Posted In Entrepreneurship

Death to Unicorns


The entrepreneurial ecosystem is filled to the brim with magical thinking. News and PR cycles contain a stream of incredible stories of exits, funding rounds, and multi-million home runs of various types.

We call the startups that achieve a valuation of at least a billion dollars a Unicorn without a hint of irony. ITEN, an organization here in Saint Louis has a "million dollar club" of startups that have raised at least a million dollars.

Taken alone, these things are mostly harmless. The inevitable exaggeration that almost anyone is prone to. Taken together however, these things paint a picture of incredible success and they're incredibly harmful to budding entrepreneurs.

Why? It's simple math. Most new companies are not highly successful. It takes a massive amount of learning to be effective in any business, and most people don't have this education when they begin. They acquire it by doing, failing (and sometimes succeeding) and then trying again. It's a process of iteratively experimenting and building on the failure or success of past businesses.

The picture painted by this though doesn't show the reality of being an entrepreneur. It doesn't show the process of failure and success. It only shows the outcome of what is often a decade or more of continuous refinement.

The question for most entrepreneurs won't be "How can I change the world?", or "How can I make a billion dollars?", or even "How can I make a million dollars?". Instead it will be more like "How can I make $500 more this month, and then build on that to make more?".

Trying to be a Unicorn will probably not help your life. After all, they're mythical creatures, and even then it might not help you succeed at the end of the day. Instead, be a Honey Badger. Small, resourceful, scrappy, and resilient.

Ultimately, the one most changed in any business is the entrepreneur themselves. Make that extra hundred dollars a month, and build bit by bit. Going from making $60,000 a year to making $150,000 a year is going to make a far bigger difference in your life than going from $150,000 to $1,000,000.

Change yourself and your life first, then worry about changing the world. Until then, death to unicorns.

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