Best Practices

What is Churn? How Can It Be Negative? And What’s a Good Monthly Churn Rate?

Churn gets a lot of bad press. Yes, it is complex. Yes, it is confusing. But as a metric, it is helpful. 

In the early stages of building a company, churn gives you quick feedback which other metrics seldom do. You can run tests on your platform, and then see feedback within the next few days or months. Boom! 

In this post, we go deep into churn. First, we answer a few key questions such as what is churn? What are its different types? And how can it be negative? 

Then, we dive into churn benchmarks. We analyze anonymized and aggregated data from ChartMogul to answer the question: What is a good churn rate?

So without any further ado, let’s dive in. 

What Is Churn?

Churn is a health indicator of your existing subscriber base. In simple terms, churn is the rate at which customers or revenue is leaving your SaaS business. 

At a high level, you can look at churn in two ways: 

  1. Customer churn — measures the rate at which customers are leaving your SaaS business
  2. Revenue churn — measures the rate at which revenue is leaving your SaaS business

Why Look at Customer and Revenue Churn Separately?

Depending on the revenue concentration, customer churn can be different from revenue churn. Hence, it’s good to look at both numbers. 

For example, imagine you’re running a SaaS business with three customers: A, B, & C. Their monthly recurring revenue (MRR) is $20, $30 & $50 respectively (for a total MRR of $100). 

Now, one day, C decides to cancel their subscription and churn. In this example, if you calculate your customer churn rate for the month, it comes out to be 33% (as 1 of 3 customers churned). But, if you calculate your revenue churn rate, it comes out to be 50%. This is because C made up 50% of your MRR. 

Revenue Churn and Its Two Types

Let’s dig a little deeper into revenue churn and its types. You can calculate revenue churn in two different ways:

  1. Gross basis — this is called Gross MRR churn because it only takes into account the MRR lost (and not MRR gained) from your existing customers. As a reminder, you lose MRR from your existing customers via both churn and downgrades. 
  2. Net basis —  called Net MRR churn because you net the MRR lost and gained from your existing subscriber base. So you lose MRR via churn and downgrades but also gain MRR via expansion and reactivation. Net MRR churn gives you a more holistic picture of the state of your existing subscriber base. 

Here’s how you calculate your gross & net MRR churn rate:

  • Gross MRR Churn Rate = (SUM of Churn & Contraction MRR) / (MRR at start of period)
  • Net MRR Churn Rate = (SUM of Churn & Contraction MRR – SUM of Expansion & Reactivation MRR) / (MRR at start of period)

How Can Churn Be Negative?

So, if you spend a little more time thinking about the churn formulas, you can infer two things: 

  1. By definition, Gross MRR churn would always be higher than Net MRR Churn. This is because Gross MRR churn only takes into account the MRR lost, while Net MRR churn also takes into account MRR gained.  
  2. Net MRR churn can be negative. If the MRR gained from existing customers (Expansion + Reactivation) exceeds the MRR lost (Churn + Contraction), your net MRR churn rate will be negative.

Why Is Negative Net MRR Churn Rate Called SaaS Nirvana?

Negative net MRR churn is akin to SaaS nirvana. This is because with each passing month, your existing subscribers become more and more valuable.

In a sense, your business can grow organically as you don’t need to spend any money on acquiring new customers. 

What Is a Good Monthly Churn Rate?

Now that you’ve got a good understanding of churn, let’s dive into what’s a good monthly churn rate. 

In this section, we’ll look at benchmarks for gross and net MRR churn split by MRR and ARPA bands. If you’re looking for customer churn benchmarks, we shared them in a previous post.

As a reminder, ARPA is the average revenue per account, i.e. average MRR across all your customers. It’s also known as ARPU or APRC. You can find your ARPA in ChartMogul

Why look at churn benchmarks by ARPA bands? Well, everything is sort of the same at a given ARPA value. The way you sell, the way you service, and the way you retain all depend on your ARPA. 

So for metrics such as churn, the best practice is to benchmark your startup to other businesses within the same ARPA band. 

Gross MRR Churn Benchmarks

The chart below shows the median monthly gross MRR churn rate by ARPA bands. As you’ll notice, the higher the ARPA, the lower the gross MRR churn rate. 

For example, companies with ARPA per month in the range of $0-10, have a monthly gross MRR churn rate of 8.9%. As ARPA increases, the gross MRR churn rate decreases. It goes down to 2.5% for companies with an ARPA per month of >$500.

