Enough with Unicorns, give me Thoroughbreds

All we hear about these days is unicorn this, and unicorn that. Companies making it big and their founder being the brains behind it. The tech and startup sector is a little obsessed with the global billionaire - past, present and future. It’s all part of the VC model that underpins it. Now, with scale and growth as a focus, you don’t even need the actual money — just the strong likelihood/belief you’ll get it. Has our barometer for success gotten too scrambled?

Success is relative for all of us. Someone that hasn’t been driven to be financially unstoppable — or hasn’t managed to be — might say that money isn’t the key performance indicator. Others, cold-hearted capitalist or straight-up realist would say money is a pretty big indicator of success. It’s a form of success, that’s for sure. But, in this global digital economy, it seems scale and growth have also been added high up on that list — after all, twitter and facebook both ran an IPO without ever making a profit.

There are tons of stories about the Jeff Bezos’, the James Dyson’s and the Richard Branson’s successes. Let’s face it, most people that are following their dreams to be their own boss would settle for a fraction of their success. You can shoot for the stars, but don’t smirk at making it the moon. So why don’t we all focus on the realistic stories — the mass of relative successes? I want to, and try to.

To excel in life, you have to research and plan from a broad-base. I’ve always been fascinated by the stories you don’t hear about, the winners in their own way. The people that didn’t want to go global — perhaps couldn’t even if they wanted to — not for the skill or know-how; more for the timing, the resources available to them or their niche in life.

One such story popped up today. I got an email, sent to a bunch of business folk, from a guy asking how his 72-year-old Dad could keep his entrepreneurial candle burning, without burning himself out too much in the process! His story was amazing. He’d been a lawyer, then run import businesses and advised companies in emerging markets. The man had so much knowledge and experience, he’d probably add value to half the new businesses in Britain over a cuppa, let alone any more of his time.

His name? Many won’t be familiar, because he’s not Jeff Bezos.

Bet you don’t know who won the Grand National in 1975, either (won by 13/2 second-favourite L’Escargot — beating Red Rum — bet you also googled that.) Or, maybe you did, smart-Alec. I guarantee the minority of new SME-leaders know. But most people know who Red Rum was.

The point I making is that L’escargot’s career/brand success didn’t emulate Red Rum’s — he’s a unicorn, you see [not literally]. But no one could argue that horse was successful. It’s a great analogy for what happens presently. Thoroughbreds are everywhere and their stories, bunched up and put in to context, might be far more valuable than the story of Red Rum, or even Bill Gates. (Who, according to Malcolm Gladwell may have been just as lucky “right place, right time” as he was talented.)

Of course the media and business-book sector is going to sell up the virtues of the unicorns — sex sells. They’re rare, people have an interest in their pedestal being centre of the status quo — but you and I, we should become experts in the thoroughbreds. Because, as easy as it is now to find and digest the story of these fabled unicorns, it’s probable that few, if any of us, will grow a metaphorical horn on our foreheads. It seems far more sensible to hedge our time hunting for the unicorn recipe with some healthy gaping at flakes. (Thoroughbred flakes…)

Thus, my quick response to that guy talking about his amazing and inspiring Dad?

Got get a phone, interview him from the start of his career up to now and make a podcast out of it. He’s had an amazing career — amazing.

That’s where value lies and it’s value we wouldn’t have heard about had that thoroughbred nature not been in his blood — still chomping at the bit, even after retirement!

Now who do I talk to that can find and make me a hundred of those inspirations?


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