Destination-U: College Counseling on the Internet Net Present Value (NPV) / MBA Resources

Introduction to Net Present Value (NPV) - What is Net Present Value (NPV) ? How it impacts financial decisions regarding project management?

NPV solution for Destination-U: College Counseling on the Internet case study

At Oak Spring University, we provide corporate level professional Net Present Value (NPV) case study solution. Destination-U: College Counseling on the Internet case study is a Harvard Business School (HBR) case study written by Garth Saloner, Jim Ellis, Mike Harkey. The Destination-U: College Counseling on the Internet (referred as “Destination College” from here on) case study provides evaluation & decision scenario in field of Strategy & Execution. It also touches upon business topics such as - Value proposition, Entrepreneurial management.

The net present value (NPV) of an investment proposal is the present value of the proposal’s net cash flows less the proposal’s initial cash outflow. If a project’s NPV is greater than or equal to zero, the project should be accepted.

NPV = Present Value of Future Cash Flows LESS Project’s Initial Investment

Case Description of Destination-U: College Counseling on the Internet Case Study

Mother and son tandem Toby and Greg Waldorf started Destination-U, an online college matching service, in April 2004. Greg had a deep background in start-ups and technology companies, most notably as an early investor in eHarmony, an online dating service. Toby had 15 years of experience as a college counselor. With Destination-U's social mission and family ties, the pair was able to raise start-up capital with ease. Although the company had been successful in building a useful matching service and getting visitors to the site by July 2005, it had yet to earn a significant volume of sales from its subscription-based business model. With the busy fall college selection season approaching, Destination-U had to rethink its business model.

Case Authors : Garth Saloner, Jim Ellis, Mike Harkey

Topic : Strategy & Execution

Related Areas : Entrepreneurial management

Calculating Net Present Value (NPV) at 6% for Destination-U: College Counseling on the Internet Case Study

Years              Cash Flow     Net Cash Flow     Cumulative    
Cash Flow
Discount Rate
@ 6 %
Cash Flows
Year 0 (10004310) -10004310 - -
Year 1 3446346 -6557964 3446346 0.9434 3251270
Year 2 3957155 -2600809 7403501 0.89 3521854
Year 3 3971699 1370890 11375200 0.8396 3334715
Year 4 3225014 4595904 14600214 0.7921 2554513
TOTAL 14600214 12662352

The Net Present Value at 6% discount rate is 2658042

In isolation the NPV number doesn't mean much but put in right context then it is one of the best method to evaluate project returns. In this article we will cover -

Different methods of capital budgeting

What is NPV & Formula of NPV,
How it is calculated,
How to use NPV number for project evaluation, and
Scenario Planning given risks and management priorities.

Capital Budgeting Approaches

Methods of Capital Budgeting

There are four types of capital budgeting techniques that are widely used in the corporate world –

1. Net Present Value
2. Profitability Index
3. Payback Period
4. Internal Rate of Return

Apart from the Payback period method which is an additive method, rest of the methods are based on Discounted Cash Flow technique. Even though cash flow can be calculated based on the nature of the project, for the simplicity of the article we are assuming that all the expected cash flows are realized at the end of the year.

Discounted Cash Flow approaches provide a more objective basis for evaluating and selecting investment projects. They take into consideration both –

1. Magnitude of both incoming and outgoing cash flows – Projects can be capital intensive, time intensive, or both. Destination College shareholders have preference for diversified projects investment rather than prospective high income from a single capital intensive project.
2. Timing of the expected cash flows – stockholders of Destination College have higher preference for cash returns over 4-5 years rather than 10-15 years given the nature of the volatility in the industry.

Formula and Steps to Calculate Net Present Value (NPV) of Destination-U: College Counseling on the Internet

NPV = Net Cash In Flowt1 / (1+r)t1 + Net Cash In Flowt2 / (1+r)t2 + … Net Cash In Flowtn / (1+r)tn
Less Net Cash Out Flowt0 / (1+r)t0

Where t = time period, in this case year 1, year 2 and so on.
r = discount rate or return that could be earned using other safe proposition such as fixed deposit or treasury bond rate. Net Cash In Flow – What the firm will get each year.
Net Cash Out Flow – What the firm needs to invest initially in the project.

