Unit Economics

Unit Economics

Regardless of your business model, your unit economics are a simple yet powerful tool that can help you better understand the success and long term sustainability of your business.

The term unit economics describes a specific business model's revenues and costs in relation to an individual unit. A unit refers to any basic, quantifiable item that creates value for a business. Thus, your unit economics demonstrate how much value each item - or “unit” - generates for the business.UnitEconomics=RevenueperUnit(Variable)CostsperUnitUnit\enspace Economics = Revenue \enspace per\enspace Unit - (Variable)\enspace Costs\enspace per\enspace Unit

To make it more concrete: unit economics are your revenues per customer minus any costs associated with selling, which usually includes cost of goods sold and marketing, or customer acquisition cost

Understanding the drivers behind the unit economics of your business is one of the most crucial tasks before starting to scale your marketing & sales expenditures and thereby the growth of your company.


Consumer oriented Start-ups in Europe often look at the unit economics with the help of the contribution margin and split it into three or four levels (CM1, CM2, CM3, CM4):

  • CM1 = revenue per customer - COGS per customer
  • CM2 = CM1 - servicing / operating cost per customer (e.g. shipping, packing, etc.)
  • CM3 = CM2 - acquisition cost per customer (e.g. online marketing spend)
  • CM4 = CM3 - fixed costs / customer (often not applicable)

For any business you will normally want to make sure that you have a positive CM2, i.e. that the product you're selling or the service you're offering is profitable on a per unit basis. You may - if you have a business model where customers return multiple times over a given time period invest more into the acquisition cost of a single customer than you have as CM2 per customer, aiming to recover your acquisition after a number of purchases.

In case you're a SaaS or Marketplace start-up, please have a look at our specific section about 🔢SaaS & Marketplace - Metrics and Benchmarks .

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