How they made it: small business that became unicorns

By Esteban Pino Coviello

The big transformation of a small business into a 1 millon corporation or even in an unicorn (1 billon of revenue in no more than 10 years) It may sound random but it is not. By studying the processes that led to small double-figure capital companies with one or two people in charge becoming global giants with annual revenues greater than a million dollars, we can detect that all of them took methodical and planned steps to achieve become billionaire corporations. It’s important to note that every business journey is unique, and there is exactly no one-size-fits-all formula for success. However there are steps and patterns they applied to get so extraordinary transformation.

Disruptive Innovation, Digital transformation, Founders’ Experience, Learning from Success Stories, Identifying Growth Opportunities and good Atracction for Capital and Investors are some of the detected variables applied of unicorns for the succeed. 

Let’s explore which patterns some unicorns have applied to transform in highly profitable companies in record time. 

Here’s a list of 25 small businesses that have transformed into unicorns through digital transformation, along with a brief explanation of how they achieved their success:

  1. Grammarly: Grammarly developed an AI-powered writing assistant that helps users improve their grammar, spelling, and writing style. Its user-friendly interface and robust algorithms attracted a significant user base, leading to unicorn status.
  2. Duolingo: Duolingo disrupted the language learning market by providing a free and gamified platform for learning different languages. Its mobile app and innovative approach to language education garnered a large user base and achieved unicorn status.
  3. Patreon: Patreon created a digital platform that enables creators to receive recurring payments and support from their fans. By providing a direct connection between creators and their audience, Patreon transformed the way artists monetize their work.
  4. TransferWise (now Wise): TransferWise utilized digital technology to streamline international money transfers, offering lower fees and transparent exchange rates. Its peer-to-peer model and user-friendly platform attracted millions of users and achieved unicorn status.
  5. Glossier: Glossier disrupted the beauty industry by building an online community and leveraging user-generated content to create a direct-to-consumer cosmetics brand. By prioritizing customer engagement and social media marketing, Glossier achieved unicorn status.
  6. Farfetch: Farfetch is an online luxury fashion marketplace that connects shoppers with boutiques and luxury brands worldwide. Its digital platform and partnerships with high-end retailers allowed it to tap into the luxury market and achieve unicorn status.
  7. 23andMe: 23andMe utilized digital technology to offer direct-to-consumer DNA testing kits, enabling individuals to learn about their genetic ancestry and health traits. By leveraging personalized genomics, it gained a significant user base and achieved unicorn status.
  8. Byju’s: Byju’s transformed the education industry in India by offering online learning courses and personalized tutoring services. By providing engaging content and adaptive learning experiences, it attracted millions of students and achieved unicorn status.
  9. Houzz: Houzz created a digital platform that connects homeowners with design professionals, allowing them to find inspiration, hire contractors, and shop for home improvement products. Its comprehensive approach to home design led to unicorn status.
  10. Betterment: Betterment disrupted the investment industry by providing a digital platform that offers automated investment advisory services and portfolio management. Its user-friendly interface and algorithm-driven approach attracted a large user base and achieved unicorn status.
  11. Calm: Calm developed a meditation and sleep app that offers guided meditation sessions, relaxation techniques, and sleep stories. By leveraging the growing interest in mindfulness and wellness, Calm attracted a significant user base and achieved unicorn status.
  12. Roblox: Roblox created an online platform that allows users to create, share, and play games. Its user-generated content and immersive gaming experiences attracted a massive user base, positioning Roblox as a leading player in the gaming industry.
  13. Brex: Brex transformed business banking and credit card services by offering a digital platform tailored to startups and small businesses. By providing streamlined onboarding, expense management, and financial insights, Brex achieved unicorn status.
  14. Veeva Systems: Veeva Systems developed cloud-based software solutions specifically for the life sciences industry. By offering industry-specific features and compliance capabilities, Veeva Systems gained traction and achieved unicorn status.
  15. Bolt (formerly Taxify): Bolt disrupted the ride-hailing industry by providing an affordable and reliable platform that connects passengers with drivers. By offering competitive pricing and focusing on emerging markets, Bolt achieved unicorn status and expanded its services beyond transportation.
  16. Zomato: Zomato transformed the food delivery industry in India and expanded globally by providing a platform that connects users with restaurants for online ordering and delivery, supported by reviews and ratings.
  17. Flipkart: Flipkart started as an e-commerce platform in India, utilizing digital technology to offer a wide range of products, competitive pricing, and convenient delivery options, ultimately achieving unicorn status before being acquired by Walmart.
  18. Coupang: Coupang is a South Korean e-commerce company that disrupted the market by providing fast and reliable delivery services, supported by an extensive logistics network and a user-friendly platform.
  19. Coinbase: As a digital currency exchange platform, Coinbase facilitated the buying, selling, and storage of cryptocurrencies, leveraging the growing interest in digital assets to achieve unicorn status.
  20. Grab: Originally a ride-hailing service, Grab expanded its offerings to include food delivery, digital payments, and financial services. By offering an integrated platform, Grab gained a significant user base and achieved unicorn status.
  21. Ola: Ola transformed the transportation industry in India with its ride-hailing app, offering various services such as car rentals, bike taxis, and even electric vehicles, supported by a robust digital platform.
  22. Udemy: An online learning platform that connects educators with learners worldwide, Udemy transformed the education industry by democratizing access to knowledge. It became a unicorn by creating a vast library of courses and expanding its user base.
  23. Revolut: A digital banking platform, Revolut combined traditional banking services with innovative features such as low-cost international money transfers and cryptocurrency support. It achieved unicorn status by attracting millions of users.
  24. Deliveroo: Originally a food delivery platform, Deliveroo utilized digital technology to optimize the delivery process and quickly expand its service offerings. It achieved unicorn status by transforming the food delivery industry.
  25. Robinhood: With its user-friendly interface and commission-free trading, Robinhood disrupted the financial industry by attracting a large user base. The company achieved unicorn status by democratizing access to investing.

