Why We Burn The Unicorn

I don’t even remember how the idea came up, but as soon as it did, I knew we had to do it. And we couldn’t just order the stuff from Amazon and wait for it to arrive, we had to do it the very next day.

All morning I was getting calls from Daniel as he darted around Portland’s novelty shops trying to find the mask. Nearly everyone was sold out. Around 11 he found one, then darted to the hardware store to find fittings for the frame and back drop. Then off to Milk Barn Farm to set it a blaze with Heather and Derek. Then…silence.

Later that night, the following private Youtube link arrived in my inbox.

It worked!

It was glorious!

And it quickly became our misunderstood mascot.

Many have interpreted the burning unicorn as a sign of silent protest to the current venture model and that really isn’t the case.

As practitioners of venture capital for nearly two decades we have a deep appreciation for the asset class. We’ve seen and studied where it can have the greatest impact and just how much innovation it can unlock.

But.

We’ve also seen venture capital morph into a one size fits all solution for something as multidimensional as “entrepreneurship”.

As Roy Bahat noted after his recent rust belt safari:

We in Silicon Valley only practice one play: throwing a Hail Mary to a unicorn. Elsewhere, there are reindeer, zebras, and all manner of creatures we have yet to see. Investors can make money on all these, if we’re willing to go back to first principles and invent new ways of financing these companies.

Entrepreneurship is such an incredible canvas for actualizing a teams talents, creativity, and values in the real world. Companies can create movements that reimagine cities, reshape culture and reframe what is possible. Yet, we continue to ask founders to twist and contort their stories, and their visions, to fit themselves nicely into a unicorn shaped box.

The relief we hear from founders when we encourage them to tell us what they really want to build, and how they really want to build it, if they never had to raise another round of funding is energizing. To see those plans play out has been nothing short of inspiring.

Since we’ve begun tugging on the Indie.vc thread, a rich and vibrant world of entrepreneurship continues to unfold in front of us. On a weekly basis we meet bootstrapped companies operating at a scale that would make VC funded startups blush and lightly funded startups that are hitting milestones their unicorn chasing peers can only write blog posts about.

In each case, they are creating cultures and companies on their terms and on their timelines. They’re free to express themselves through their work and draft their own definition of success.

It is for them we strike the match.

We don’t burn the unicorn as a metaphorical middle finger to modern VC and startup culture; rather, we burn it to shine a light on alternative paths for founders to follow.

If you don’t look like, act like, talk like, build like, raise like, live where, or work on what VCs typically fund your efforts are not any less worthy.

There’s a space for you.

We’ll leave the light on.