By Emily Bauer
Every startup founder dreams of becoming the next unicorn. But what separates the dreamers from the achievers? What does it really take to reach a $1 billion valuation?
Unfortunately, there’s no shortcut or magic formula for creating a $1 billion startup pipeline. There are, however, unicorn founders you can look to for inspiration and advice on how to grow your own business. Whether you’re a founder, sales rep, or growth hacker, building a $1 billion startup pipeline is a lofty goal. The best way to learn about the keys to unlock unicorn-level growth is to go straight to the source. Study what others have done to achieve crazy growth.
We’ve gathered tips and advice from founders who launched 12 of the world’s most successful startups. These growth secrets offer valuable lessons that you can leverage to boost your business into potential unicorn territory.
1. Don’t pitch investors until you have a business worth funding
It takes more than a killer pitch to woo investors. That’s why Adi Tatarko, CEO of home design website Houzz, says bootstrapping was “one of the smartest decisions” her company made on its path to reaching unicorn status.
Sure, having investors backing your startup can help fuel your growth by funding new hires, and give you access to a network of mentors and other entrepreneurs. However, going to investors too early can be shooting yourself in the foot.
“Go to investors with a real product with traction, instead of a deck,” Tatarko advises. “If you spend the first six months to a year building a great product or service rather than chasing investors and redoing PowerPoints, you’ll be surprised how the dynamic with investors will change.”
Tatarko and her husband Alon Cohen launched Houzz in 2009 after struggling to find remodeling ideas for their home. They didn’t go to investors until they’d already developed “a proven concept with an engaged community and knew how to execute.”
Today, Houzz gets 40 million unique visitors every month, including homeowners from 15 different countries.
2. It’s OK to keep your day job as long as necessary
Not everyone can afford to quit a salaried job to become an entrepreneur–but that’s not an excuse to give up on your dreams.
There’s something a lot of people don’t understand about building a startup: You don’t HAVE to quit your day job to lay the foundation of a successful company. Especially if your job is paying the bills and funding your venture. As a general rule, you should aim to bootstrap first and raise later–if at all.
Take Girish Navani, CEO of eClinicalWorks, for example. Now the CEO of a billion-dollar startup, he bootstrapped his company for two whole years before leaving his day job. Because he held down a full-time job in addition to building his product, he was able to buy himself enough time to thoroughly develop, test, and validate his product and customer base.
His patience and perseverance paid off. Now Navani’s startup brings in $300 million in revenue–and it’s all privately owned, with no plans for seeking investment or going for an IPO.