Five “Unicorn” Startups and What They Can Teach Us

Private companies valued at $1 billion or more are affectionately referred to as “unicorns”. Although these types of ventures are typically rare, last year there were a multitude of noteworthy startups that established themselves as household names. This upward surge of new business is not expected to slow down any time soon. This new generation of disruptive technology is pioneering a new era of innovation and inter-connectivity. Below is a list of some of the most famous unicorn startups and the lessons they can teach us:

  1. Uber

The massive success of Uber can indicate a couple of things: the primary lesson here is that the future is online. Uber has embraced the idea that the technology industry is only going to grow and become more integrated in our daily lives. Therefore, all transactions, messages, mileage tracking, etc. is conducted via smartphone. The other key trick we can learn from this company is to find genuine solutions to real world problems. Uber proves that companies that can provide a unique service and offer great solutions will grow more quickly.  The company analyzed some of the traditional pitfalls that people faced when riding in a taxi cab and offered a real, quantifiable alternative.

  1. Airbnb

The best piece of advice Airbnb CEO, Brian Chesky, has ever received is something every startup should keep in mind: Build something 100 people love, not something 1 million people kind of like. Why? Because when people love a product or service, they will make it go viral by singing your praises to their network of friends and family. Word-of-mouth advertising is known among marketers to be among the most effective and practical type of advertising because it’s free and organic. Airbnb has built its community by creating trust between users; they do this by encouraging frequent communication, strong reviews and detailed profiles.

  1. Snapchat

When your top competitors are social media powerhouses like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, you’re forced to think creatively about ways to differentiate yourself in the market. Evan Spiegel, Snapchat CEO, knew this way before his counterparts. When Snapchat first launched, the app was so different that most users were mystified with what it was actually supposed to do. Despite financially struggling to keep up with the competition, Spiegel continued to play the long-time; knowing he was investing in the future of his industry, he turned down a $3 billion acquisition deal with Facebook. Now, Snapchat is one of the few social media companies breaking ground on commercial augmented reality.

  1. Spotify

Spotify has user-generated marketing down to a science. The secrets to Spotify’s success are personalization and simplicity. In the original app, Spotify would deliver new music to its users via a ‘Discover’ screen. However, the problem was that the screen was several layers deep and users had little incentive to search for it. How did they solve this problem? Playlists, of course! Spotify took a concept that was universally well-known by most music-lovers and delivered new content in a format that was easy to understand. They upped the ante by adding a picture of the user’s image onto the playlist to help establish a sense of ownership, thus drawing the user in to the new product. Each week, these “Discover Weekly” playlists are updated with new music curated based off of the user’s unique music history.

  1. Tesla

According to a study conducted by Google, members of both millennials and Gen Z thought Tesla Motors was one of the “coolest” companies in the world. This should serve as a lesson that the public at large is willing to support a company that strives to significantly change the world. Tesla’s company culture is one of resilience and perseverance. In the face of great adversity, scarce resources and highly conservative investors they continued to fight for their mission with passion and vigor.  Tesla Motors teaches us one of the most important lessons of all: Never, ever give up on your vision.

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