In venture investing and new company development, the burn rate is the rate at which a new company is spending its capital while waiting for profitable operation. Typically, a new company, especially in new, fast-growing fields such as Internet commerce or publishing, expects in its early stages to spend money faster than it can take in revenue. The term is often seen in financial reviews and discussions about new Internet companies, public or private, where the question is whether revenue will begin to flow in sufficient amounts before the invested capital plus revenue is "burnt up." When the burn rate begins to exceed plan or revenue fails to meet expectations, the usual recourse is to reduce the burn rate (which, in most companies, means reducing the staff). When it is burnt up (or before), a company has to find additional capital through loans, private equity investors, or a public stock offering; merge with or sell itself to another company; go non-profit; or terminate its operation.
Michael Wolff's book, Burn Rate (subtitled "How I Survived the Gold Rush Years on the Internet"), describes the emotional peaks and valleys associated with the term.