Last year, GPB Capital joined the lofty unicorn ranks, which by definition, is a company that has achieved a valuation of at least $1 billion. The term comes from venture capitalist Aileen Lee who wanted to showcase how rare such companies are -- which explains the mythical creature reference.

Some well-known unicorns include Spotify, Uber, Lyft, Dropbox, and unsurprisingly, SpaceX, but what you don't often hear is when the unicorn tag is in reference to asset management companies or private equity firms -- many of which command hundreds of millions or billions under management and have equally as compelling stories and insights to share.

So how exactly did they get there and what exactly can help drive your next unicorn (you know... because you should have a few in your lifetime, right?)?

Chronology: going from $0 to $1 billion

How did GPB Capital transform from an idea to a billion-dollar company? To appreciate the feat, you first need to break down the chain of events -- and it all started in 2007 when founders David Gentile and Jeffry Schneider first met. 

  • In 2012, Jeffry Schneider formed Ascendant Capital. That company would later become the exclusive distribution partner of GPB Capital, which was formed in 2013 by David Gentile. Things went way uphill from there.
  • During the same year, GPB Capital launched GPB Holdings & purchased Lash Auto Group, signed the company's first broker/dealer, and launched their GPB Automotive Portfolio. 
  • In 2014, the company opened its first New York City office, successfully raising $100 million for the fund. 
  • Subsequently, in 2015, GPB Capital raised another $250 million, launching a second fund (GPB Holdings 2) and closing their first. 
  • The raises continue over the next two years, where GPB Capital brings in another $500 million in 2016. 
  • In 2017, they finally achieved unicorn status and in the same year, GPB was named on Crain's "Best Places to Work in 2017".

It only took four years for one small company to achieve success most entrepreneurs can only imagine. Where it's certainly a less mainstream path to becoming a unicorn, the feat is equally as impressive nonetheless. I caught up with David Gentile to ask what advice he would give to entrepreneurs with aspirations of building their own unicorn. Here's what he told me:

1. Maniacally focus on hiring the right people.

Gentile couldn't stress enough the importance of hiring people that are honest, hardworking, and smarter than you -- he reinforced that you need to embrace team collaboration and ensure that everyone's contribution counts.

2. Set your goals (and crush them). 

Keeping your eye on the prize is critical. You can't be discouraged by setbacks and naysayers -- the power of the team can overcome any obstacles. There isn't a single successful company that hasn't gone through times of doubt.

3. Vision is great. Crystal-clear vision is better (and necessary).

Make sure your vision is clear throughout all levels within the organization. You need to guarantee there is absolute alignment behind the vision and the individual and collective rewards for success.

4. Have integrity.

Maintaining a high degree of personal integrity and being true to yourself was very important to Gentile -- who also expressed the need to share that truth with both your team and your customers.

5. Know that the little things count, too.

Celebrate small victories and celebrate harder for the big ones. It's important to keep up morale for every win, no matter how minor they seem.

Where there's no 'easy button' to entrepreneurial success, let alone a $1 billion valuation, be sure to soak of the tips from a proven executive who has already journeyed the path. As for what's next for Gentile and the GPB Capital team, they have their eyes on $5 billion -- that's five-icorn status right there, folks. Game on.

Published on: Mar 27, 2018