of a VC investor is somebody on my board, who will forever own a percentage of my company, who gets to have a say in how money is spent and what our business does and how we grow and what our ambitions should be."
And that comes at an incredibly high cost, right? Equity is incredibly expensive to sell to investors. And there are good reasons to do so, right? Onramp is a venture capital-backed company, right? We have employees and things like that, and we have big ambitions to go help the SMB. But it's not always the right choice. And so, it's really important for that business owner to decide what is the right avenue for them and to really understand the market for what they're doing.
Yeah. And I think the way you broke it down at the beginning, and thinking long-term, midterm, short-term, what is the use of capital, is an important frame to think about this through. Because if you're trying to invest in something that's going to be years and years before it comes to fruition, then maybe you need a partner that's willing to take that ride with you. Whereas, if you have a very specific use for the capital, your ad spend, your inventory, then why wouldn't you go find some source of capital to keep growing the business, and make it worth more, while you retain full ownership?
So, very similar story that we [inaudible 00:24:22]. Our first couple years, we're debt-financed, we grew the business to millions of dollars before bringing on partners, and had to give up a lot less of the company as a result.
That's right. I mean, it's exactly right. If you can go generate those returns, and get revenue and whatnot. The more revenue you have, the closer you are to being profitable, the more control you have over what type of equity investor that you bring in.
Because, let's face it, with $1 free cash flow, you don't need an equity investor. You may not get to grow as fast as you'd like, or as fast as an equity investor might allow you to, but you also haven't given up any of that control, than somebody who has owned 25 or 50% of your business. So, the question you have to answer is, what are you building for?
Yeah. All right. So, we've only got a few minutes left, and we teased this as kind of the biggest financial challenges that small businesses face. And so, if we were to summarize this up, or leave the audience with a few tips, are there a couple takeaways that you would leave them with, on things that they should be getting squared away in their business or researching or thinking about?
Top Small Business Financial Tips
Yeah, I think, number one, it's just making sure that you're thinking of the different levels of the capital stack, and using those appropriately. Don't use long-term capital for short-term turnover, because you want to have paid it back when you need more. And don't use short-term capital for long-term things, because you have to pay it back way too fast. And what are you doing with that?
So, I think really understanding when is mortgage debt for a warehouse right, when is working capital for inventory right, when is equity right with partners for really having an investor, who's not looking for a short-term payback, really understanding those things. And the rest of it, really, is then dialing in your books, really, truly get your accounting dialed in. It's worth spending a lot of time with your bookkeeper in the early stages, so you really understand all aspects of your P&L, of your balance sheet, and most importantly, and the most overlooked one is, the cash flow statement.
Because, once you really understand how those work, then your bookkeeper, who might only need to spend eight hours a month on that, can come back, and you can look at those forms with them over an hour or two a month, because you made that early investment. That if you don't, man, then every month just becomes a grind, trying to understand what's going on.
Yeah. Great tips. Early on in my business career, I had a part-time CFO, that I would meet with every week, and he would show me those financial statements for my business. And it was so helpful to get that education, and understand my chart of accounts, and be looking at the spreadsheet.
So, a lot of entrepreneurs get in business and think, "Oh, that's the thing I don't want to do." But, really, understanding how your business financially works is a smart move. It's something you have to do if you really want to scale the business, I believe.
I absolutely agree. And it's something I spend a lot of time building Onramp, is really helping build out our accounting standards and approach, and what it means now, a year in, is that I spend a lot less time doing accounting and more time just to sit down with our part-time CFO, and really review what's happened in the business, because I made that early investment.
And, trust me, it's not an investment I wanted to make. It's not where I wanted to spend the time, but it's just an important part of it. And then, as we think about what's going on in the current market, like last year was the largest VC investment year in history, double the year before, which it almost doubled the year before that. That world is changing. Right? We're kind of looking at a bleak couple years ahead of us right now, based on at least what the current economic indicators would say, in terms of going to recession. It's really time for people to just look at how do they survive through a recession, right? Which, it's unfortunate, but recessions are an important part of an economy and an economic cycle.
And so, what are your capital sources? How are your inventories turning over? How are you managing your books? Being very disciplined in spending. There are great businesses that are built in these types of times, but they do so with a disciplined approach, right? I think, when capital's cheap, think about last year, people were spending two months in advance. I think, what's going to happen now is you should be spending about a half month behind schedule, right? Really proving everything's working, knowing that when you put dollars into an advertising campaign, you know exactly what's going to come back. Having the instrumentation built into that, so that if all of a sudden your cost-per-click is going up, is it still going to be a valuable sale or not? And if not, pulling that money out and then redirecting it, maybe Facebook becomes the more cost effective channel, right? Or LinkedIn or somewhere else. But managing those things with laser-like precision is really going to be rewarded in these times.
Such great advice. So, instead of spending two months ahead, maybe spend a half a month behind. I think that's a very practical tip. Eric, I know you spoke a little bit to the macro trends, there's a lot going on right now.
But people need more options for this kind of financing. So, if they want to learn more about Onramp Funds, where can they find you?
Www.onrampfunds.com. We're also on Facebook. You can find us on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram. We're trying to be everywhere you are. And we also have a sales team here. So, our phone number's on every page of our app, you can always call in, and we have advisors, happy to help you think about what type of capital you need, and if we're a fit for you or not. And our goal is not to push money at people, our goal is to be a partner, and to join our small business owners teams and be a partner to them, and a team member to them, to help them achieve what they're looking to do in the markets today.
Perfect. Well, thank you so much, Eric Youngstrom, Onramp Funds, out in Austin. Give him a shout, learn more about how you can finance your business.
Really this, like we've been talking about, is a crazy environment that we find ourselves in, and keeping our businesses afloat with cash is the lifeblood of your business. Can you make payroll? Can you pay for inventory? Can you still afford to go out and get new customers? Can you pay your own mortgage and pay your own paycheck? You know, these are important questions that a lot of small businesses are asking themselves. So, do yourself a favor, educate yourself and I'm glad you started with us. But, Eric, thanks for joining.