Did you know that some of the greatest Unicorn Companies of our time were born out of economic winters? During times when chaos ruled, uncertainty dominated the headlines and no one knew when confidence would return...
Companies like; General Electric, during the global recession in 1890, Microsoft in 1975, one of the worst periods of stagnation for the United States, AirBNB in 2008 & Uber in 2009 during the fallout of the GFC.
These economic winters provided a seasonal opportunity for ambitious entrepreneurs to create billion dollar ideas that have disrupted the world. These committed individuals, in the face of all the uncertainty as life painfully transitioned from certain to uncertain, found the next innovation (the next unicorn) that changed the world for the better.
"In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity." Sun Tzu
Life is no different now. As we see stock-markets whipsaw 4-5% on a regular basis. Constant quantitative easing deployed, tweets fuelling geopolitical tensions, we’re not short of uncertainty, which is providing that seasonality to suggest chaos again may be near.
Winter is coming and it may just be ripe for Unicorn Hunting.
But how do we find or create that next unicorn? How do we innovate towards new levels of thinking, in amongst the uncertainty and seek out those billion dollar ideas?
What are the skills, mindset and strategies required to even get started?
It is a rare event finding that Unicorn, so the hunt is never going to be easy. However, having studied the thinking of those entrepreneurs who have achieved that greatness, as well as, working with many who I believe are well on their way to achieving such status. It isn’t impossible, it can be achieved and if you are hunting and hungry to innovate to create something incredible, it’s important to consider these three main areas;
- How you hunt for the idea,
- Why you are hunting in the first place &
- The preparedness required to pull the trigger fast.
Hunting for the Idea
So how do we go on the hunt? It honestly starts with you finding something you are passionate about greater than yourself. Very rarely does an entrepreneur who goes into business purely to make money, ever succeed in truly reaching any form of sustainable business growth.
"Chase the vision, not the money; the money will end up following you." Tony Hsieh
So it is about finding a problem that you are so passionate about solving that you are driven and hungry to stay up to all hours of the night, 365 days a year to build an innovative solution.
And I know the term ‘innovative solution’ or even simply ‘innovation’ has been a buzzword overused by many. Typically (and unsurprisingly), people link innovation with technology. The assumption (so often) is that in order to be innovative and to reach that unicorn status you have to think technology first. But if you were to really unpack the idea of innovation, you’ll find, it actually means; adding value.
"The value of an idea lies in the using of it" Thomas Edison
So the question should be, how can you add value more than anyone else in your target market? If you discover how you do that, you will innovate and design a business that no doubt will continue to outperform your competition, pushing you towards your unicorn status.
And then technology isn’t the solution but becomes the tool you use to leverage your value into a global market.
Once you’ve honed where you can add value, it is then about clarifying your vision around how you can add the value. That means operating from a top-down approach and having absolute conviction towards the vision you want to create. That conviction then drives a response to then figure out ways to do more than anyone else in your industry to add the most value possible.
It can be done, you only have to look at Uber to see that they found a way. They took on established car brands and built a company that physically owns no cars and has a $50billion valuation vs. Ford for example, who has a $40billion valuation.
Travis Kalanick & Garret Camp (Uber’s Founders), knew what they were creating would succeed. Their vision to create “Smarter Transportation with fewer cars and greater access” is what they lived by and their response in action was to work ridiculously hard to add more value and do more than anyone ever could, in what was a hugely capital intensive & clunky car industry at the time.
Travis & Garret went hunting and they had a unicorn in their crosshairs.
So how do we add value and innovate to reach that point too?
Know more about your target market than anyone else, than even they know themselves. What do they want more than anything? What are they most scared of? Do you know how they define value? Is value to them price, convenience, connection to others or fun?
As an example, are they happy to pay the higher price but given you have provided convenience and maybe a "gamified" experience to their buying process that they see value beyond your competition?
"Make every detail perfect and limit the number of details to perfect" Jack Dorsey
Or does your target market value status over price? You only have to look at the fashion industry to see that people continue to pay tens of thousands of dollars for watches, shoes, bags, suits and even Champagne.
Krug for example (starting at $300 a bottle). After you purchase a bottle, you are told to download a Krug app. Within the presentation box, you are given a Krug ID code, which when entered, you are provided with the exact years that were blended (to create the Champagne), the story of your bottle, music pairings to enjoy as you sip away, food pairings, along with recommended storing and drinking conditions. They have found ways to innovate on price and marketed their approach in a way that gives the consumer a service above and beyond the transaction of the Champagne itself.
So just like Krug and so many other brands, figure out a way to dig deep into the psychology of your consumer, then over-service them in markets they never thought they needed. By doing so, their needs and wants will help you track your unicorn down so you too can have one in your crosshairs.
Why are you Hunting in the First Place?
As I mentioned earlier, no business will ever have sustainable, exponential growth if you are doing it purely for the money. So to reiterate, figure out why you want to hunt for that unicorn. Your success in growing a business that will need to scale fast will depend on you and your conviction to create something greater than yourself.
Importantly, the strength of your why and your vision provides a level of congruency or authenticity that gives you focus, drive and energy that is unrivalled. If you’re someone working on an innovative project now and you feel that rhythm, no doubt you’re striving for your vision authentically now. It is a special feeling.
"Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do." Steve Jobs
But for those that don’t (or you are not sure), it doesn’t mean you are not on the hunt for the right reasons, it just means you are still looking. The hunt for that unicorn is as much about the process as it is about actually finding the idea and how you are going to execute on it. But you need to have that open willingness to let the hunt grow you and take you on a pivot or two……or three.
