What Can You Learn From Business Unicorns?

Small Business

I was at a workshop recently and the presenter talked about the dangers of trying to emulate what he called a Unicorn business. He was referring to businesses like Facebook, Apple, Uber, Google and Twitter. 

These businesses are all global phenomenon’s that benefited from a confluence of right time, right place, right people to pull it together and the technology to make it all happen. His message was that these businesses are so rare and beyond the reach of the average business owner that there is little that can be learned from them. He argued that even the people involved in those companies can’t articulate in a useful or instructive way about why they became so successful.

While I don’t think it’s worth the average small business owner trying to imitate these businesses and expecting that kind of world domination, there are 3 key lessons that can be drawn from how they operate.

  1. Customers Power Your Business

One thing that a business of any size can learn from the rise of these corporate supernovas is the way customers, and what they want, are woven into the way they operate. They are responsive to and rely on, customers having a voice. This effectively makes them businesses by the people and for the people.

Take Uber for example. The taxi industry has poured a lot of resources into fighting the existence of Uber but it hasn’t stopped supply or demand, the two fundamental tenets of economics and business.

People want a more flexible way to move around and they want it at a lower price. Car owners want to be able to earn income from their asset and their time when it suits them. Uber provides that choice.

The taxi industry has expended a lot of energy complaining about how the rules are unfair and seemingly little energy trying to be more responsive to what their customers want. They want to be able to keep doing what they’ve always done and make money. They don’t want to acknowledge the rights of customers to change how they get around.

  1. Different Can Be Remarkable

Being different for the sake of standing out from your competitors can be risky if that’s the only reason for doing it. However, if you change the way that you operate because you believe that it will provide a better customer experience then that can be a powerful driver for your business.

Apple has changed the concept of how a retail store works. They have turned shopping for a tech tool or gadget into an experience that, supports learning through their workshops and knowledgeable sales staff.

They encourage touching and using the different devices in a setting akin to an art gallery.  There are no glass cabinets that require a sales assistant to unlock. Everything is on display and switched on ready to play with.

This is because Apple understands that customers want to get hands on and experience for themselves the differences between devices.

  1. Know What You’re Really Selling

Many businesses focus on their product or service without thinking about what problem they are solving for their target market.

Facebook helps people connect, no matter where they are physically located. This has proven to be very popular and sticky with around 1.7 billion active users in the second quarter of 2016.

But what Facebook makes money from, and what they’re really selling, is access to those users. As Facebook owns WhatsApp and Instagram, as well as Messenger, they now have extensive insights into their audience’s likes, dislikes and preferences.

Through their advertising products, they provide the ability to get in front of an incredibly nuanced database that can be filtered and sifted for the exact audience a business or individual wants to reach.

By being clear about what they are selling, the focus stays on what key actions will make their offer more appealing and enhance it further. For example, in order to continue to be attractive for advertisers, they need to keep their users active by taking feedback and improving their service. They also encourage users to complete their profiles because the more information they have, the better advertisers can target their offering and the better results they are likely to get from their ads.

The other key action they do is offer a way to link access to other sites via a Facebook login. This makes it easier for the user as they don’t have to remember yet another password. For Facebook it provides more data about other online activities, providing a complete picture of their audience.

Your business may not have potential to become a global unicorn business but you can think like a unicorn and make your business remarkable in your own industry by paying attention to your customers, standing out from your competition and understanding what you’re really selling.