AI Emerges as Potential Lifeline for Struggling Software Companies

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The recent dip in net retention among software companies has sparked concerns over the slowing revenue growth in the tech sector. According to fresh data, net retention rates have been sliced by half in the past few quarters, a trend that partially elucidates the decelerating revenue growth that tech firms have been grappling with. Essentially, net retention is a key component of the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) economic model and has been under intense pressure due to the challenging task software companies face: balancing cost containment and growth maintenance while dealing with reduced customer spending.

Net retention, also known as net dollar retention and net revenue retention, is a crucial measure of the spending behavior of existing software customers over time. This metric is standardized to 100%, signifying that a software company’s existing customers are neither increasing nor decreasing their spending. When net retention metrics surpass 100%, it implies that existing customers are spending more, while anything below 100% indicates a decline in total spending. The recent data shows a shocking 45% fall over just two quarters, from 120% to 111%, suggesting a more severe situation than previously expected.

SaaS Companies Face Declining Net Retention Rates, Reveals New Data

New data is revealing a significant drop in net retention at software companies, providing some explanation for the recent slowdown in revenue growth for tech firms. These findings are not entirely unexpected, as net retention is a fundamental component of the Software as a Service (SaaS) economic model and has been under extreme pressure lately.

Balancing Cost and Growth

Software companies are grappling with the challenge of balancing cost-efficiency with growth. On one hand, they’re tasked with tightening their costs, while on the other, they’re expected to prevent their growth from slowing down significantly as their existing customer base curtails spending.

Understanding Net Retention

Net retention, also known as net dollar retention and net revenue retention, is a metric that measures the spending of existing software customers over time. The metric is normalized to 100%, signifying that a software company’s existing customers are spending neither more nor less than they did before. When the net retention metrics rise above 100%, it means existing customers are increasing their spending, while anything below 100% denotes a decrease in total spending.

Enterprise software companies are typically expected to maintain a net retention comfortably above 100%. A higher net retention metric is desirable as it indicates future growth and the ability to offset costs with increasing revenue.

The Downward Trend

According to Altimeter investor Jamin Ball, the median net retention at public SaaS companies has decreased from between 120% and 121% in Q1 2021-Q4 2022 to 116% in Q1 2023, and further dropped to 111% in Q2 2023. This decline of 9%, when gauged against the 100% baseline, represents an alarming 45% fall in just two quarters.

Furthermore, considering these numbers represent median net retention rates, it can be inferred that at least half of all public software companies were below the 111% mark. As companies continue to reveal their quarterly results, these figures could fluctuate, but the current outlook is far from optimistic.

A Nuanced Problem

With lower net retention, slowing growth, and many SaaS companies still operating at a loss, one might question the viability of the software business. However, the issue may be more nuanced. For instance, software subscriptions are often relatively low-cost, such as a subscription to Slack starting from $7.25 per user, per month. This low cost might be a contributing factor to the current challenges faced by the industry.


The decrease in net retention rates is a significant concern for SaaS companies, affecting their growth and financial stability. However, it’s essential to understand the complexities of the issue, which may stem from various factors such as pricing strategies. It would be intriguing to observe the industry’s response to this challenge and the strategies they employ to curb this downward trend.

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