Still Looking for a Unicorn Exit? Just Follow These Ten Easy Steps!

Valuations are down, but you can still have the startup wealth you've dreamed of, if you pursue this foolproof strategy.

A unicorn stands at the extraordinary state party conference of the FDP in the PSD Bank Dome. Photo: Rolf Vennenbernd/dpa (Photo by Rolf Vennenbernd/picture alliance via Getty Images) dpa/picture alliance via Getty I

Given the recent drop in the number of billion-dollar “unicorn” valuations, and the near disintegration of the IPO market, it’s imperative that you use shortcuts to find your way to a unicorn exit. This starts with watching sitcoms and movies about startups, where you can learn pretty much everything you need to know. From there, as long as you have a great idea, as certified by your mom’s enthusiasm, the billion-dollar exit is just a meeting away.

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Your best guidance will come from a famous board chair—the more senior the better—who travels the world for at least a dozen or more boards, because with all that flying around there won’t be time to waste on the details of your business. Those emails he’s reading during your board meetings are with very important people who could help with an IPO. The critical thing is to accept all his ideas, even if they’re based on pre-historic market information, and make sure not to dilute his advice with your own judgment.

Speed is the most important factor, so the following is a list of 10 ideas to blast off your startup to a unicorn exit.

1. Create buzz

Instead of wasting time with customers, who may not even use social media, focus on getting your name out there, winning awards, and producing expensive videos that have one chance in a million of going viral. Generating a PR buzz is the secret to success, plus your high school friends will think you’ve made it. Focus on your numbers: numbers of facebook friends, likes, connections on Linkedin, and how many times you’re mentioned in the press. People who see this may not be interested in buying your product, but they may recognize you at the mall.

2. Be nice

Avoid conflict so people will like you. Never make a decision that might upset someone; putting it off is more comfortable for everyone, even when that makes the problem worse in the long run. Negotiating is unseemly and unnecessary, as most people are reasonable; whatever they’re offering is probably fair.

3. Hire people you trust

The most loyal teams are made with friends and family — anyone you can’t fire. They may not have relevant experience, but at least you won’t waste time trying to find someone who does. Plus, if their performance suffers, you’ll have time to get into it at group dinners, where other loved ones who know nothing about business can chime in with their opinions.

4. Work hard

Focus and results are no match for a frenetic office. If everybody’s sweating and slogging 12 hours a day, progress is a sure thing. Plus, satisfaction comes from checking off all the little tasks on your To Do list, not from the vagaries of strategic contemplation.

5. Strive for excellence

Prototypes are ugly. No matter how long it takes, make your product absolutely perfect before showing it to a customer for user feedback or test marketing. If customers don’t rave about your product when it’s finally finished, that doesn’t mean you’re not meeting their needs; it only means they’re not smart enough to understand.

6. Stay positive

When you receive bad news, try to put it out of your mind as quickly as possible; no point thinking about something that’s going to crush your mood. Also, always believe the engineers’ forecasts on time and cost, regardless of history. The last 10 times they underestimated, they had very good reasons. This time will be different.

7. Don’t tell anyone your idea—they might try to steal it

The product development process will only get derailed and bogged down by customer input. You know best what the market needs. Plus, it’s difficult and time-consuming to find customers, never mind figure out what to do with all those different opinions.

8. Don’t be scared of competition

If there are already several players competing, it must be a good market. Product differentiation and innovation are nice to have, but if that doesn’t work out, you can always compete on price. Nobody has ever considered trying to lower the cost of this particular product before, and commodity businesses are always the most profitable.

9. Grow as fast as possible

Don’t worry about cash; it’ll be there when you need it. You have more important things to worry about than the details of your financials. You’re not an accountant, after all, and who cares about profitability when you’re shooting for the moon. Sustainable business models are old-school. As long as your revenues are growing, M&A or IPO are a sure bet, just after this down-market clears in the next few days.

10. Put on a great show for investors

In your pitch, before you state in simple terms what you sell, make sure to use lots of industry acronyms. Investors may not understand, but it’ll make you sound technically savvy. Creating a chart with a clear comparison to the competition takes too much time and effort. As long as you have diagrams showing how great your product is, and the projections show your recurring revenues skyrocketing, there’s no need to quantify your value proposition. If investors aren’t interested, don’t waste time rethinking the business; just fix the pitch deck to add more colorful graphics. And, regardless of what business you’re in, don’t forget to say you’re using artificial intelligence!

Remember, a great product sells itself. The reason your product will be better than that of the huge incumbents in your space with years of experience and millions to invest is because they’re slow and stupid, while you’re smart and nimble. After all, didn’t you just win an award?

Still Looking for a Unicorn Exit? Just Follow These Ten Easy Steps!