Lessons to learn from Billion Dollar Startups and Unicorns

Lessons to learn from Billion Dollar Startups and Unicorns

By Geoff De Weaver, CEO + Founder Geoff De Weaver Inc www.geoffdeweaver.com or Twitter: https://twitter.com/geoff_deweaver 


Here are some of the key lessons I have learned from watching startups and rapidly accelerating global digital brands and companies such as: Snapchat, Uber, Didi Chuxing, WeWork, Facebook, Netflix, Instagram, Alibaba, etc. These lessons have become the ‘secret sauce’ for nearly every billion dollar Startup and Unicorns over the last decade.


Although, halfway through this year we have witnessed venture capital funding activity decline after a buoyant 2014/5. However, in Q1/2016 VC-backed companies still raised USD $25.5 Billion with over 1829 global deals. In particular, I have seen the acceleration of global trade and growth primarily based on the push for globalization over the last decade. This has come about thanks to Internet and Mobile technologies which have vastly improved the communications across many countries and continents.


Importantly, with the Brexit referendum in June, the UK caused many investors to hold back from making significant investments for the next twelve months. The upcoming US presidential and Congressional elections, with the potential increase in US interest rates, has further added to investor caution, then there’s the looming economic slowdown in China which has also caused many potential investors to ‘hit the pause button’!

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So here are some startup growth tips that might just help you reach that $1 billion plus valuation:


  1. Expand Globally – Fast and Immediately (as we used to say in the ‘dot-com’ days, it’s a ‘land grab’.


  1. First Movers/First 2 Market – You can gain an ‘unfair advantage’ if you are highly focused and move swiftly. Being the first to market dramatically allows you to increase your presence and create brand awareness. Check out Uber for best practice.


  1. Reduce and Minimize Your Infrastructure Requirements – Try to ‘piggy-back’ on existing infrastructure, systems and platforms. This allows you to not only accelerate your growth but to rapidly reduce your cost to go to market. Bottom-line, Unicorns own the relationships NOT the costs.


  1. Build a Sales and Marketing machine that runs 24/7/365 – Importantly this ‘machine’ must be able to sell directly to consumers as well as larger enterprises. Such a ‘machine’ requires a highly effective and trained sales force so that they can close both ‘consumer and corporate deals’ efficiently as well as effectively.


  1. TEST, TEST, TEST -Today’s best companies consistently, test their lists/databases, media, offers, creative and timings. It is also important to note that one of the most critical areas for success today, which can account for up to 50%, is in using and refining the best databases/lists and media. Importantly, always ‘rinse’ and repeat. Just look at companies like: AirBNB, PayPal, Amazon, because they excel at beating the ‘control’ in A/B Testing.


  1. Start with the PURPOSE – By this I mean, the startups that have quickly become one billion plus companies, all began by solving a simple and recognizable problem or a matter that affects or matters to you. Quite often, these Startups and Unicorns begin with seeking the answer to a simple question, i.e. Is this something that can change the world? Or, what excites me enough to dedicate my life too? Elon Musk was once famously quoted as saying, “I just thought in order to make a difference, something needed to be done. I wanted to have an impact.”


  1. Think Long Term Thinking and Customer Lifetime Value or CLV – This is a prediction of all the value a brand/business will derive from their entire relationship with a customer. CLV helps you make important business decisions regarding sales, marketing, product development, and customer support.

For example:

Marketing: How much should I spend to acquire a client or customer? Etc.

Product: How can I offer products and services tailored for my best clients or customers?

Sales: What types of clients or customers should sales reps spend the most time on trying to acquire?

Customer Support: How much should I spend to service and retain a client or customer?

And remember all aspects of the above need ongoing thinking too!


  1. Optimistic Thinking – All great startups want to get better organized globally and move much faster.


  1. Risk Mitigation – Richard Branson said it best when he famously stated, “But, one of the most important phrases of my life is Protect the Downside”


  • Great Founders and Leaders view life with Abundance NOT Scarcity plus, they also demonstrate gratitude and confidence.
  • ‘Blue Ocean’ strategies win. This means, creating uncontested markets to serve, making the competition irrelevant, creating and capturing new demand, pursuing differentiation and lower costs, etc.
  • Create magical customer experiences and connections – More than any other time in history, customers must hold the reins. So remember to meet their needs in driving major decisions and product development.


In today’s global marketplace, leaders that best anticipate the future and understand the ‘power of pull’. They are also inspirational and purpose driven. They seem to naturally inspire a community to form around them. PLUS, they have embraced the mobile mind shift to serve customers in their moments of need e.g. Mobile First Mindset.


In fact, 43% of Millennials (consumers up to 35 years) are twice as mobile dominant as older customers. Marketers MUST assume that their smartphones never leave their side, and cater to Millennials through mobile-first experiences.


Finally, today’s most successful startups and leaders also have deep insights into customer-centric data and metrics and, have become more app-centric, software driven business. They are also exceptional at Innovation, Customer Experience and Marketing. (Unlike the traditional, older school pre-digital Fortune 500 companies)

Stay passionate!



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