WHAT A UNICORN KNOWS
HOW LEADING ENTREPRENEURS USE LEAN PRINCIPLES TO DRIVE SUSTAINABLE GROWTH
What A Unicorn Knows is your company’s best guide to becoming a well-oiled, high-velocity machine for growth on its way to billion-dollar valuation.
Why do some young companies become unicorns, while others don’t?
It’s easy for scale-ups, giddy from early startup success, to get ahead of themselves and stumble. It’s even easier to be slowed down by the many forces of resistance working against them: drag, inertia, friction, and waste. Offered as a playbook for exponential growth, What A Unicorn Knows offers a field-tested approach to delivering superior customer value and reaching unicorn status by removing the potential inhibitors to organizational scale and speed.
Drawing on a mastery of lean-based methods for achieving maximum effect with minimum means, private equity operators Matthew E. May and Pablo Dominguez provide readers with a powerful framework of universally applicable principles that enable any company to effectively accelerate its ability to scale and grow. Called The Unicorn Model™ and built on five foundational principles, the authors deliver a compelling narrative of stories and experiences in an easy-to-remember mnemonic, S.C.A.L.E.:
Esprit de corps
Drawn from the authors’ successful track record in using S.C.A.L.E. with a wide variety of unicorn-level companies, What A Unicorn Knows offers a necessary guide for rapid but lasting growth. As more companies than ever vie for unicorn status, competitive edge will depend on learning from the best. The Unicorn Model™ promises to keep your company speeding toward lasting marketplace success.
Featuring Top Tech Leaders
The Unicorn Model™
Like any object moving at high velocity, a company in the ScaleUp phase of maturity faces opposing forces that must be overcome to achieve the speed and agility required to succeed. Four primary forces work against any object in motion, including fast-growing, rapidly-scaling companies:
In the realm of science, drag is the resistance of air against a moving object. In the business context, it manifests itself at the strategic level and can result in adverse indicators such as sluggish market moves, inability to change direction with agility and misalignment of strategies and objectives.
Scientifically speaking, inertia is the resistance to any change in the current state of motion. Corporate inertia is often responsible for waning product performance and competitiveness, feature fatigue and poor innovation pipeline throughput.
Friction occurs when moving parts rub against each other, and in business it is a common cause of slow adoption speed, poor customer experience, retention/ renewal difficulty and undelivered customer outcomes.
It is ineffective work more than inefficient work that produces most waste in organizations. Ineffectiveness comes from performing unnecessary work, which restricts value flow.
The Unicorn Model™ responds to these restraining forces.
The original back-of-the-napkin sketch looked like this:
The 5 Principles
Strategic speed is defined as the optimal speed for strategy design, deployment, and decision making. It is possible to reduce drag and achieve optimal speed with less effort with the organizational equivalent of drafting. Professional cyclists, racecar drivers and migrating birds know, and studies show, that speed is dramatically improved while saving over 25 per cent in energy costs by drafting. The faster you go, the more energy you save. It’s a virtuous cycle.
It goes without saying that continuous product innovation has become a survival need and competitive must. It’s simply ante to the game, yet founders and senior leaders tend to forget the very thing that brought them early success. Without constant experimentation driving the innovation flywheel, corporate inertia will set in. The goal is to make simple, fast and frugal experimentation the operating norm before ‘big-company syndrome’ sets in.
Enabling customers to obtain frictionless value quickly promotes product adoption and positively impacts community spread, customer retention, and revenue expansion. Identifying target areas to accelerate value begins with mapping out specific jobs-to-be-done by plotting customer objectives and desired outcomes against your internal processes and noting key improvement opportunities to close any gaps.
Lean process is focused on workflow optimization by eradicating waste, and involves the 80+ year-old methodology of continuous improvement, developed in the United States during World War II and transferred during its post-war rebuild of Japan. who termed the method kaizen, meaning “change for good.” Lean kaizen sprints are a central performance improvement mechanism in the Unicorn Model™.
Esprit de Corps
French for ‘group spirit,’ esprit de corps figures centrally in military and paramilitary organizations, which are notorious for being results oriented.
It takes a team, and a special breed of leader—what the authors call “Glue & Grease”—of and within that team, to create the kind of environment enabling the first four operating principles to come to life.
A cursory glance at each of the individual principles in the Unicorn Model™ and S.C.A.L.E. framework might lead one to ask whether there is anything new here. What is unique is the lean interpretation of the principle: well-worn terms like strategy and value and experimentation take on new meanings when viewed through the lens of lean. The synergy created from integrating any one of the individual principles with the other four and using the collective model to scale efficiently and achieve sustainable growth by leveraging a lean mindset is unique.
Like any set of traits purporting to describe the differentiating attributes of star players—athletes, artists, unicorns—one does not need all of them in equal measure, nor can having all of them guarantee ultimate success. But some degree of each trait tailored to your specific situation can certainly help your odds.
Just how to find the right mix is what a unicorn knows.
MATTHEW E. MAY &
Matthew May and Pablo Dominguez have been working together for over a decade to optimize performance of fast-growing technology companies. They lead, respectively, the Lean ScaleUp program and Sales & Customer Success Center of Excellence for the Onsite go-to-market advisory unit of Insight Partners, a leading global venture capital and private equity firm investing in high-growth technology and software ScaleUp companies that are driving transformative change in their industries.
Matthew is the author of five previous books, including bestselling and award-winning titles The Elegant Solution, In Pursuit of Elegance, The Laws of Subtraction, and Winning the Brain Game. His background spans over 30 years of experience facilitating senior leadership teams through strategy, innovation, and lean initiatives.
Matt’s perspective is heavily influenced by spending nearly a decade with Toyota. His work has been published high-profile publications such as The New York Times, Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, Inc., and The Rotman Management Magazine.
A graduate of The Wharton School and Johns Hopkins University, Matt is an avid cyclist and published songwriter, but considers winning The New Yorker cartoon caption contest one of his greatest creative achievements.
Pablo is Operating Partner at Insight, where he partners with a deep set of portfolio of companies to build and scale effective commercial teams through the application of proven and repeatable go-to-market and operational best practices. He brings over 23 years of global sales operations experience, including senior leadership roles at ADP, AppNexus, Avaya, and The Alexander Group.
A graduate of NYU’s Stern School of Business and the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas, he enjoys skiing, mountain biking, chess, grilling/smoking BBQ, playing tennis with his wife, and watching movies with his kids.
Above all else, Pablo is a die-hard Texas Longhorn fan. This is his first book.