It’s a great question and you should ask the VCs you meet. The later the stage, the more the answers will converge.
For me, especially as an ex-SaaS CEO, the one risk I usually will NOT take is product-market risk.
I need there to be at least 10 Unaffiliated Customers (maybe 5 if your deal size is high).
Because what I’ve learned is that once you know the playbook, you can execute with the right CEO, especially if you help recruit a strong management team early. But getting anyone to buy yet another B2B product? Creating the first, unaffiliated customers from the ether? That’s not a playbook. That’s magic. (OK, that’s indeed a playbook too, but a very different and less predictable one. I still call it magic.).
I’ve also learned that all but the best SaaS CEOs get tired after 4–5 years. They aren’t able to reinvent themselves. So — the odds they build a unicorn in SaaS are basically 0%. Because it takes 7–10 years minimum in SaaS to get there.
I’ve also basically learned that selling a $60/month product really is 4x easier than a $15/month product (what I sold). It shouldn’t be, but it is.
So I look for:
- A CEO better than me;
- With potential for outsized unit economics; and
- A handful of happy customers.
I will take all other risks. E.g., first-time CEO or even first job CEO, CEO from unusual backgrounds (I don’t care where you went to college, or if you did at all), CEOs just coming to the U.S., seemingly competitive spaces, geographical risk, etc. etc. I don’t care who funded you before, if anyone, or what accelerator you went through. I don’t care if no one else will fund you. I don’t even ask.