This answer is going to go places, because seeing the whole picture is necessary to answer the question you're asking.
There are four customers right now:
1. People that buy the Teams product (SaaS or Enterprise)
2. People that buy Ads.
3. People that buy Job Ads.
4. Venture Capitalists (VCs), i.e. investors.
So where does that leave us? We're not customers, we're users (or in some cases, the product).
Public Q & A serves two business purposes (from the outside):
- Marketing and Brand Recognition
- A funnel for the Teams product
There's a third that I'll mention (so people don't reply that I forgot about it):
3. Revenue generation from Ad Sales and Job Ads (Stack Overflow Only)
I'm going to make a critical assumption here about Public Q & A as a 'product':
- Job ads and Ad Sales don't provide the 'exit/IPO' opportunity that Stack Overflow necessarily needs due to taking on VC.
The reason I say this is two-fold:
- Job Sales and Ads only have significant amounts of revenue on Stack Overflow. The other sites are essentially subsidized by the revenue Stack Overflow (the site) generates).
- Stack Overflow (even though it's a top 50 site!) doesn't have the broad appeal necessary for an IPO without some sort of recurring revenue generation like Teams.
What this means is that while people who use Stack Overflow and the other Q & A sites are users, they aren't necessarily customers.
Stack Overflow as a company would have to reduce its headcount by quite a bit to be profitable off of Ads alone -- this at least would have been true before the "network ads" experience; I assume it's still true because they wouldn't have tried Network Ads if they were doing just fine with Public Q & A revenue generation before.
SaaS products have a notorious adoption and revenue curve for VCs, and they have a slog to becoming profitable (to the sense of sustaining the team that built them).
To put another way: Public Q & A ads and Job sales fund the Teams product; and at this point it's possible the teams' product is self-sustaining financially.
Keep in mind that 'break even' is not good enough. They've raised (by some accounts) $68 Million in VC. They made $70 Million last year. Those multiples (2-3x) aren't enough to make back the money the investors have put into the company.
Stack Exchange either needs a breakout year with their revenue, or they need to have an exit, as the VCs are probably getting antsy at this point.
To be self-sustaining and profitable, I would imagine Stack Exchange would need to be able to buy-out its VCs, which from my back-of-the-napkin calculation would take around 300M-400M in capital. (Modeling it off of a recent acquisition -- Gimlet media, which took 30M in funding and at exit sold for 230M). Otherwise its VCs would just say, "No, stay the course for acquistion."
We don't want Stack Exchange to be acquired in most cases (Microsoft is a notable exception). Though with the current leadership's coldness towards the community, I'm not sure if the present situation is what we want anymore either.