I, Unicorn

I have spectacular new technology. Should I become a unicorn?

First, I should figure out what becoming a “unicorn” involves. To the VCs, a unicorn refers to any tech startup company that reaches a $1 billion dollar market value. To become one apparently means spending $1.27 for each $1.00 in revenue, the path that unicorn Workday took. This trend isn’t isolated to Workday, and it isn’t new. To become a unicorn apparently means you get to spend a small fortune marketing your product in search of the magic revenue hockey stick your angel investor, venture capitalist, and/or investment bankers seek. As long as business looks good (and by business, I don’t mean the traditional definitions like profitability or cash flow), your masters can (and will) flip your company to the new ownership after a brief and frenetic run.

Noting that the presentation of unicorns is as real as the face of a model on a magazine cover, software entrepreneur D H Hansson (creator of Ruby on Rails) instead tried to start something useful. His vision is of a software company that serves customers instead of capturing them, strives to compete in the marketplace instead of dominating it, and has a vision to put a dent in the universe instead of trying to own the whole thing (though he expresses himself with a bit more colorful language). So he built some cool technology and created a startup technology firm – one with the kind of staying power that comes from loyal customers, reasonable profits, and positive cash flow.

After reading Mr. Hannson’s take, I took a long look into the mirror to see whether I thought HarrisData should become a unicorn. We’ve got a new product line in AppsinHD™ that meets all of the criteria for the kind of disruptive technology that fuels the ambitions of unicorns. A few million (or billion) in advertising funding and we’d be buying our way up the revenue hockey stick. But, unlike other startups, we’ve been serving our customers for over 40 years, and already understand the value of long term relationships with customers, partners, and employees. We owe it to them to not squander the opportunity on short-term lottery that is the current state of startup funding.

Thankfully, my reflection showed no horn growing from the center of my forehead.

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