Step 1 – Understand the nature of the project and calculate cash flow for each year.
Step 2 – Discount those cash flow based on the discount rate.
Step 3 – Add all the discounted cash flow.
Step 4 – Selection of the project

Why Strategy & Execution Managers need to know Financial Tools such as Net Present Value (NPV)?

In our daily workplace we often come across people and colleagues who are just focused on their core competency and targets they have to deliver. For example marketing managers at Destination College often design programs whose objective is to drive brand awareness and customer reach. But how that 30 point increase in brand awareness or 10 point increase in customer touch points will result into shareholders’ value is not specified.

To overcome such scenarios managers at Destination College needs to not only know the financial aspect of project management but also needs to have tools to integrate them into part of the project development and monitoring plan.

Calculating Net Present Value (NPV) at 15%

After working through various assumptions we reached a conclusion that risk is far higher than 6%. In a reasonably stable industry with weak competition - 15% discount rate can be a good benchmark.

Years              Cash Flow     Net Cash Flow     Cumulative    
Cash Flow
Discount Rate
@ 15 %
Cash Flows
Year 0 (10004310) -10004310 - -
Year 1 3446346 -6557964 3446346 0.8696 2996823
Year 2 3957155 -2600809 7403501 0.7561 2992178
Year 3 3971699 1370890 11375200 0.6575 2611457
Year 4 3225014 4595904 14600214 0.5718 1843912
TOTAL 10444369

The Net NPV after 4 years is 440059

(10444369 - 10004310 )

Calculating Net Present Value (NPV) at 20%

If the risk component is high in the industry then we should go for a higher hurdle rate / discount rate of 20%.

Years              Cash Flow     Net Cash Flow     Cumulative    
Cash Flow
Discount Rate
@ 20 %
Cash Flows
Year 0 (10004310) -10004310 - -
Year 1 3446346 -6557964 3446346 0.8333 2871955
Year 2 3957155 -2600809 7403501 0.6944 2748024
Year 3 3971699 1370890 11375200 0.5787 2298437
Year 4 3225014 4595904 14600214 0.4823 1555273
TOTAL 9473689

The Net NPV after 4 years is -530621

At 20% discount rate the NPV is negative (9473689 - 10004310 ) so ideally we can't select the project if macro and micro factors don't allow financial managers of Destination College to discount cash flow at lower discount rates such as 15%.

Acceptance Criteria of a Project based on NPV

Simplest Approach – If the investment project of Destination College has a NPV value higher than Zero then finance managers at Destination College can ACCEPT the project, otherwise they can reject the project. This means that project will deliver higher returns over the period of time than any alternate investment strategy.

In theory if the required rate of return or discount rate is chosen correctly by finance managers at Destination College, then the stock price of the Destination College should change by same amount of the NPV. In real world we know that share price also reflects various other factors that can be related to both macro and micro environment.

In the same vein – accepting the project with zero NPV should result in stagnant share price. Finance managers use discount rates as a measure of risk components in the project execution process.

Sensitivity Analysis

Project selection is often a far more complex decision than just choosing it based on the NPV number. Finance managers at Destination College should conduct a sensitivity analysis to better understand not only the inherent risk of the projects but also how those risks can be either factored in or mitigated during the project execution. Sensitivity analysis helps in –

What will be a multi year spillover effect of various taxation regulations.

What can impact the cash flow of the project.

Understanding of risks involved in the project.

What are the uncertainties surrounding the project Initial Cash Outlay (ICO’s). ICO’s often have several different components such as land, machinery, building, and other equipment.

What are the key aspects of the projects that need to be monitored, refined, and retuned for continuous delivery of projected cash flows.

Some of the assumptions while using the Discounted Cash Flow Methods –

Projects are assumed to be Mutually Exclusive – This is seldom the came in modern day giant organizations where projects are often inter-related and rejecting a project solely based on NPV can result in sunk cost from a related project.

Independent projects have independent cash flows – As explained in the marketing project – though the project may look independent but in reality it is not as the brand awareness project can be closely associated with the spending on sales promotions and product specific advertising.

References & Further Readings

Garth Saloner, Jim Ellis, Mike Harkey (2018), "Destination-U: College Counseling on the Internet Harvard Business Review Case Study. Published by HBR Publications.