Common patterns and actions that small businesses made to become in unicorns:

While it’s not necessary for every small business to follow common patterns to become a unicorn, there are certain principles and strategies that have proven effective for many successful unicorns. These common patterns provide insights into the approaches that have worked well for others, but it’s important to note that every business journey is unique, and there is no one-size-fits-all formula for success. Here are a few common patterns and actions that small businesses have taken to become unicorns:

  1. Disruptive Innovation: Successful unicorns often introduce disruptive innovations that challenge traditional industries or create new markets. By identifying unmet needs, leveraging technology, and offering unique value propositions, these businesses gain a competitive advantage.
  2. User-Centric Approach: Unicorns prioritize the needs and preferences of their users or customers. They invest in understanding their target audience, delivering exceptional user experiences, and continuously iterating their products or services based on feedback.
  3. Scalable Business Models: Small businesses that become unicorns often develop scalable business models that allow them to grow rapidly. This could involve leveraging digital platforms, utilizing network effects, or creating ecosystems that attract and retain a large user base.
  4. Digital Transformation: Embracing digital transformation is crucial for small businesses aiming to become unicorns. They leverage technology to streamline processes, enhance efficiency, and create new revenue streams. This could involve adopting cloud computing, utilizing data analytics, or embracing automation.
  5. Disintermediation: Many unicorns eliminate middlemen or intermediaries in their respective industries. By leveraging digital platforms, they directly connect consumers with providers, reducing costs, improving transparency, and enhancing the overall user experience.
  6. Innovative Business Models: Unicorns often adopt innovative business models that differentiate them from their competitors. This could involve subscription-based pricing, freemium models, or creating marketplaces that bring together buyers and sellers.
  7. Strategic Partnerships and Acquisitions: Small businesses on the unicorn trajectory often establish strategic partnerships or make strategic acquisitions to expand their reach, access new markets, or enhance their offerings. Collaborations with established players or complementary startups can provide growth opportunities.
  8. Focus on Talent Acquisition: Unicorns prioritize attracting top talent and building high-performing teams. They invest in recruiting, retaining, and developing skilled professionals who align with their vision and contribute to their growth.
  9. Funding and Investment: To fuel their growth, small businesses often secure significant funding from venture capitalists, private equity firms, or strategic investors. Funding rounds provide the necessary capital to scale operations, expand into new markets, and invest in research and development.
  10. International Expansion: Unicorns frequently expand beyond their domestic markets and pursue international growth opportunities. They tailor their products or services to suit global audiences, navigate regulatory challenges, and establish a strong presence in multiple regions.

Like the cases above, these examples showcase how digital transformation, innovation, and a user-centric approach can propel small businesses to achieve unicorn status in various industries but with some same patterns or at least, fundamental actions they made to mazing transformation. It’s also important to note that while these patterns and actions can contribute to success, each unicorn’s journey is unique, and factors such as market conditions, timing, and leadership also play a significant role.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *