The Profitability Debate: Are Software Companies Good Businesses?

The Debate on Software Company Profitability

A recent technology-finance podcast explored the profitability of software companies, their valuations, and the influence of interest rates.

Investor Chamath Palihapitiya expressed skepticism about the profitability of unprofitable software companies, emphasizing the need for true product-market fit and long-term profitability.

He argued that addressing issues such as churn and driving sustainable profitability is crucial for success, regardless of interest rates.

Palihapitiya also pointed out that many old, legacy software companies, apart from Salesforce, are yet to achieve profitability.

The ongoing debate revolves around whether software businesses can generate long-term profits.

Different Perspectives on Software Company Performance

Brad Gerstner, founder of Altimeter, presented a more positive perspective, countering Palihapitiya's skepticism.

He highlighted that out of the 61 companies in an index, only a small percentage have negative free cash-flow margins.

Gerstner pointed out that these companies have shown growth and improved free cash-flow margins over recent quarters.

Median revenue growth declined to 19% in 2023, while median free cash-flow margins increased to 12%, as per a chart.

According to Gerstner, software companies tend to generate more cash over time, providing reason for optimism about their profitability.

Considering Share-Based Compensation

Gerstner acknowledged the importance of considering share-based compensation when evaluating tech companies' profitability.

He emphasized that this factor can have a significant impact on a company's financial performance and should not be overlooked.

Assessing the long-term profitability of software companies requires considering the broader financial picture, including compensation models.

The discussion highlights the complexity of evaluating software businesses and the need for a comprehensive analysis.

Ultimately, understanding the various factors at play is crucial when determining the potential profitability of software companies.


Alex Wilhelm. (July 17, 2023). Are software companies good businesses?.

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