SaaS investing has been on fire the past decade and the returns have been gushing in, with IPOs like Datadog, direct listings like Slack and acquisitions like Qualtrics (which is now being spun back out) creating billions of wealth and VC returns. Dozens more SaaS startups are on deck to head toward their exits in the same way, and many VC funds — particularly those with deep portfolios in the SaaS space — are going to perform well.
Yet, the gargantuan returns we are seeing today for SaaS portfolios are unlikely to repeat themselves.
The big threat in the short term is simply price: SaaS investing has gotten a lot more expensive. It may be hard to remember, but just a decade ago the business model of “Software as a Service” was revolutionary. Much in the way that it took years for cloud infrastructure to take hold in corporate IT departments, the idea that one didn’t license software but paid by user or by usage over time was almost heretical.
For VCs willing to make the leap into the space, prices were (relatively) cheap. Investor attention a decade ago was intensely centered on consumer web and mobile, driven by Facebook’s blockbuster IPO in May 2012 and Twitter’s IPO the following year. While every investor was chasing deals like Snap(chat), the smaller population of investors targeting enterprise SaaS (or even more exotic spaces like, gulp, fintech) got great deals on what would later become the decade’s biggest unicorns.