In the startup world, we use the term “unicorn” to describe a privately held company valued at over $1 billion. In this instance, I’m functionally overloading the term by using it to reference an individual person: you.
This is important because in an early-stage startup, you are very much part of the story. Anyone you are trying to convince needs to buy into you as an individual, not just the company and problem you’re solving. If you can’t articulate why you’re worth anyone’s time, or why they should come on the journey with you, the battle is lost.
In my previous article, I mentioned the advice I gave anyone from the incoming Antler Sydney cohort who asked was:
Embrace all your experiences and failures, figure out what makes you stand out, and learn how to articulate that uniqueness and value in 30 seconds.
All too often, we spew our whole resume whenever someone asks us to describe ourselves:
“I’m a great team player who loves to learn new things and over-deliver on my commitments. I have a track-record of being extremely successful in every single task and project I’ve ever done. My biggest fault is that I am a perfectionist…blah blah blah…”
We’ve all done this. Unfortunately, it’s meaningless because it doesn’t differentiate you from anyone else. We fall into the trap of trying to communicate that we can do everything, and forget what people really want is to understand what your superpowers are.
Ben Simmons won’t shoot threes
I love basketball; I used to play all the time and have been an NBA fan since the early 90s.
Ben Simmons is Australia’s best basketball player and the Philadelphia 76ers’ star point guard. He’s great at what he does, but has a “flaw” that the media and fans keep talking about: he doesn’t shoot three pointers. There’s been so much focus on this that when he finally did hit his first NBA three pointer a few days ago, it became so newsworthy that multiple top-tier media outlets wrote stories about what was effectively an NBA player doing their job.
The truth is, Ben doesn’t need to be a good three point shooter to be a great player. If he spent his time over-correcting on his lack of three point shooting, he could end up sacrificing the other things he’s really great at. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to get better at shooting threes, but he’s being realistic. And he understand the value he brings to his team.
Ben Simmons is uniquely tall for his position, uniquely agile for his size, physically stronger than most, can score whenever he wants as long as it doesn’t involve shooting three pointers, and makes everyone he plays with better. Ben has found his inner unicorn.
You on a page
If you’re wondering where to start, here’s a suggestion.
Distil your whole career onto a single slide and minimise the number of words used. It will seem unfair, especially if you have a lot of experience. It’s like asking someone to pick their favourite child. But doing this forces you to get to the core value that you bring to any situation.
For example, here’s mine. I put this together during the Antler program because I was trying to figure out how best to “pitch myself”.
I can craft a short 30-second pitch about myself by looking at this.
My unicorn horn is currently a stub
Some of you reading this may only have a few years of experience under your belt, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find your inner unicorn. You may need to work a little harder to uncover the uniqueness in your experience and personal qualities. Ask for help from people you know and trust; they may see things that you don’t.
If you’re still struggling, do something a little different. For example, I found early on in my career that writing was a good way to differentiate myself. I started blogging way back in 2006. While my first couple of posts weren’t particularly good, I got better through experience, practise, and conversations with other bloggers.
Social media wasn’t really a thing back then, so blogging was it. Today, you can use social media to your advantage by being more active on your platform of choice. The general rule you should follow is to have an opinion when posting something. If you are sharing an article, tell everyone what you think about it, or mention something you found interesting.
Another thing you can do is start being more active in the communities you’ve chosen to be a part of. Attend more events. Volunteer to help out. Reach out and speak to more people by asking for advice.
In the absence of a list of things that set you apart, the best thing you can do for yourself is to be proactive, show initiative, and publicise the fact you’re doing it.
Growing that horn
I posted the following advice on social media not long ago, but thought it would be useful to include here as well, given the topic.
Following these guidelines, should help you find your inner unicorn more easily as you progress through your experiences.
Read on for the next lesson.
Ian Yip is the CEO of Avertro, which brings science to cyber story-telling by providing a simple, yet sophisticated executive and board cyber platform that helps organisations tell a compelling story, right-size their cyber program, and understand their cyber-why.