John Q. Inventor and the Cardboard Snowplow 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 John Q. Inventor and the Cardboard Snowplow case study

At Oak Spring University, we provide corporate level professional Net Present Value (NPV) case study solution. John Q. Inventor and the Cardboard Snowplow case study is a Harvard Business School (HBR) case study written by Elissa Grossman, David Grossman. The John Q. Inventor and the Cardboard Snowplow (referred as “Snowplow Cardboard” from here on) case study provides evaluation & decision scenario in field of Innovation & Entrepreneurship. It also touches upon business topics such as - Value proposition, Innovation, Market research.

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 John Q. Inventor and the Cardboard Snowplow Case Study

The Cardboard Snowplow tells the story of an inventor who has a novel idea that he believes represents a business opportunity. In response to this story, students are asked to summarize the problem (the high cost and physical exertion of clearing snow) and proposed solution (a corrugated cardboard snowplow). They are asked to (1) assess the solution's likely potential as a business opportunity; (2) identify what they perceive as the most likely sources of business launch vulnerability; and (3) propose potential tests that might inform a data-driven "go / no go" decision. Finally, they are told the true story of the cardboard snowplow - a story that motivates thoughtful discussion about not solely the perils of making assumptive leaps when assessing opportunities, but also the important pre-start questions that people sometimes forget to ask. The case is designed to (1) introduce or review the various component parts of a new business concept; (2) expose students to feasibility screening; and (3) begin breaking the habit of using subjective, assumption-driven, personal opinions in evaluating new ideas.

Case Authors : Elissa Grossman, David Grossman

Topic : Innovation & Entrepreneurship

Related Areas : Innovation, Market research

Calculating Net Present Value (NPV) at 6% for John Q. Inventor and the Cardboard Snowplow Case Study

Years              Cash Flow     Net Cash Flow     Cumulative    
Cash Flow
Discount Rate
@ 6 %
Cash Flows
Year 0 (10017350) -10017350 - -
Year 1 3472876 -6544474 3472876 0.9434 3276298
Year 2 3953834 -2590640 7426710 0.89 3518898
Year 3 3944013 1353373 11370723 0.8396 3311469
Year 4 3228886 4582259 14599609 0.7921 2557580
TOTAL 14599609 12664246

The Net Present Value at 6% discount rate is 2646896

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. Payback Period
3. Internal Rate of Return
4. Profitability Index

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. Snowplow Cardboard 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 Snowplow Cardboard 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 John Q. Inventor and the Cardboard Snowplow

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 Innovation & Entrepreneurship 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 Snowplow Cardboard 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 Snowplow Cardboard 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 (10017350) -10017350 - -
Year 1 3472876 -6544474 3472876 0.8696 3019892
Year 2 3953834 -2590640 7426710 0.7561 2989667
Year 3 3944013 1353373 11370723 0.6575 2593253
Year 4 3228886 4582259 14599609 0.5718 1846126
TOTAL 10448937

The Net NPV after 4 years is 431587

(10448937 - 10017350 )

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 (10017350) -10017350 - -
Year 1 3472876 -6544474 3472876 0.8333 2894063
Year 2 3953834 -2590640 7426710 0.6944 2745718
Year 3 3944013 1353373 11370723 0.5787 2282415
Year 4 3228886 4582259 14599609 0.4823 1557140
TOTAL 9479337

The Net NPV after 4 years is -538013

At 20% discount rate the NPV is negative (9479337 - 10017350 ) so ideally we can't select the project if macro and micro factors don't allow financial managers of Snowplow Cardboard 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 Snowplow Cardboard has a NPV value higher than Zero then finance managers at Snowplow Cardboard 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 Snowplow Cardboard, then the stock price of the Snowplow Cardboard 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 Snowplow Cardboard 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 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.

Understanding of risks involved in the project.

What can impact the cash flow of the project.

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

Elissa Grossman, David Grossman (2018), "John Q. Inventor and the Cardboard Snowplow Harvard Business Review Case Study. Published by HBR Publications.