There are startup unicorns and there are individual human unicorns. Both are called unicorns because they're extremely rare – and thus, incredibly valuable. A startup earns the term "unicorn" when it gets a valuation of 1 billion dollars. A human earns the term when they rock at so many things, it feels impossible to give them a title or discipline that accurate portrays what they do and doesn't put them in a box.
Today, we're talking about people unicorns, and what we've learned by building our entire company around them.
How to spot a unicorn
If you've ever met someone and thought, "Dang, is there anything they can't do?" – you may have found yourself a unicorn. Their insatiable curiosity and heightened sense of confidence, oftentimes, compels them to learn by doing. You may have heard them referred to as "generalists" vs. "specialists. This is because they generally master a volume of things as opposed to going really deep into one thing.
You can't put a unicorn in a box
We get it. Job titles help bring clarity. But when they become firm boundaries that prevent a unicorn from adding value, tension is certain to arise. That's why we recommend finding outlets for unicorns. Brainstorms, internal reviews, and invites to hear challenges straight from the client's mouth is a good place to start.
If you're someone who likes rules and ensuring that people stick to the rules, unicorns might be challenging, at times, for you. Unicorns have a hard time holding back if they see an opportunity to add value, even if it's outside of their role. So, if you find yourself thinking, "Why can't this person stay in their own lane," or "Why are they bringing this up, this isn't their responsibility," you might want to ask yourself, "Am I dealing with a unicorn, or just an asshole?" We say that only partially in jest -- because, you may be misunderstanding their intentions, which can create unnecessary friction on a team.
Unicorns are the startup's secret weapon
Early stage startups typically don't have the resources to hire a huge team of people to cleanly divide the work. So, they look for unicorns – the ones who can blur past boundaries to get the work done, fast.
This may look like someone who can do UX, UI, and code. Or maybe someone who's strategic, client-facing, and creative. You get the point.
What larger, more established companies hire three or five people to do, a unicorn may have the capabilities and experience to do it all. With this approach, you'll often find shorter timelines, lower costs, and a heightened sense of ownership. Who can argue with that?
Unicorns can be hard to keep
Why? Because they like solving new challenges. So, unless your company is bringing different opportunities their way, it might be wise to enjoy them while they last. We knew this would be a problem to solve when we built our business model around teams of unicorns. Here are a few tips, we've learned, on how to keep a unicorn engaged and excited about the work:
Unicorns are magical
Our agency model is 100% contractor-based, which allows us to build custom teams of unicorns based upon unique client needs. That means, when an opportunity comes our way, we don't start where most agencies do: "We'll need a creative director, a strategic planner, an account exec, three designers, two copywriters..."Instead, we say, "Oooh, we need a Chris, an Ethan, and an Emilee." This is our favorite thing to do in the world, and we've seen a ton of success doing it this way.
Not only does the client feel excited about their curated team, the individuals themselves feel even more bought in from the beginning. After all, we picked them for a reason. This is why we say " we deploy people, we don't employ them."
Are you a unicorn? Do you know one? Tell us more.
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