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Why the Phoenix Trumps the Unicorn in Tech

By March 14, 2016Article

Unicorns elicit a lot of excitement. They’re beautiful and majestic. But even in mythology they’re known to be extremely rare. Unicorn companies generate the same level of mysticism and awe in business circles, but not every company can reach the level that generates those reactions. The quest to become the next unicorn of the tech startup world is a quixotic journey for entrepreneurs that may be unattainable for many. Perhaps entrepreneurs should fixate on the phoenix and strive to recreate themselves, instead. 

The phoenix of mythology had the ability to regenerate itself, rising from the ashes of its former self, reborn as a new, viable entity. How does this relate to business? Traditionally, entrepreneurs build a company and then sell it, which results in more than a few negative outcomes:

  • Many employees may be let go, while the ones that are retained often drop a level or two in title.
  • Those employees who stay are often disconnected from the larger group, and they tend to float around directionless until they ultimately leave anyway.
  • With the people who leave, there is an additional departure of product history and knowledge.
  • The company’s core mission begins to blur, it acquires massive bloat and loses its innovative edge. 

So what’s the alternative for companies that want to avoid these outcomes but also strive to emulate the innovative spirit of a startup attempting to become a unicorn? 

Becoming a phoenix is about taking a new approach to entrepreneurism by capturing the risk-taking and pioneering mentality of a startup and combining it with the resources and security of a large organization – and identifying where a need exists.

At Comtrade, we’ve identified areas where large blue-chip companies encounter gaps, and we proactively design products that will bridge the gap for them. For example, we built a long-term relationship over many years with Citrix, a blue-chip company that had a gap in its IT infrastructure-monitoring capabilities. 

Rather than allot valuable talent and dollars to building its own solution, Citrix partnered with Comtrade to use its own expertise in that capacity. Comtrade’s phoenix rose in January 2016, when Citrix acquired the intellectual property rights to our Citrix Management Packs, and we continue to develop and hone the product for them. In this fashion, Citrix maintained its focus on its core mission and expertise but still addressed the existing gap its customers were facing. 

Under this model, companies can create new ideas, products and partnerships from the ashes of their former project time and again. As the presence of ash itself implies, phoenixes don’t rise out of thin air. Whether inspiration comes from the seed of an idea or demand for a product, taking an agile approach allows companies to be continuously reborn. 

Aside from the benefits of having nimble and innovative business units, the phoenix model carries numerous other benefits:

  • Companies retain core talent and product knowledge, rather than losing a lot of people.
  • Both companies involved can focus on what they’re good at, honing their mission-critical deliverables and outsourcing fringe products and services to experts.
  • For the phoenix company, the excitement of changing focuses and starting fresh every few years on a new project satisfies the people who like the startup environment while ensuring the security and benefits of an established company.

There’s no denying that the existence of unicorns in the startup world is a great thing, and companies that achieve that status are, indeed, unique. Unicorns have many perks; but unlike the phoenix, they’re only born once.

Simon Taylor is senior vice president and general manager of Comtrade, where he is responsible for the overall vision, strategy and execution of Comtrade’s business and technology roadmap. He has more than a decade of experience in product marketing, go-to-market strategy development and channel sales management. He has worked with leading companies such as Comtrade Group, Forrester Research and Putnam Investments and Omgeo. Follow Simon on Twitter.



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