How to Kill A Unicorn

Startup vs smb

Billion dollar companies can die and startups often wield the knife. We’ve seen it happen in recent times with Netflix taking out Blockbuster. Tinder have annihilated not just, but also Zoosk and OKCupid in the US. Uber is killing the traditional taxi business in cities around the world. The corpses of magical creatures are piling up faster than eulogies in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. So you have a startup and want to murder a big boy? Lets look at how to do it.

The enemies weakness

Sir Jony of Apple sums up his approach to innovation like this; “If something is going to be better, it is new, and if it’s new you are confronting problems and challenges you don’t have references for. To solve and address those requires a remarkable focus. There’s a sense of being inquisitive and optimistic, and you don’t see those in combination very often.”

He’s spot on here – big companies spend money on consultants to get some blue sky thinking. This is always good fun – as a manager you get to play with the new ideas and concepts. If you have a big company job, this is as near to fun as you will ever get. And then nothing happens. Ever. Nothing.

Why? Because big company leaders are generally unable to be optimistic or inquisitive, and they are never in the market of taking a risk. This is not their fault – they are highly paid punch bags with a myriad of different stakeholders telling them what they are doing wrong. Safest to keep your head down with a sensible strategy that produces the least amount of agro. I feel sorry for them.

But this lack of inquisitiveness and optimism is their fatal weak spot where you, young startup assassin, will strike.

Optimism & play

One of my little gags when speaking at conferences is to ask the crowd to put their hands up if they have tried VR. A year ago this number was quite low. I then ask them to keep their hands up if they have got one in their office. Almost all then drop their hands. I then say ‘shame on you’ and point out you could get hold of a Oculus dev version for £250. At JE we loved new tech, any excuse to bust out that credit card and buy some toys. I once even tried to buy a 3D food printer called the Foodini.

VR might have very little application to an app that delivers food but it was important to play and think about the implications. Playing with early smartwatches gave our product team a good sense of what would work once the iWatch launched.

This playful and inquisitive culture also then came through in our marketing. “How about we try and ban cooking?” Can you imagine the big billion dollar competitor, Domino’s, doing something so naughty? Of course we didn’t kill Domino’s, they do an excellent job of what they do, but we were able to overtake them as the leading brand in delivered takeaway food with a fraction of their media budget.

As a startup you can be inquisitive and try to imagine totally new experiences without worrying about how you transition the existing model. Blockbuster did eventually try streaming but it was too late – Netflix, unencumbered by 6000 domestic stores, took the shot and it killed them.

Observe how tech changes user behaviors

Smartphones, combined with fast internet, have changed user behaviour. Need a private driver and a cheap rate? Press one button on Uber and one appears within 5 minutes. And if it is more than 5 minutes you get grumpy. Out having a good time and miss the last train back to the shire? Open Hotels Tonight and find a great room to crash in at a good price.

These services offer great value AND instant gratification. I used to compromise on the delivery time in exchange for value – order a TV from a cheap online retailer and didn’t mind waiting 2 weeks. But now I expect great value and delivery by tomorrow at the latest.

In his latest book A Beautiful Constraint, author Adam Morgan refers to the modern consumer as Uber’s children. Today’s consumers have become conditioned to fantastic service at the touch of one button. Simplicity and focus.

At Rock Pamper Scissors we think it’s weird that we have to call London salons using our voices and then fit an appointment around the stylist’s schedule in next week. Why can’t we press one button, see which hairdresser can do our particular type of hair and see what their availability for today is?

Making a murderer

So to take out an existing player and build your own horned horse you can try these exercises:

  • Think about what is frustrating you that could be done better.
  • Bought a house recently? Dealing with solicitors when buying a house is SO tedious. They actually have to send letters and contracts to each other in the actual real life post. Who has the patience for that?

  • Think about traditional businesses with low innovation.
  • My bank is rubbish online – to manage my account I have a tedious web log-in and am then greeted by UX that looks like it was last updated in 1997. Where’s the cool app already?

  • Think of a better way and be optimistic about making it work.
  • Who would have thought thermostats for central heating needed disruption. But along came Nest. That took some belief and optimism.

So there you have. Open your minds, be inquisitive and optimistic and think of new ways to tackle old problems and have a crack at it. I am aware that I am misusing the word Unicorn in this article, but let’s be honest – it made for a great headline.

Happy Unicorn hunting!

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