The Problem With Unicorns

July 27, 2015 Jessica Thiele

I remember the days when unicorns where happy-go-lucky imaginary creatures.

Today the word ‘unicorn’ has taken on a whole new meaning: those 1-in-10-million startups that turn into the next Google, Apple, or Amazon.

Now everybody wants to be a unicorn. Some of the more delusional ones out there think they are or soon will be a unicorn. I’m here to bring everyone back down to reality.

UnicornSome of the unicorns out there. Source.

It’s not necessarily an issue of telling you your company won’t be the next unicorn – it does happen! It just happens to very unique companies, and it’s pretty rare (hence the term ‘unicorn’ in the first place). It’s just bad business strategy to put all your chips on becoming the next unicorn when you’ve got more important things to focus on. Never mind setting your end goal as ‘unicorn’ means you’re already thinking of getting out of your company by selling – not a good mindset when you’re trying to build an empire.

Here are some quick tips on how you can position your company to be successful. And if you’re destined to be a unicorn, so be it — remember me and my great advice when you’re rich and famous.

Have an outstanding product/service that people want

You’d think this one would be a no-brainer, but if you aren’t hocking something people really, really want or not filling a need (perhaps a need people didn’t even know they had until you!), what are you doing? Make sure your product or service is positioned for the market’s needs and wants.

Focus on Your Customers

In my post last week, we saw how even Amazon can lose sight of how important customers and their experience with your brand can be. Even a mediocre product or service can be augmented to huge heights when paired with an awesome experience. Don’t underestimate your client base – value and love them, and they’ll show you love right back by spreading the word about you.

How to attract VCs

Once your company’s on solid footing and starting to grow, the VCs (Venture Capitalists) might come knocking on your door without having to be prompted. But if you’re looking to draw VCs into your midst, there are a few things you can do on your end to attract them:

  • Don’t neglect your back-end. Make sure the company’s nuts and bolts that keep it running are as pretty as the customer experience on the front end. Nothing like a tangled web of applications shoe stringed together to turn off potential investors. Make sure everything’s set up right, and can work over the long-term at various levels of volume.
  • Invest in the right Don’t just buy what’s hot now, or what’s shiny and new. Invest in the right technology that works for your business over the long run. Do your research, people, before you buy!
  • It’s not all about big data. Everyone thinks they have big data these days. Let me clarify: ‘big’ does not mean ‘a lot of numbers that don’t mean anything’. You should be collecting data from your customers when you can, and leveraging it as best you can. Think of Amazon again from last week: even though Prime Day was a huge flop, Amazon’s intelligent systems still reaped 2-3x their normal July sales for that day. That’s the power of using your data wisely – I’m sure plenty of people bought more than they intended that day based on the lure of a sale and the ‘recommended for you’ pane.

Don’t make it all about VCs. Like a bad date, they can smell the desperation on you. If you’re meant to be, it will happen, but for the love of all things ecommerce and retail, don’t be desperate.

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