Here’s How You Build a Billion-Dollar Unicorn Startup!
In mythology, a unicorn is a fabled horse like creature with a unique single horn on its forehead which gives it fantastic magical powers such as magical healing and glow-in-the-dark luminescence. In the world of VC and startups, a “unicorn” signifies a tech startup valued at $1 billion or more, typically based on the fundraising. The term was first used by Aileen Lee of Cowboy Ventures and has become a staple today. In 2013, there were only 25 such unicorn startups. While just last year, there were over 130 of such privately-owned tech startups with a valuation of over $1 billion, making it a nearly 5-fold increase in numbers in just two years.
Although the US is a major hub for such startups namely LinkedIn, Uber, Snpachat, Dropbox and Airbnb, the UK too has emerged as an efficient growing bed for unicorn startups with names like Funding Circle, Just Eat, ASOS and Zoopla among nearly two dozen others.
If you wish to join this exclusive club of billion-dollar startups, here’s what you should do:
- Focus on individual customers rather than businesses: About 77% of all unicorn startups worldwide are customer-based rather than business-to-business.
- Choose your battlefield: Some business sectors have more unicorns than others. The sectors which have spawned the most unicorns are finance technology (fintech), software and e-commerce. According to a report by KPMG and CB Insights, the finance technology arena is undoubtedly the fastest growing one with $19 billion of global investment in fintechs in the year 2015, out of which $13.8 billion was contributed by Venture Capitalists.
- Be patient: On an average, in Europe, a startup needed around nine years to achieve the unicorn status. Others have done it quicker, for example, Funding Circle managed it in about 7 years and TransferWise in 4 or 5 years, YouTube and Instagram made it in only a couple of years.
- Start early, but not too early: Over half of the unicorns in Europe were started by founders aged between 30 and 40, presumably, because by then not only most entrepreneurs have had sufficient knowledge and maturity under their belt, but also because they are still hungry for more. Young outliers are rare.
- Stay true to your roots: Mark Zuckerberg is still with Facebook. Over half of the unicorn startups still retain their founding teams and nearly 5 out of 6 have at least one of their founding members still on board.
- Aim to get higher investments early: A $1 billion mark is tough to imagine early on, but getting that kind of money is essential too. Little less than a quarter of the companies which eventually attained unicorn status started with $100 million or more. And if you are a consumer-focused business, then you’ll probably need more.
- Networking works: In the age of social media, network effects will contribute to the growth of your “unicorn foal” more than other factors. Amassing consumers in such a way helps to keep capital investments down and accelerates growth.
- Choose your mates well: Most unicorn startups have 3 or more co-founders, usually with a good history of working together in the past. Whether it’s your college classmates, former co-workers or even friends, having a good understanding and sharing a future vision help you rise to the unicorn status.
Contrary to the popular belief, big-budget startups that fail are exceptions and do not signify a bubble phenomenon in the startup enterprise world. All it takes is good planning and perseverance, and you could be a unicorn yourself.
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