The term unicorn company refers to a fast-growing startup valued at $1 billion that hasn’t gone public yet. Many individuals think that unicorns accomplish this feat out of pure luck or because they were merely at the right place at the right time. However, a lot of strategy goes into disrupting the market. Here’s what we know about these companies and the takeaway lessons we can learn.
1. Know Your Space
With over 500 unicorns in existence nowadays, investors are flocking to get their piece of the pie. But what’s a unicorn’s secret sauce, making it so attractive? How did they get so successful so quickly?
We can find the answers to these questions (and more) years before most founders even named a company. Any founder who’s undergone venture capital (VC) funding rounds will tell you that it’s vital to know your industry inside and out. No sales deck will outshine the lack of industry knowledge. You must know your space.
This approach doesn’t mean you must have an extensive history in your industry, although that doesn’t hurt. Knowing your space means you eat, sleep, and breathe this market. There’s an ebb and flow to it — and you know it. You anticipate dips and forecast waves. You know how Wall Street responds to your market, and you understand the psychology behind your customers’ actions. Nothing about your industry is a mystery or unclear to you.
2. Dream Big
Unicorn founders are generally individuals known as doers. They take action and make bold choices. Risks and potential failure don’t dissuade them from pursuing their goals. More importantly, unicorn founders are big dreamers.
Consider Elon Musk and the plethora of followers watching his every move. Not only did he found X.com (known as PayPal today), but he also founded SpaceX and co-founded Tesla Inc., to name a few. It’s safe to say that he dreams of all-electric cars, space tourism, and living on Mars — all of which are outside-the-box thinking.
Dreaming big often means shutting out the naysayers and tuning out the haters. Of course, wisdom tells us not to disregard every negative word; however, creativity and imagination thrive most when hedged with sound advice. Dreaming big and taking calculated risks is something that every unicorn founder ticks off their to-do list
3. Market Your Audience Strategically
Defining your target market isn’t as effortless as purchasing a few social media ads and calling it a day. There’s more to it than that. No company can afford to target everyone, so it’s imperative to narrow down your typical customer. Who are they? Where do they hang out online? How do you tailor your marketing efforts toward them?
Unicorn founders will tell you to reach your audience through the proper channels. Naturally, these channels will change routinely as new and more popular platforms become available. However, this marketing effort boils down to knowing your audience very well — and finding them online.
Furthermore, what kind of products and services do your current customers enjoy? How can you tailor those products and services to a more defined audience? What’s more, what does your ideal customer honestly want?
4. Disrupt Customer Service Traditions
Many people assume that unicorns are doing something radical with technology to win as many customers as they do. The truth is that these successful companies aren’t doing anything novel. More than anything, unicorns are merely engaging customers differently than anyone else has before.
Take Uber, for example, and how effortless it is for their customers to summon a ride and make a payment. It takes one push of a smartphone button to solve customers’ problems — it’s that easy.
Unicorn companies make such an impact because they’re taking traditional customer service and reimagining it in the digital world. This new twist has not reinvented good ole fashion customer service. Instead, it’s creating a seamless digital experience for customers.
5. Choose Your Team Wisely
Elon Musk has been turned down for several positions because of “inexperience.” It’s hard to imagine now, but everyone has to start somewhere. Investors value this type of experience, recognizing that those who’ve been through a funding round or two tend to possess more wisdom than first-timers.
Beyond a Series A, a management team is one vital factor investors use to determine whether to invest. They understand that developing and growing a customer takes more than hustle and all-nighters. As a result, gaining the trust of investors means strategically appointing individuals on your team.
6. Network Relentlessly
Part of what connects you to valuable investors (and ultimately reaching unicorn status) is that you know those individuals. Professional relationships carry a lot of weight, which is why networking is critical.
From personal relationships to cold emails or phone calls, there are many ways to network. The most crucial aspect of making connections is maintaining that relationship. Some founders only speak to their investors when they need to talk about money. But most investors have been around the block once or twice, so they possess mounds of beneficial information.
Start networking by getting to know investors who fund other companies in your industry. Although it’s the capital you might be hoping for, remember that investors have lots more to offer than mere cash. The more meaningful professional relationships you have, the more of an investment you make into your future.
7. Get Out In a Hot Market
Behind SpaceX, Stripe is the next most valuable unicorn in the US. This fintech company was currently valued at $36 billion. Company leaders are talking about another funding round, which would potentially increase its value to the $100 billion range. Not only would this bump it up to the most valuable US-based unicorn, but it would likely push the company closer to an initial public offering (IPO).
Most industry experts, such as Santosh Rao from Manhattan Venture Partner, advise companies to “get out when the space is hot.” He considers the payment sector, the digital space, and fintech to be red hot markets. Going public in booming markets bodes well for a company’s valuation and future success.
Keep these essential tips in mind as you build your company. Although there’s no quick fix for success, strategic moves can make a huge difference in your future.
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