Leadership lessons from unicorn companies for any business

As of November 2021, there are more than 800 unicorns worldwide, that’s, startups with a valuation of greater than $1 billion. However, many of those unicorns usually are not worthwhile. A Crunchbase analysis in early 2021 confirmed a big share of essentially the most extremely valued unicorns that went public within the latter half of 2020 have been posting losses in extra of $100 million.

For a while, non-public traders and Wall Road have been betting on unprofitable startups who spend closely on progress to scale (i.e. progress in any respect prices!) In case you’ve been paying consideration although, you’re possible seeing a significant shift again to traders prioritizing rising quick on the highest line whereas remaining capital environment friendly.

A technique gaining in recognition to attain accountable scale is product-led progress (PLG)—assume Slack, Calendly, Expensify, and Dropbox—companies which have shifted energy from the client to the end-user. If you wish to rise to satisfy the calls for of in the present day’s market whereas rising sustainably, PLG is the key. Right here’s how.


The important thing to long-term profitability

Minimizing the period of time between creating a product and offering it to clients whereas maximizing the variety of clients that are available in contact with the product permits for quick and sustainable progress. When merchandise resolve an actual drawback for end-users, freemiums can result in SaaS progress with an average of 7% free to paid conversion rate. Zoom, a pacesetter in video conferencing, is a family identify in the present day. However it began small, launching in a crowded house with larger names like Cisco Webex and GoToMeeting. It did this by centering on buyer wants and providing its key options for free. In distinction, its competitors took a top-down strategy promoting to the enterprise, requiring finances approvals, with a scarcity of give attention to its customers. 

Are you able to consider a time when a product solved an actual drawback in your day-to-day life? Possibly it was if you first used Slack as a substitute of sending 4 emails backwards and forwards, then you definately informed your coworker about it, then they informed another person. That picks up grassroots momentum till your group realizes its mission-critical for its workforce and purchases it enterprise-wide. That is the center of a PLG strategy: a go-to-market mannequin that rapidly locations a world-class product within the fingers of an end-user.

From an investor standpoint, rising the dimensions of an organization’s complete addressable market is the last word objective. How will you make your organization’s buyer base bigger for unicorn-sized progress? It’s easy: a maniacal product focus that understands and optimizes for the consumer. This grew to become much more common in 2020 throughout COVID-19 lockdowns, as companies started introducing product-led techniques like free merchandise or free trials. That hasn’t gone away in 2021, with 49% of high-growth SaaS companies nonetheless having a free providing, unchanged from final 12 months.

Construct the tradition and imaginative and prescient

If step one to constructing a business that’s value a billion {dollars} is creating a product that solves a significant drawback for the shopper, step two is telling the world. To try this, you want individuals who will advance the mission. As an organization scales, articulating the corporate tradition and imaginative and prescient turns into extra essential. When different folks start hiring as a substitute of founders, the muse of the corporate can get misplaced. Keep away from this by hiring with intentionality round core firm values. Your crew members ought to all know and have the ability to listing the corporate values at any second, and perceive how these values give the corporate a powerful path for progress.

The crew—from workers to traders—must also have the ability to communicate fluently concerning the product and have the abilities to assist the corporate’s future progress. Our current report discovered 34% more SaaS companies are utilizing PLG fashions in 2021 in comparison with 2020. In consequence, there are near 1,000 job openings citing product-led growth expertise. Discovering individuals who have expertise in areas you want might be exhausting, however it is very important proceed broadening the best way you consider the product and take the corporate to the subsequent part of unicorn progress.

Hearken to the shopper

Probably the most profitable, high-growth companies take heed to their clients and worth their opinions. Prioritizing buyer relationships begins by constructing and launching merchandise that resolve their issues; but additionally consists of continued listening. Having the belief and loyalty of your clients continues to learn a company because it grows. Take Calendly, an organization that began fixing the scheduling drawback for people. Because it discovered what labored and higher understood their particular person customers’ wants, they have been capable of broaden into crew scheduling – retaining blissful clients whereas offering large progress alternatives alongside the best way.


In a PLG mannequin, customers are near the merchandise, and that helps dictate firm course. Some folks interpret the “p” in PLG to imply that the product group is in cost. In actuality, it signifies that the shopper is in cost.

Solely 0.0006 percent of all companies will turn into unicorns, and it takes a median of seven years to get there (it’s not simple!) Many companies intention for this distinction however it must be a byproduct, not a objective.

In a current SaaStr panel, I interviewed unicorn CEOs from Contentful, Algolia, and Calendly who spoke about this subject. When requested concerning the high traits of unicorn companies, the solutions centered on issues you may management as a founder—disrupting a market, obsessing over your clients, increasing the dimensions of your complete addressable market—and having a powerful perception it’s going to pay out over a protracted time frame.

By methods like PLG, high-growth companies can put their clients first to develop rapidly and profitably and attain the excellence many attempt for however few obtain.