From newborn to unicorn: learn how to scale a startup

Learn how to scale a startup from newborn to unicorn

    On this blog post, you'll learn how to:
  • The best strategies used by unicorns;
  • How to follow their steps;

Growing a startup is a hard - and long - job. Everyone wants to get investments, reach its first 100 clients, reach 500 employees, scale internationally and become one of the unicorn companies. It seems so easy, but only a handful manage to do it.

The terminology unicorn started to be used in 2013, when venture capitalist Aileen Lee chose the animal to represent the statistical rarity of a company reaching the value of $1 billion.

However, it is possible. In fact, the last 3 years have been considered an exceptional year for unicorns, with over 200 being given that name. Unicorn companies like Uber, Snapchat, Pinterest and Xiaomi have succeeded. Even though these unicorns are B2C, the same still applies to B2B (specially when we talk about unicorn software companies). What do they have in common?

We have looked, searched and compiled a list of best practices from the top unicorn startups to help you reach your own goals.

What have unicorn startups done to reach their goals?

We know the first thing on your mind is: how long will it take?

Well, the average time for a startup to go from newborn to unicorn is 6 years.

However, there have been cases of companies reaching that value in as little as two or three years, like or Square. Others have taken way longer than that, such as the brazilian web company Decolar.

Let's analyze what the unicorn startups did to reach this mark and teach you how to scale your own:

#1 Make noise, get known

One of the things unicorn startups have in common is that they all have great marketing strategies.

This means they know how to position themselves in the market, how to talk to their clients and how to provide a more personal contact. Uber doesn't sell a service, but an experience - the best one for their passengers. Airbnb operates pretty much the same way.

Other startups make noise in other ways, like with their work culture or policy.

In 2014, Twitter employees have been named the happiest in the country thanks to rooftop meetings and friendly colleagues, among other things. Other startups may have a great onboarding or "work hard, play hard" philosophy, and they are all valid to keep people talking about them.

Another approach might be with unusual campaigns. Trident Gum, owned by Mondelez International, a holding with a revenue of US$25.92 billion (we know, not a unicorn startup, but still…), came up with an ad that showed people in an elevator. But the elevator didn't move unless people were talking inside.

And we told you in our last post about some actions taken by Airbnb and Twitter to make their unicorn brand known, right? These sorts of actions, even though are not focused specifically on product, are still great to make noise in the market.

#2 Be the best

No matter what you do, if you want to be at the top, you need to be the best doing it.

Slack, for example, is the top real-time messaging service in the world because it goes beyond message-sending. It connects, stores and offers new and exciting updates, like the recent threaded messaging.

Another example is Twilio, a "cloud communications platform for building SMS, voice and messaging applications on an API built for global scale." They are so fantastic at solving a hard communication problem that their pitch, the best ever, only lasted a few minutes.

So aim for that: be the best at what you do.

#3 Give the best

User experience and customer success ring any bells?

When you deal with clients, and most businesses will, whether they are B2B or B2C, a client first approach is the best way to guarantee you are the best.

But not only that, you need to make them happy to be your client and to use your product. And there are a few ways to achieve that.

  • Having the perfect solution/product: that usually means to make your clients lives easier. Find a problem, a way to solve it and an attractable way to make people use it.

  • Focusing on the experience: experience doesn't just mean while people are enjoying (let's hope) your product, be it a unicorn software, app or something else. It needs to embrace every single contact between your company and the client, from the first time he enters your website until the moment he closes the deal with one of your salesmen - the entire customer journey. And even after, during onboarding, eventual support and retention campaigns.

    For that, you'll need not only a well trained team but also a technology that allows you to maintain this relationship, preferably in the same environment, such as Pipz. This is a marketing automation platform that connects marketing, sales and customer success with a integrated CRM, workflow management and Business Intelligence.

  • "People, not lead" approach: more and more, people are tired of getting the robot message and non-personalized emails with offers. It just doesn't work anymore. So, you need to treat people like they are human. Spotify, for example, creates playlists based on the person's listening behavior, selecting similar tunes. To introduce the new playlist to the client, there is always a warming greeting. Pinterest does the same, but with images.

    In B2B, that could mean offering personalized content if you do inbound marketing, or discounted up-sell options in similar products he already purchased, etc. Be creative, but always remember you are talking to a person, not just a lead sales opportunity.

This is all part of the construction of your unicorn brand.

#4 Take risks

You can't get to the top if you don't accept there might be a few stumbles along the way.

Taking risks is the base of any unicorn startup, because sometimes your bets pay off and you end up with one of the top unicorn companies in the world. A way a lot of startups find to do this is through growth hacking. Its principle is to test, analyze and scale everything, implementing changes in an ordered way, making it easier to manage the whole process.

And it's important to remember that taking risks doesn't mean to just do something crazy, throw everything to the gods and hope for the best. There need to be some base for those decisions, and metrics and data are the best way to make things work out in the end. Having a BI feature will allow you to do that more easily, extract reports and follow the progress of your startup.

Check out this content about risk management for startups. It's not ours, we just really think it's good.

#5 Invest money

You need to spend money to make money.

To keep a startup growing it's necessary to invest: on hiring, developing, reaching new clients and markets, etc. Some people do it by searching for investments, while others prefer to take the longer road, but doing it on their own.

Either way, it's important to keep the wheel spinning and always improving. Other than investments, there are a few actions you can take to put your [startup's] name out there: go to startup events, they are a great place to meet fellow entrepreneurs and even investors; go to investing rounds events, and have an elevator pitch always ready, in case you need it; and always search for online resources and courses, specially on investment.

#6 Hire the best people

Every superhero needs help. Batman would be a nobody without Alfred. The same goes for unicorn startups CEOs.

A great leader needs an even greater team, people that are motivated, who know what they are doing, that can see the value of the product and are engaged to work, as one, towards the same goal. Seek for these people, and not necessarily the ones that know more, and it will be great.

How can you do that? is a great place to do that. The website is a startup jobs and "people-seeking-jobs" database. Another idea is to keep an eye out at LinkedIn. It can be a great place to maintain professional relationships and you might even find a hidden gem. Other less traditional, but obvious options are startup groups on Facebook and Slack.

Don't think you are making a product to sell, think you are making the best product so you can be proud

So, are you ready to start your journey?

Here are some great content for you to develop a great experience for users in each step of their journey:

Now you've got all resources to scale your startup and turn it into a high-valuable unicorn brand! Don't forget about our six steps: get known, be the best, give the best, take risks, invest money and hire the best people.

Let the games begin!

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