Unicorn, Schmunicorn —Just Go Build Your Empire

Posted on October 20, 2015

By Grazitti Dev

Tags: ,

Unicorns. They’re all the chatter, right? Heck, I even bought a high-gloss, gold-covered paper mâché unicorn head for our office conference room a few weeks ago to give the team a nice Monday chuckle. I’ve seen unicorns on the cover of prominent business magazines who now have their own LIST of unicorns. And, I’ve seen them mentioned in one LinkedIn post after another. I’ve even heard that certain Stanford alumnus have petitioned to rid the university of The Stanford Tree in place of The Stanford Unicorn. It’s cute, right?

Then, this week, I saw a great article from another local Phoenix entrepreneur about the forgotten, but reliable workhorse. It got me thinking. Doesn’t the world have enough workhorses? Shouldn’t we want to be unicorns?

Listen, last year I was lucky enough to spend some time in San Francisco while launching Allbound. And while many of us “outside” the valley imagine it as a green, lush breeding ground of unicorns, the truth is that the most encouraging and satisfying element of that ecosystem for most isn’t the “unicorns,” but rather the (literally) thousands of entrepreneurs and startups willing to make tremendous sacrifices just to try to change their own little piece of the world.

In every coffee shop. At every corner of the city. People were innovating and trying to hack their way to success one line of code and one new customer at a time. The term “unicorn” for them wasn’t a fairytale land of gold and riches, but a tireless goal that these entrepreneurs were willing to lay everything on the line for.

Not a myth. A dream.

And investors? From big guys like Kleiner Perkins, Menlo, Bain, and Battery to smaller funds like Acceleprise and Rothenberg, they’re not out there looking for unicorns. They simply want real, measurable KPIs. Wouldn’t you want the same if millions of your dollars were on the line? And the beauty of SaaS business models is that they’re pretty easy to measure and analyze once they start to scale.

Listen, entrepreneurs want funding. And I’ve typically been one to believe that the folks startups are trying to pry money from have every right to expect greatness. No startup (actually, no business of any kind) is guaranteed to succeed. In fact, most fail. But conservatism kills, so bet big. I love what David Cummings wrote last week — forget unicorns, what investors are really looking at are “empire builders vs. lifestyle builders.” And there’s no right answer.

As for unicorns? Well, they make for better PR, better watercooler talk, and much better magzine covers. So it’s no surprise that they’re the ones we’re all reading and talking about. But sometimes these days it almost seems like we’re wishing failure on the hands that feed us. The last time I looked, Arizona was opening our gates to one unicorn after another, inviting them to turn our workforce into their workhorse … if by workhorse you mean “back office.”

Me? Well, call me whatever you want. But, I want to own this industry. And if unicorns dream about eating their competitors for lunch? Well, stick a horn on me. Just don’t give me two for saying so.

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