Pandora Radio: Fire Unprofitable Customers? 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 Pandora Radio: Fire Unprofitable Customers? case study

At Oak Spring University, we provide corporate level professional Net Present Value (NPV) case study solution. Pandora Radio: Fire Unprofitable Customers? case study is a Harvard Business School (HBR) case study written by Willy Shih, Halle Tecco. The Pandora Radio: Fire Unprofitable Customers? (referred as “Pandora Westergren” from here on) case study provides evaluation & decision scenario in field of Technology & Operations. It also touches upon business topics such as - Value proposition, Customers, Disruptive innovation, Entrepreneurial management, Growth strategy, Internet, Sales, Strategy execution, Venture capital.

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 Pandora Radio: Fire Unprofitable Customers? Case Study

Pandora Radio is at a crossroads. Founder Tim Westergren has just been told by a well known VC to get rid of his unprofitable customers in order to get his costs down, but Westergren is not sure that such actions are consistent with his company's business model. Pandora Radio is the largest Internet music stream site, and its rapidly growing user base loves the free customizable music stream under an advertising supported model. Pandora has to pay royalties for every song streamed, and has other variable costs that scale linearly with hours consumed, but it has taken no steps to restrict the amount of usage among its heaviest and most loyal users. Can Pandora make its model work when a significant percentage of its users cause it to lose money?

Case Authors : Willy Shih, Halle Tecco

Topic : Technology & Operations

Related Areas : Customers, Disruptive innovation, Entrepreneurial management, Growth strategy, Internet, Sales, Strategy execution, Venture capital

Calculating Net Present Value (NPV) at 6% for Pandora Radio: Fire Unprofitable Customers? Case Study

Years              Cash Flow     Net Cash Flow     Cumulative    
Cash Flow
Discount Rate
@ 6 %
Cash Flows
Year 0 (10008672) -10008672 - -
Year 1 3460179 -6548493 3460179 0.9434 3264320
Year 2 3982705 -2565788 7442884 0.89 3544593
Year 3 3953758 1387970 11396642 0.8396 3319651
Year 4 3230509 4618479 14627151 0.7921 2558866
TOTAL 14627151 12687430

The Net Present Value at 6% discount rate is 2678758

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

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

Formula and Steps to Calculate Net Present Value (NPV) of Pandora Radio: Fire Unprofitable Customers?

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 Technology & Operations 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 Pandora Westergren 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 Pandora Westergren 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 (10008672) -10008672 - -
Year 1 3460179 -6548493 3460179 0.8696 3008851
Year 2 3982705 -2565788 7442884 0.7561 3011497
Year 3 3953758 1387970 11396642 0.6575 2599660
Year 4 3230509 4618479 14627151 0.5718 1847054
TOTAL 10467063

The Net NPV after 4 years is 458391

(10467063 - 10008672 )

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 (10008672) -10008672 - -
Year 1 3460179 -6548493 3460179 0.8333 2883483
Year 2 3982705 -2565788 7442884 0.6944 2765767
Year 3 3953758 1387970 11396642 0.5787 2288054
Year 4 3230509 4618479 14627151 0.4823 1557923
TOTAL 9495227

The Net NPV after 4 years is -513445

At 20% discount rate the NPV is negative (9495227 - 10008672 ) so ideally we can't select the project if macro and micro factors don't allow financial managers of Pandora Westergren 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 Pandora Westergren has a NPV value higher than Zero then finance managers at Pandora Westergren 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 Pandora Westergren, then the stock price of the Pandora Westergren 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 Pandora Westergren 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 are the key aspects of the projects that need to be monitored, refined, and retuned for continuous delivery of projected cash flows.

Understanding of risks involved in the project.

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

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 can impact the cash flow of the project.

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

Willy Shih, Halle Tecco (2018), "Pandora Radio: Fire Unprofitable Customers? Harvard Business Review Case Study. Published by HBR Publications.