Unicorn Musings: 5 Ideas For More Billion Dollar Companies
I recently shared a bold but achievable goal for Atlanta: 10 companies with a billion+ dollar valuation, founded by women, in the next 10 years.
Sara Blakely, Kathryn Petralia, and Lynne Laube blazed the trail and built big ass companies here.
Capital and access are a key part of creating more unicorns. We have some great programs in Atlanta helping to bridge the gap for women and underrepresented founders: Launchpad2X, WEI Atlanta, It Takes a Village, Golden Seeds, Jump Fund, Goodie Nation, Startup Runway, Zane Access, and Main Street Seed Fund to name a few.
Atlanta is currently on record with 12 unicorns. (None founded by women.) This success came from incredible hard work and lots of investment, financial and psychological, from leaders and mentors.
Many seeds have been planted in the past few years and they will bloom into unicorns this decade.
Look at the progress already happening! The number of female-founded unicorns jumped from 18 to 83 in the past year. (An increase from 11% of all unicorns to 14% of all unicorns.)
What else is within our control or actionable to increase the number of women-led unicorns?
I have been asking this to many smart people, looking at research, and generally pondering the topic.
A few ideas to get the conversation started…
5 Ideas For More Women-Founded Unicorns
1. Go after big markets.
I’ve watched great entrepreneurs build businesses worth millions and worth billions.
Are the billion-dollar entrepreneurs 100x better than million-dollar entrepreneurs? Smarter? Harder working? More ambitious?
Nope. Not at all. Everyone is ambitious, hard-working, and extremely smart.
What’s the difference then?
Nothing is tougher than seeing an incredibly smart, talented entrepreneur focused on a small market. Or someone taking a big market and looking for a tiny niche.
They’ve already limited their growth and potential before starting!
Is this an issue unique to women? Of course not! Men go after niche markets and limit their growth potential from the outset too.
Are there badass women tackling HUGE markets? Hell. Yes.
But when we’re asking the question, how do we get more women-founded billion dollar companies, market selection is a great place to start.
The more women that play in billion dollar markets, the more big winners we’ll have.
2. Talk about revenue.
Shout out to the brilliant and talented Kara Brown for this astute insight:
Talk about revenue more.
As soon as she pointed it out, I immediately understood.
When someone talks about how much money their company is making, I notice. Even if it’s currently a small amount of revenue, it shows they care about objective growth, they know the data, and they want to win.
Kaitlin Lutz had the great suggestion that pre-revenue accelerators be focused on “making your first dollar.” Making money as a business is a signal of SO MANY THINGS – value creation, authentic demand, customer fit, sales chops, and more.
Revenue is the universal love language of businesses. It’s the benchmark for prestigious organizations and a source of friendly competition. Embrace the benefits of competition!
Why talking about revenue is awesome:
Creates subtle (or overt!) competition
Offers opportunity to learn from each other
Puts focus on execution over ideation or fundraising
Showcases deep knowledge of your business
Why founders - especially women – may not be talking about revenue:
Belief that talking about money is tacky
Don’t want to brag
Embarrassed by lack of revenue
Focused on non-revenue aspects of the business
Those are hypotheses. What I know for sure is that men are talking about their revenue and experienced women founders are too. There’s no reason not to!
I’ve started to ask more women founders, what’s your revenue? (with an explanation of why I’m asking.)
How many more unicorns could we create if we normalized the conversation around revenue, friendly competition, and growing high-value businesses among women?
3. Help on the homefront.
Did you know working women, especially mothers, are still doing the bulk of household management? Women spend 4 hrs/day on unpaid work while men spend 2.5 hrs/day.
Put another way – that’s 546 fewer hours per year to start and grow their unicorn.
This “second shift” takes time and mental energy, and outsourcing this work is expensive. (Salary.com estimated it would take $178,201 to outsource a stay-at-home parent’s work.)
Imagine what we could unlock with affordable, trusted options for:
Last minute child care
Child transport help (carpool, kid pick up and drop off for school, sports, activities)
Meal prep or food delivery
More convenient and affordable caretaker and home management options would help women — and men — start more billion dollar companies!
4. Nail the “upside” perspective.
What I love is that with preparation and understanding, you can overcome downside questions and turn them to your advantage!
You can raise 14x more money – regardless of gender – if you answer downside questions with upside answers.
It’s a fantastic sales and leadership skill to see and explain things in a simple, positive, big picture way.
I immediately notice when someone explains their business confidently and concisely in an easy to understand way. Or when they have clear, forward-looking responses to typical “downside” questions from investors.
Listen carefully for great sound bites from others and practice your own!
Want to go even deeper? Mark your cal for July 13 for a fun workshop with Women + Tech where we practice upside/downside scenarios in all areas of life. (Men welcome! It’s a universal topic.)
5. Focus on the impact.
I had an interesting conversation with an extremely talented, ambitious woman who had already been successful in corporate America, a high growth startup, and her first entrepreneurial venture.
I asked her about her goals and she said she’d love to start and grow a company of 100 employees.
Why not bigger, I asked.
She said she was worried about the responsibility: “I wouldn’t want so many people’s livelihoods dependent on me.”
We talked about the potential to help thousands instead of hundreds by creating meaningful work and good paying jobs. And just by asking the question, she started to rethink her goal from “no more than one hundred” to “why not thousands?”
Does she have to create a unicorn to make a meaningful contribution to the world? Of course not! She’s already touched hundreds if not thousands of lives with her work.
But if she’s going to start a 100 person business, why not make it a unicorn? ;)
What other ideas do you have for creating more women-led unicorns? Any ecosystems that have dominated this? What makes them special?