Why does the gross MRR churn rate decrease as ARPA increases? Because the customer profile changes. At higher ARPA you start to sell to businesses rather than to consumers. Also, generally, customers make a more informed decision when buying a higher priced product and hence churn less.

Monthly Gross MRR Churn Rate by ARPA Bands

In addition to the median, the chart below also shows the 25th and 75th percentiles of the gross MRR churn rate. You can use this data to benchmark your churn rate in comparison to your peers. 

SaaS startups with ARPA <$100 should target a monthly gross MRR churn rate of <3.5% while those with ARPA >$100 should target a monthly gross MRR churn rate of <2.5%.

You can find your gross MRR churn rate in ChartMogul

Monthly Gross MRR Churn Rate Percentiles By ARPA Band

Now, let’s move on and look at the median gross MRR churn rate split by monthly recurring revenue (MRR) bands.

At an early stage of growth (<$10k MRR), the median monthly gross MRR churn is high at 8.6%. As companies grow, find product-market fit, and hone into their customer segment the churn reduces. Down to about 4-5% per month. It then stabilizes at that level and doesn’t reduce even when a company grows.

Monthly Gross MRR Churn rate by MRR Bands

In addition to the median, the chart below also shows you the 25th and 75th percentiles of the gross MRR churn rate by MRR band. 

The best companies at any stage of their growth should target a gross MRR churn rate of <2.5% per month.

Monthly Gross MRR Percentiles by MRR Band

Net MRR Churn Benchmarks

Now, let’s dive into benchmarks for Net MRR churn rate. 

As a reminder, Net MRR churn is calculated as (SUM of Churn & Contraction MRR – SUM of Expansion & Reactivation MRR) / (MRR at start of period).

The chart below shows the Net MRR churn rate split by ARPA per month bands. 

As is the case with any churn rate vs ARPA graph, here too, a higher ARPA correlates to a lower net MRR churn rate. 

Median Monthly Net MRR Churn Rate by ARPA Bands

At higher APRA ranges, expansion starts to drive a lot of revenue, which contributes to negative churn. 

The impact is so prominent that at higher ARPA’s net negative churn is the norm and not the exception. See the chart below. 53.4% of companies with ARPA higher than $500 have net negative churn.

Let that sink in. 

Percent of companies that have negative churn by ARPA Band

Let’s now look at the 25th and 75th percentile of the monthly net MRR churn rate, in addition to the median. 

Note here, that at the higher end of the range, some companies have a net MRR churn rate in excess of 11% per month. That’s too high in our opinion. You just can’t create a sustainable SaaS business with that level of churn. 

Net MRR Churn Rate Percentiles by MRR Band

A monthly net MRR churn rate of 11% corresponds to losing almost three quarters (75%) of your existing revenue over the next 12 months. It’s not at all sustainable. 

Here is a helpful table that helps you look at the monthly churn and the corresponding yearly churn number.

Monthly to yearly churn calculation

The formula we use to get the annual churn rate from the monthly churn rate is the following: 

Annual Churn Rate = (1- (1-Monthly Churn Rate)12

If your business has a high churn rate you won’t be able to compound your revenue, and the time and money you spent to acquire your customers (customer acquisition cost) will go to waste sooner.

Now, let’s move on, and look at net MRR churn benchmarks by MRR bands. 

The chart below shows the median monthly net MRR churn rate by MRR bands. 

As you’ll notice, the monthly net MRR churn rate is higher in the initial stages of company building but decreases as the company grows. It stabilizes in the 1-2% range. 

Net MRR Churn Rate by MRR Bands

In addition to the median, the below chart also shows the 25th and 75th percentile of the net MRR churn rate. 

The best SaaS companies should target a net negative churn ( i.e. net MRR churn rate  <0%).

Net MRR Churn Rate Percentiles by MRR Bands

How can your business achieve negative churn?

By building an expansion loop within it. This is the only sustainable way to get to negative churn. No matter what you do, customers are always going to churn. Your job is to grow revenue from those who stay. 

Achieving a net negative churn isn’t a distant dream. It’s very much achievable. In fact, close to a quarter of companies at any MRR range have net negative churn. So aim high and go for it! 

Percent of companies with negative churn at each MRR band

Calculation Methodology. We used anonymised and aggregated data from ChartMogul to calculate these aggregates. We calculated the aggregates over a 3 month period (Jan ‘22, Feb ‘22 & Mar ‘22). We used the standard B2B churn formulas for all companies for easier comparability.


Further Reading

This article first appeared on TechCrunch.

Sid Jain

Senior Analyst

@heysidjain

churn industry metrics saas