How To Build A Billion-Dollar Unicorn Startup?

Unicorn Poop

Note: A version of this article was originally published at
Unicorns are in demand now. My mom asked why I am building a bootstrapped startup when everyone else is busy building a unicorn startup. May be she is right. After all, it takes only 5 simple steps to build a billion dollar unicorn. At the end, to paraphrase the article, you get a paper valuation of a billion dollar and hey, you’re doing the society a favor by washing their undies…at scale. That’s progress to be proud of.
So here’s how you can build your billion dollar unicorn:
You should have ‘No Business Model’.
Like in everything that’s fancy now, ‘No Business Model’ is an in-thing now. There is this movement called ‘No Stack Startup‘. Then there is this ‘No Product Startup‘. For decades we’ve been having a ‘No Profit (really big) Startup’ as well. The ‘No Business Model’ startup is just an evolution, if you would.
The key advantage of ‘No Business Model’ model is it allows you to focus on one metric and grow it like a MoFo. If you are growth 10%-20% week on week, you’ve got a unicorn on your hands. Pick a metric and grow it off the charts – It could be number of pointless videos streamed per second or anonymous gossips traded in your beta market (being in San Francisco helps in such cases). Just do it, Yo!
Solve the ‘Chicken and Egg’ Problem.
No dummy, we are not talking about users here (that’s for the non-unicorns!). You should first solve the ‘Chicken and Egg’ problem of the tech press. You need to be written up by influential tech press. But they’ll write about you when you are already written up by the tech press. See, that’s a vicious circle you need to break.
But you can social engineer this one pretty easily. Here’s exactly how!
Make it a really unwelcome or even dangerous place for women to work. At a point of desperate call for help, one of your employees will reach out to tech press. From there on, between sincere-looking apologies and a couple of pink slips here and there, you are in every tech press in town. That you are a naive and insensitive founder automatically also means that you are a mad genius. Hello, Unicorn Boss!
Raise a shitload of money.
Put the above (weak) corollary to work and raise a party round of funding. You don’t want a single investor to turn their attention to you and yet you need to make news. News-making you did! Now you are a press darling and in a matter of few weeks, someone will write an article like this about why you are so successful. Words like ‘Whimsy’ and ‘fun’ will be thrown around even if you are an in cloud security space. Let’s add some whimsy to the boring devops work by adding a pointlessly blabbering bot whose curiosity has to be attended now before it solves a showstopper problem! The unicorn-wannabe tech and founder audiences will start using your product. The critics will be cautious (limiting their skepticism only to their own medium blogs). The door opens for a Series A.
Grow like someone else is snatching it away from you.
More press, just this time it would be about the numbers going off the charts. It does not matter if the numbers you quote are the chat messages sent back and forth (50% or more of it accounted for, by your pesky chatbot annoying the users). Raise a $100M at $500M valuation, because it’s a winner takes it all market (though often, only you’d know that the only ‘take’ you are worried about is the Ferrari you’ve always had your eyes on).
Get acquired by a paranoid unicorn.
A unicorn is born when a unicorn mates. That’s biology. Interestingly this applies for startups as well. You just need a paranoid unicorn worried about drones taking over the exosphere or virtual reality replacing normal human vision. Why go so far? These days the safer bets are cutely named AI services that claim to do everything for you. Be sure they are named well, like Alice (ArtificaLly Intelligent ConceirgE). When you previous round closed at $500M valuation, the acquisition has to take you past the $1B. Ergo, you are a unicorn!
Image Courtesy: (Kristy Lynn)

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