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[YS Lounge] 5 steps to build a billion-dollar unicorn

Ashwin Ramasamy
posted on 24th May 2015
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Unicorns are in demand now. My mom asked me why I was building a bootstrapped startup when everyone else is busy building a unicorn startup. Maybe she is right. After all, it takes only five 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 favour by washing their undies... at scale. That's progress to be proud of.

unicorn

So here's how you can build your billion dollar unicorn:

You should have 'No Business Model'

Like everything that's fancy now, 'No Business Model' is an in-thing now. There is this movement called 'No Stack Startup.' Then there is the '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’re growing 10-20 per cent 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’re not talking about users here (that's just 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 the cloud security segment. 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 scepticism 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 per cent or more of it accounted for by your pesky chatbot annoying the users). Raise a USD 100 million at USD 500 million 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 does coitus. 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 your previous round closed at USD 500 million valuation, the acquisition has to take you past the USD 1billion. Ergo, you are a unicorn, with that coitus!

All views in the article (which can perhaps be tagged as a humour column) belong the author. 

(image credit: Shutter Stock)

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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Ashwin Ramasamy
Ashwin Ramasamy runs ContractIQ, a marketplace that connects real enterprises and startups with app developers that build real products. They’ve helped build products worth 10s of millions of dollars though none of them have become unicorns yet.

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