I never liked the term Unicorn. It never made sense to me to aspire to something mythical and therefore of theoretical value.
I’ve written before about the risks associated with trying to make unicorns and the fact that entrepreneurs are the ones who bare the burden of the risks associated with a go big or stay home company building philosophy. Unfortunately, over the past several years, tech-entrepreneurship seemed to become synonymous with making unicorns. If you weren’t working toward a billion dollar valuation in short order, you were wasting your time and the time of all of the investors to whom you were pitching your business plan.
For entrepreneurs who – for the past five years – have been enamored to achieve unicorn status, it may be time to leave the horn envy behind. The Great Reset is on and tech CEO’s need to adapt their value creation philosophy to the constraints of the current financing markets.
Perhaps it is time for us to re-imagine our role model. Several of the doom and gloom articles I’ve read have proposed the cockroach as the new role model for tech-entrepreneurs. Having reflected on this a bit, going from unicorns to cockroaches feels like a bit of an over-steer to me. I understand there is a survivalist instinct triggered by the kind of valuation correction the markets are experiencing. But cockroaches are disgusting and while they are certainly master survivalists having been around for 340 million years, they aren’t a particularly appealing role-model with which to affiliate.
I also don’t think that the Great Reset is an “end of times” scale event. The Great Reset is more a calling back to fundamentals than a mass extinction.
A less extreme change in role model is called for.
Out with the Unicorns.
In with the Workhorses.
I like the workhorse as a role-model that is appropriate for the current state of the private financing markets. Workhorses are smart, tough, sturdy, dependable, docile and patient. They are strong, even in the presence of a storm. Workhorses are durable and adaptable. Oh, and workhorses aren’t mythical.
Think of the workhorse as an evolved unicorn. The unicorn is of mythical value. The horn was useless and the magic isn’t real. Workhorses are are evolved in that they are producers of fundamental value. They do real work and solve real problems.
Don’t mistake me for suggesting that the companies that have been anointed with unicorn status aren’t of value. Quite the contrary, I think that most of the “unicorns” are actually workhorses in disguise and most are phenomenally valuable. It is the mythology surrounding the unicorn craze and the resulting disconnect between valuation and fundamental value that has been the problem, not the unicorns themselves.
Unicorn mythology has warped investor sentiment and entrepreneur behavior and expectations in unproductive ways causing all to take the collective eye off the real task at hand – building fiscally disciplined businesses with sound unit economics that are of fundamental value.
Shed the horn-envy; turn your unicorn wannabe into a workhorse.