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Unicorn Startup Founders Discuss How They Did It In Podcasts

Posted on Friday, Dec 15th 2017

We have been watching the Unicorn phenomena very closely over the past few years, as you can see in my series Billion Dollar Unicorns and From Unicorn To Unicorpse. Entrepreneurs looking for some genuine inspiration and advice from startup founders who have built their businesses up to Unicorn levels should have a listen to the following 30-minute podcast interviews. As the name suggests, Unicorns are rare, but they do exist.

Amit Gupta, Co-Founder of InMobi, knowing my aversion to ‘Valuation Without Revenue’ Unicorns, starts off by telling us that InMobi’s valuation is firmly anchored in revenues. He goes on to discuss InMobi’s strategy for going global, and highlights the unorthodox nature of the journey.

Daniel Cane, CEO and Co-founder of Modernizing Medicine, has followed a unique and tremendously effective strategy of raising equity crowdfunding from his customers, about 100 of them, and reflects on how well it has worked for him.


Girish Navani, CEO of eClinicalWorks, has bootstrapped a billion dollar Unicorn with a paycheck. Girish didn’t quit his job for two years, while he tested and validated his original product and customer base. He now has built a $300 million revenue company that is still 100% bootstrapped, private, and has no desire to sell out or go for an IPO.

Aaron Skonnard, Founder and CEO of Pluralsight, one of the few EdTech ventures out there that are scaling at Unicorn levels, discusses his journey over the last decade. Aaron bootstrapped Pluralsight to $16 million in revenue before raising a $27.5 million Series A at almost a $100 million valuation. From there on, the company has gone on to follow a roll-up strategy with additional funding and is currently valued at close to $1 billion.

Therese Tucker, Founder and CEO of BlackLine, is a very successful female entrepreneur who has followed our core philosophy: bootstrap first, raise money later. When I first met her in 2009, her company was in the $10 million revenue range. Subsequently, it has continued to grow at 50% CAGR year over year, and Therese raised private equity funding in 2013 to take liquidity for herself and her team. With annual recurring revenue in the $65 million range, and continued growth at 50%, $100 million revenue is not far in the horizon. And with that, the company’s valuation will easily touch unicorn levels.

Ross Mason, Founder of MuleSoft, has built a terrific commercial open source company that is scaling at Unicorn rates, with freemium conversion rates in the 5-6% range. Ross discusses how he got the company off the ground, and built a product strategy that makes such high conversion rates possible.

Rene Lacerte, Founder and CEO of Bill.com, is also the founder of PayCycle, a SaaS payroll company catering to small businesses with fewer than 20 employees. The company was acquired by Intuit. Bill.com has raised over $120 million in funding. Rene and I discuss strategies and nuances of selling solutions to small businesses, and the nuances of Do It Yourself SaaS, Do It For Me SaaS Enabled BPO, and Do It With Me, a hybrid of the two. If you’re working on a SMB solution, this is an important discussion to listen to.

Ratmir Timashev is CEO of Veeam. This is Ratmir’s second venture, so he had some money to bootstrap with. Consequently, Veeam avoided taking any venture capital and grew organically till about $200 million in revenue. Today, Ratmir has taken some money, but only to give himself and his co-founder some liquidity, and access a network to find adjacent product lines. Ratmir also discusses how he has structured the investment such that the company doesn’t need to exit. Very interesting!

Raj De Datta is co-founder and CEO of BloomReach, an e-commerce personalization technology firm. The company bootstrapped to over $5M in revenue before raising its first financing. Raj speaks of sensible fundamentals as opposed to irrational exuberance around Unicorn mania.

Greg Gianforte, Founder and CEO of RightNow Technologies, took the company public, and later sold it to Oracle for $1.5 billion. He made an unorthodox choice of building the company mainly in Montana. Today, RightNow (now Oracle) is one of Montana’s largest employers.

Fred Luddy is Founder of ServiceNow, one of the most successful companies in the history of enterprise software. Founded in 2003, ServiceNow is valued at over $12 billion in the public market. This is a truly wonderful discussion, marked with Fred’s warmth, humility and wit: “We hire people with a lot of experience. We ask them to bring their knowledge, and leave their baggage!”

Photo credit: Rob Boudon/Flickr.com.

 

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