Lessons from Unicorns

Follow the unicorns.If you work with startups, then you know that unicorns are quite real. Defined as a startup whose valuation exceeds $1B, unicorn companies have come a long way from being the stuff of venture-funded myth. These companies are seeing their fair share of time in the spotlight and recognition for the unusual qualities that make them such a success.

My San Francisco-based consumer technology team and I have had the fortune of taking on the role of “unicorn handler” to not just one, but three unicorns recently. So what have we learned from our days in stables with these rare beasts?

Lesson One: Bring On New Ideas

Startups, and especially unicorns, often operate as a meritocracy or a system based on the value of ideas and not ranks or titles. With cultures that favor bold ideas and frown upon jargon, the expectation of these clients is that their teams will show up (every day!) with new thinking.  This challenge forces everyone to step into unknown territory and try things that are previously untested. We learned time and again that the unknown is always where the big successes AND big learnings happen.

Lesson Two: Change Your Definition of Success

Success isn’t always measured by the numbers or the results you expected. On one recent campaign, we calculated impressions and analyzed in Google Analytics, and it was clear this campaign drove traffic. Sounds like a clear win, right? Well, not exactly in the traditional sense of a PR win… The campaign was chalked up as a PR fail since, despite the successful numbers, it ultimately was not the right path for the company to be on messaging wise as it didn’t ring true to their evolving brand DNA. But it was success for the company holistically as they learned more about who they were and how they wanted to represent themselves through the process than they ever had before.

Lesson Three: Be Nimble & Opportunistic

Product roadmaps change, launch dates slip, founders leave, new investors come on board, and the list of unexpected changes goes on and on… We learned quickly that all the best laid plans, and all our well-meaning timelines, are just hopes for how things will go and not the rule book. Unicorns are highly reactive businesses – their nimble attitudes and ability to change on a dime is a huge part of their success. And, what is the best thing to do in the face of change? Embrace it! Find new opportunities, see the silver linings, let go of what you thought was going to happen and capitalize on the fluidity of the environment to get ahead of the pack regardless of the original plan.

Lesson Four: Find Your Voice & Passion

All startups have passionate founders. But unicorns have passionate founders that also know how to dialogue and are hungry for feedback from their team. So, speak up! Share your gut, your experience, your passionate and crazy ideas because that’s the real value you bring to the table.

And, maybe the biggest lesson of all is that when you bring your own A-game coupled with an open mind to learn more and become better, success follows. Hats off, unicorns!

Victoria Boed
Vice President

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Posted on October 27, 2015 in Startups

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