Posts Tagged 'Profit'

March 12, 2010

The Taxman Is Here

In my role at SoftLayer, I am asked by a number of people for our financial forecasts. Fortunately, we know our business well enough that our expectations for one year ahead have proven to be on target. For example, in December 2008, we told our bankers to expect 2009 net income (profit) to grow 254% over 2008 – and yes, this was at the worst point of the recession. When we closed out the books for 2009, net income actually grew 255%. Our forecasting error was one-third of one percent, and it was an error to the good side.

I can tell you right now that our profit projections will never, ever again be that accurate. Ever. Why is that? Well, after posting such a profitable year, the Taxman has showed up. You see, when you start a business, you usually post losses, not profits, for a while. SoftLayer was no exception here. After posting losses in 2006 and 2007, we turned the corner to profitability in 2008. So why were we not bothered by taxes in 2009? In a nutshell, the tax laws allow you to roll a portion of historic losses forward against profits before you must begin booking tax expenses. We had a meeting yesterday with our corporate tax advisor, and in 2010, we must begin booking tax expenses. Oh boy.

It’s one thing to look at your business model going a year ahead. We can look at macroeconomic indicators that are meaningful to our business and calculate the coefficient of correlation (R-square for you stat geeks) of our growth rate to those indicators and walk things forward. Then based on our anticipated sales growth, we can extrapolate how much datacenter space and power we will need to add, how many routers, switches, and servers to order, and how many people to hire.

Now, if you think that sounds complicated, just wait until you try to forecast how much tax you will have to pay. The biggest problem is the tax laws themselves. They are always moving and changing. In addition, they are sometimes changed retroactively. For example, in 2009, there was an allowance to take bonus depreciation on equipment purchased. (We purchase a lot of it, by the way.) This means that you are allowed to deduct a higher percentage of the dollars spent on equipment from your taxable income and thus lower your tax expense. Well, so far in 2010, there is no bonus depreciation available. BUT, there is a possibility that Congress will extend bonus depreciation into 2010, and make it retroactive to January 1. You tell me – how are we supposed to forecast that?

This is one of but many examples of the craziness of the tax codes that we encounter. As we open more locations in the future, I may blog a bit about some of the other craziness we find.

July 9, 2007

Profit: A "Win-Win" Arrangement

Remember the "low-carb" diet craze a few years back? Some members of my family jumped on the bandwagon and I can remember seeing a lot of low-carb items in stores; low-carb milk, pasta, bread, chocolate, etc. Today you just don’t see as many of these products anymore. Look at the dates of the articles above and try finding some of the products in the links above – they’re long gone.

Why? Assuming these products really worked as advertised, when the low-carb craze was over, the cost of producing these products became higher than the revenue that the market was willing to pay for them. Maybe the market rejected them because they didn’t work. Whatever the case, mathematically, when costs are higher than revenue, there is no profit. Consequently, companies stopped offering these money-losing products. No profit is a "lose-lose" situation. Neither the companies nor the consumers who want the discontinued products benefit when there’s no profit.

The same goes for the hosting industry. If the cost of providing hardware, software, power, cooling, and bandwidth ever rises higher than what the market demand will pay, this offering will exit the marketplace. Personally I don’t think that will ever happen. Because there is an opportunity for profit in the hosting business, we and other providers will continue to inject our offerings into the marketplace. And due to the cost of these offerings, we won’t be offering dozens of processing cores, unlimited RAM, unlimited bandwidth and multiple terabytes of storage capacity for ten bucks a month.

Thankfully, SoftLayer doesn’t have to deliver all of that to achieve a top notch customer experience (as of yet anyway). But simply providing the list above is only part of the equation. As I mentioned in my last post, treating your customers "right" and building long-term relationships is critical to maximizing profit. Therefore, we do our best to price our offerings at value points that make both our customers and our investors happy. The resulting profit ensures that we continue in business and that we keep our server fleet refreshed. Profit keeps us around and motivates us to provide our customers with an excellent customer experience.

Thus, for SoftLayer and our customers, profit is a "win-win" situation.

-Gary

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