The very name given to billion-dollar startups--unicorns--suggests there is something magical about these companies. But even if we call them after a storybook creature, it's important to remember that every single one was founded by flesh-and-blood men and women, not some mythical race of super-entrepreneurs.
Unicorn CEOs face the same challenges as everyone else. And they don't solve them with pixie dust or hocus-pocus. So how did these super successful founders manage to do extraordinary things with the same ordinary tools we all have at our disposal?
On Medium recently, entrepreneur (and Inc.com columnist) John Rampton did his fellow founders a favor. Having combed old articles and speeches to find the habits unicorn CEOs used to create standout companies, he presented a whopping 25.
Some would be hard for other aspiring unicorn builders to apply (unlike Lending Club founder Renaud Laplanche, you probably can't get away with only sleeping five hours a night, for example), while others were more inspirational than immediately actionable. ("Fight injustice wherever it may be," suggests Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. Thanks for that, bud.) But several were both practical enough for any entrepreneur to consider stealing and unconventional enough that you probably haven't heard them a million times before.
1. Keep a diary.
This idea comes from Twitter and Square co-founder Jack Dorsey. "Find a simple way to track your progress," Rampton quotes Dorsey as saying. Why? "You really get to see how you have grown, how your business has grown, and how your own leadership has grown."
Dorsey might be one of the most high-profile entrepreneurs to advocate for keeping a diary (Oprah is another fan of journaling), but he's hardly alone in recommending the practice. Several lesser-known entrepreneurs claim writing out their thoughts longhand has helped focus their thinking, while other writers and experts also suggest keeping a work journal.
2. Use the Rasci model for meetings.
Like pretty much all of us, Yelp co-founder Jeremy Stoppelman dreads time-wasting meetings. His solution? The Rasci model. "The goal is to run meetings more efficiently," Stoppelman has said, "without the meeting overload you sometimes find at other companies, where people habitually go to meetings as a way to prove their relevance and consume their workdays."
3. Ditch your schedule.
This controversial idea comes from Tumblr founder David Karp: "I'm very antischedule. Except for board meetings, I don't really schedule things or keep a calendar. I think appointments are caustic to creativity. It's so frustrating when you're in the middle of a great conversation or work groove, and you realize, 'Oh, I've got an appointment. I've got to bolt.'" Karp also refuses to have an assistant.
4. Eliminate status symbols.
Another iconoclastic idea, this time from Evernote founder and CEO Phil Libin. Rampton quotes an interview Libin gave to The New York Times:
"We have a flat and very open structure. Nobody has an office. In fact, there are no perks that are signs of seniority. Obviously, there are differences in compensation, but there are no status symbols. You certainly don't get a better seat or any of that kind of stuff, because they're just unnecessary. They create artificial barriers to communication. They create artificial things that people focus on rather than just getting their job accomplished. We try to have an organization that just helps you get your work done, and then it's my job to eliminate all of the risks and all the distractions so you can just focus on achieving. That attracts people who are primarily motivated by how much they achieve."
5. Avoid publicity.
If you're doing well, at least. Rampton reports the surprise advice of Zulily co-founder Mark Vadon. He told GeekWire Summit: "In a startup, if things are going well, you want to be really quiet. When you are drilling and you hit an oil patch, the last thing you want is people coming and drilling right next to you."