The best founders really know their sh*t.
The best founders just know everything cold about their business:
- They know the competition cold. They don’t mock the competition, or say it doesn’t exist, or not acknowledge their strengths. They know where they are strong, and where the others are strong.
- They know their core metrics cold. Their ARR and ARR growth rate. Their churn. Their churn segmented by group. Their net revenue retention. Their burn rate. Since the best founders live and breath these metrics — they know them.
- They know exactly what they want to build. They are so passionate about the product, they can easily tell you the next 5–10 core features they want to build.
- They know exactly what their top customers love about the product. The best founders at least know their top customers cold. So they also know their use cases top to bottom. When a founder doesn’t know how a logo account uses their product — that’s always a flag.
- They know where the space is going. Great founders don’t always know where the market will be in 10 years, but they know exactly where it will be in 2–3 years, and what will change after that. Less great founders aren’t as sure where the market and their space is going.
- They don’t make stuff up or exaggerate (too much). The best founders say what they don’t know. They don’t pretend to know about parts of their market they don’t have experience in yet. Less great founders often sort of make things up to cover gaps in their knowledge, with somewhat silly comments like “The Googles of The World …”. I mean, there really are only so many Googles in the world.
- They know how much money they need. Founders don’t always know for sure where each dollar will go, but the best ones know their business well enough to know how much time they need. Money is time. So the best founders have very strong ideas about how much money they should raise.
- They follow up when and how they say they will. If the best founders say they’ll follow up with more data or information on a point — they do. And they do it on time. Or if they need more time, they tell you. Founders that don’t follow up when they say they will either aren’t great founders or have decided already to not work with that VC.
- They have done enough research on the VC to be smart about the fund and the partner. You don’t need to know every investment a VC has made. But the best founders have at least done enough research to know if the VC partner and VC firm is a good fit for them, or not. When a founder doesn’t really know anything about the firm they are pitching, that’s just a terrible sign.
Founders that are good but not great often don’t know their sh*t as well.
Go in like you’ve lived it, learned it, and loved it the past X months and years.
That impresses anyone.
(note: an updated SaaStr Classic answer)