The Founder’s Guide to Finance: A Deep Dive on Gross Margin

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Arc Team


Gross margin is a cornerstone metric in finance, providing crucial insights into a startup’s operational efficiency and profitability. Essentially, Gross Margin represents the percentage of revenue that exceeds the cost of goods sold (COGS). In this guide, we explore what it is, how its used, what a “good” gross margin is, and more. Let’s dive in!

An overview of gross margin

Gross margin is a key indicator of how effectively a startup generates profit from its core business activities, excluding other operating expenses such as marketing, administrative costs, and taxes. By focusing solely on the direct costs associated with production or service delivery, Gross Margin provides a snapshot of the profitability of a startup's primary operations, stripping away the complexities of overhead expenses and financial obligations.

How to calculate gross margin

Calculating Gross Margin is a relatively simple process that involves subtracting the cost of goods sold (COGS) from revenue and then dividing the result by revenue. The formula can be expressed as follows: Gross Margin = (Revenue − Cost of Goods Sold) /  Revenue

  • Revenue - represents the total income generated from sales of goods or services.
    COGS - comprises the direct costs associated with producing those goods or delivering those services. These costs typically include materials, labor, and direct overhead expenses directly tied to the production process.

For example, if a startup generates $1,000,000 in revenue and incurs $600,000 in COGS, the Gross Margin would be calculated as follows:
Gross Margin = ($1,000,000-$600,000) / $1,000,000  =0.4

In this case, the Gross Margin would be 40%, indicating that for every dollar of revenue generated, the startup retains $0.40 after covering the direct costs of production.

What gross margin is used for

Gross Margin serves several important purposes in financial analysis and decision-making:

  • Operational Efficiency: Gross Margin is a measure of how efficiently a startup produces goods or delivers services relative to its revenue. A higher Gross Margin indicates greater efficiency in converting sales into profit.
  • Comparison and Benchmarking: By comparing Gross Margin with industry averages or competitors' performance, stakeholders can assess a startup's competitiveness and identify areas for improvement.
  • Pricing Strategy Evaluation: Gross Margin provides insights into the effectiveness of a startup's pricing strategies. It helps determine whether pricing levels adequately cover production costs while maximizing profitability.
  • Cost Management: Monitoring changes in Gross Margin over time can signal shifts in production costs or efficiency improvements. It enables management to evaluate the effectiveness of cost control measures and identify areas for cost optimization.

Variations in gross margin across business types

Gross Margin varies significantly across different industries and business models due to various factors such as production processes, supply chain dynamics, and pricing strategies:

  • Manufacturing: Manufacturing companies often have lower gross margins due to high production costs, including raw materials, labor, and equipment expenses.
  • Retail: Retailers typically operate with higher gross margins compared to manufacturers, as they add value through distribution, marketing, and sales while outsourcing production.
  • Service: Service-based businesses tend to have higher gross margins as they have minimal direct production costs, focusing instead on labor and overhead expenses related to service delivery.
  • Software: Generally speaking, software businesses have the highest gross margins compared to any other business, as there are minimal COGS. 

Comparing gross margin vs EBITDA

Gross margin focuses exclusively on revenue and COGS, providing insights into the profitability of core business operations, whereas EBITDA represents operating profitability by excluding non-operating expenses such as interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization. While Gross Margin assesses profitability at the gross profit level, EBITDA provides a more comprehensive measure of operating profitability, factoring in all operating expenses except for non-operating items.

Comparing gross margin vs gross profit

Gross Margin indicates the portion of revenue retained after deducting COGS and provides insights into the efficiency of production or service delivery relative to sales revenue, whereas gross profit represents the absolute dollar amount remaining after subtracting COGS from revenue, reflecting the gross profitability of a startup's core business activities before accounting for other operating expenses. While gross margin assesses profitability in relative terms, gross profit provides a tangible measure of profitability in monetary terms.

Comparing gross margin vs gross revenue

Gross margin reflects the efficiency of converting revenue into profit after deducting COGS, whereas gross revenue denotes the total income generated from sales before deducting any expenses. While gross margin assesses profitability at the operational level, gross revenue represents the total revenue generated by a startup's business activities.

Wrap-up - a deep dive on gross margin

Gross Margin plays a critical role in financial analysis, offering valuable insights into a startup’s operational efficiency and profitability. By understanding its calculation, uses, and variations across business types, startup founders and finance teams can make informed decisions, benchmark performance, and drive sustainable growth.  Looking to raise debt? Get in touch with us!

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