Unicorn Tech Startup Case Study with Sramana Mitra
The 1Mby1M Methodology is based on case studies. In each course, Sramana Mitra shares the tribal knowledge of tech entrepreneurs by giving students the rare seat at the table with the entrepreneurs, investors and thought leaders who provide the most instructive perspectives on how to build a thriving business. Through these conversations, students gain access to case studies exploring the alleys of entrepreneurship. Sramana’s synthesis of key learnings and incisive analysis add great depth to each discussion.
A Unicorn is a startup with an estimated valuation of over $1 billion. More than 1000 unicorns exist today.
Snowflake, Atlassian, ServiceNow are examples of startup unicorns. They’re massive, multi-billion dollar publicly traded companies now. Yet, they all started as an idea, took one step after another, grew in size, and so on.
That said, not every business idea can be scaled to a Unicorn. The billion-dollar question is what are the characteristics of the opportunities that have the potential to scale to a Unicorn startup?
The types of companies span a few specific industry sectors:
Cloud / SaaS
Big Data / Artificial Intelligence
Of these, Cloud / SaaS is a mature market.
Both horizontal business applications and vertical business applications are maturing.
New opportunities tend to come from discontinuities, and mature markets don’t necessarily present those.
That begs the question: where are the discontinuities?
In Cloud, the biggest discontinuity is coming from the proliferation of Data and the ability of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to do exciting things with that data.
A computer has a more powerful memory and much better processing power to take imaging, lab, and other test data, run them against powerful algorithms, and do a much better job diagnosing patients, prescribing treatments.
Media buying decisions online are already seeing real-time buying as the primary trend, something impossible to do by hand. Unicorns will be born from such extensive automation for sure, although the societal impact of such massive scale automation is likely to be painful.
The convergence of mobile and cloud is an area worth exploring as well, especially for apps that take advantage of the geolocation capabilities of mobile devices.
What about business services that not only provide cloud software but actually outsource an entire business function – SaaS-enabled BPO, for example. It can be built similar to AthenaHealth, which is an Unicorn business in IT Healthcare. This is an under-explored category, in my assessment.
Big Data is a very hot sector right now, and there too, I expect to see large companies emerge who will not only provide software, but also services. Many Big Data offerings are extremely complicated to use. Customers buy them, but then, use only 10% of its full range of capabilities. Why buy a Ferrari if you are going to drive it like a Toyota? Perhaps, the answer lies in offering the drivers as well, not just the cars. Or, to extend the metaphor further, driverless cars may be the Holy Grail of big data and machine learning!
E-commerce, although mature, continues to be an area rife with opportunities. One of the largest in this area is online fashion, a gigantic industry that is yet to fully feel the shift into e-commerce.
It is becoming dramatically cheaper to build new brands starting with an e-commerce specialty store with a differentiated user experience, interesting merchandising, personalization, use of mobile shopping capabilities, etc. I fully expect to see Unicorns emerge in this corner of the digital universe. I am keeping an eye on this space, as I was one of the first entrepreneurs to start an online fashion business on the Internet in 1999.
Also, the global opportunities are significant today. Entrepreneurship is globalizing at an exhilarating scale, and even though Silicon Valley likes to think of itself as the center of the startup universe, the real excitement is bubbling in the virtual universe. Entrepreneurs are building global companies out of the gate drawing resources from all over the world.
By no means do I claim to have any grand view into the uniquely wonderful minds of entrepreneurs who are or will be building the next set of Unicorn companies. All I have tried to do is to simulate for a large, global audience of entrepreneurs, the experience of having a cup of coffee with people whom you would likely not meet in that capacity.
Can you build a Unicorn? We will not know the answer until you start.
If you have any specific question, come and see me at a 1Mby1M free roundtable.
P.S. We’re looking to partner with community leaders who write blogs, teach and mentor entrepreneurs, and help support startup ecosystems in every corner of the world, no matter how small or how remote. I have written about my own journey building startup ecosystems around the world, and how you can draw from my lessons from the trenches. If you’re interested in partnering with 1Mby1M, please consider joining our ambassador program.
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Who this course is for:
- Tech entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs with an interest in Unicorn startups.
Sramana Mitra is Founder and CEO of One Million by One Million (1Mby1M), a global virtual accelerator that aims to help one million entrepreneurs globally to reach $1 million in revenue and beyond. She is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and strategy consultant, she writes the blog Sramana Mitra On Strategy, and is author of the Entrepreneur Journeys book series and Vision India 2020. As an entrepreneur CEO, she ran three companies: DAIS, Intarka, and Uuma. Sramana has a master’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 2015, Sramana was named one of LinkedIn’s Top 10 Influencers, alongside Bill Gates and Richard Branson.