Not only does that level of authenticity reinforce your own personal journey, but it also is a great marketing tool. As your target market and the wider public are given an all access pass (of sorts) into the evolution of your start-up and the commitment to the product or service you want to bring into reality. When you do this, consumers, suppliers or whoever sits throughout your supply chain will see a genuine journey, rather than an inauthentic brand, trying to be something it isn’t.
This also flows through to your start-up culture. If you are not solid in your vision for the start-up, your culture will reflect that and particularly when you are scaling for growth, you will face struggles. As the power of a vision aligned to a culture provides a much more efficient on-boarding process for new staff when you are growing vs. one that isn’t.
It is critical to recognise that the hunt is as much about your personal journey as it is about your conviction to create a solution that adds value and gives significance to others. So find that clarity, be willing to open up and not care about what others’ think. The instant you go on the hunt with an open-heart and mind is when you will see it fall into place.
Be Prepared to Pull the Trigger Fast.
Appropriately named, this one will be quick!
Your window to pull the trigger on a hunt for a unicorn is fleeting. You have to be able to move quickly. Change happens in a second. And be ready for that change to possibly lead to a pivot.
"Without a sense of urgency, desire loses its value." Jim Rohn
At Feedmee for example, in 2016 the company was all about taking the decision-making out of our user’s food choices. We wanted to service consumers across restaurants and recipes giving them access to the a complete food solution. However, in the face of an A.I engine and pathway to minimum viable product (MVP) getting further and further away. Twelve months later, Tyler, Brenda & Anthony literally in seconds, pivoted towards online grocery delivery and giving consumers the choice of what to eat having them pick and choose the recipes (and other products) they wanted.
What we discovered, based on deeply knowing our customers was that they didn't want to be told what to eat, they wanted choice. But they wanted (and want) the most convenient and quality service to provide them the food choices they made themselves. (While we see the likes of Marley Spoon grow rapidly, it won't be long before they consider a "make your own box" or ways to expand into giving the consumer greater choice outside the box.)
The pivot however (for feedmee), was based on ultra-fast decision-making to pull the trigger and have a shot at a unicorn driven by consumer demand.
So taking that example, how do we then improve our decision-making to become agile enough to pull the trigger at the right time?
Well, it is all about being aware of the present moment so much so that when we mentally hit a threshold (decided by our internal decision-matrix) we make a call to change and pivot towards a better outcome.
In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing. Theodore Roosevelt
Think about a past experience personally when you had a tough moment or where you have failed and fell short. It is in those moments that we feel our past, present and the future is all too painful that we see the only way out is to make a change. So what do we do? We pivot, we change to improve our present and our future, knowing that we never want to return to that painful past.
It is in those personal and challenging moments/experiences that our decision-making skills improve. As the more aware of our situation we are, the greater our awareness on the decisions we make. We then innately apply a "feedback loop", which helps us judge how effective our decision-making was in that moment.
This approach and the quality of your personal decision-making is inexplicably linked to your business decisions. As the more decisions you make, the greater your experience is, which in turn has this natural flow on effect to improving the quality and efficiency of your decisions and their outcomes.
So improve your awareness and act fast in the decisions you make, as it is a rare moment when the unicorn falls into the crosshairs. You certainly want to be able to have the awareness and agility to pull that trigger fast.
3 Tools for the Hunt:
So to wrap up, here are 3 tools you will need to include on your hunt to ensure you improve your odds of catching that Unicorn:
Constantly retest and if needed redefine your vision.
It can get exceptionally cloudy in the trenches of business. So spending time on a quarterly or monthly basis to zoom out to that 30,000 foot level to work on your business will provide you with strategic direction to ensure you’re always heading towards that unicorn. You need to be crystal clear on your vision, so as you retest it, if you’re not, that’s ok. Adjust, reframe and continue on the hunt.
Next, don’t fall in love with your product or service.
As you zoom out and redefine your vision, be comfortable with the fact that as you adjust the course for your vision, your product or service may change too.
"To hunt successfully, you must know your ground, your pack & your quarry" K. J. Parker
Typically, those that fail to heed this warning are the ones that choose to create products & services that they love, not what their consumers do. Of course, some might love it, but if you are hungry on the hunt for that unicorn and you want that billion-dollar valuation, you need to be willing to intimately understand what all your customers want, so that as their needs change so too does the delivery of how you add value.
Lead & Delegate
You cannot be all things to all people and you also cannot be a master of everything. So learning to delegate responsibility, empower others and let them help as you persevere on the hunt will only improve your chances of capturing that unicorn.
"Don't be a lone wolf. Lean on the experience and smarts of your teammates, investors, and mentors to help solve the tough problems and take advantage of the opportunities." Seth Bannon
Your ability to win here will only come from openly bringing others along on the grand vision for why you’re hunting in the first place. The power of shared-vision combined with differing expertise is critical for your preparedness as you handle the growth and scalability required for unicorn hunting.
Finding that next big idea and then managing the strategy and operations is never an easy one. Unicorns are elusive, rare and difficult to scout, let alone catch.
The hunt requires perseverance and resilience unlike any other, but the reward is worth it.
You’re on an exciting journey, stay committed in the face of adversity. Seize opportunities and always retest your vision, ensuring you're on the hunt for the right reasons.
I wish you all the very best as you make your vision a reality and go after that unicorn.