What a Unicorn Knows: How Leading Entrepreneurs Use Lean Principles to Drive Sustainable Growth
What a Unicorn Knows is your company’s best guide to becoming a well-oiled, high-velocity machine for growth on its way to billion-dollar valuation.
Why do some young companies become unicorns, while others don’t? What a Unicorn Knows is a playbook that offers a field-tested approach to delivering superior customer value and reaching unicorn status by removing the potential inhibitors to organizational scale and speed.
Drawing on a mastery of lean-based methods for achieving maximum effect with minimum means, private equity operators Matthew E. May and Pablo Dominguez provide readers with a powerful framework of universally applicable principles that enable any company to effectively accelerate its ability to scale and grow.
Called The Unicorn Model™ and built on five foundational principles, the authors deliver a compelling narrative of stories and experiences in an easy-to-remember mnemonic:
- Strategic speed
- Constant experimentation
- Accelerated value
- Lean process
- Esprit de corps
Drawn from the authors’ successful track record with a wide variety of unicorn-level companies, What a Unicorn Knows offers a necessary guide for rapid but lasting growth. As more companies than ever vie for unicorn status, your competitive edge will depend on learning from the best.
“While anyone running a company knows that valuations like the unicorn stage are just a step in a journey, if you want to move faster on the road to building a great business, this book is for you.”
—Nick Mehta, CEO, Gainsight, and Coauthor of Customer Success
“What a Unicorn Knows gives readers an essential how-to guide on five powerful yet timeless principles that will help young companies mature and mature companies stay young.” — Reshma Saujani, Founder and CEO, Girls Who Code and Marshall Plan for Moms, and New York Times Bestselling Author of Girls Who Code and Pay Up
“We experienced firsthand the power of putting into practice the principles in What a Unicorn Knows . . . If you’re looking for effective, proven methodologies to accelerate your growth efficiently, look no further.” —Ashvin Vaidyanathan, Vice President, Customer Success and Insight, LinkedIn, and Coauthor of The Customer Success Professional’s Handbook
“The journey of scaling up a high-growth technology company is enormously difficult. This book delivers a solid model for easing the load, speeding the trip, and lighting the way for leaders looking to join the unicorn club.” —Sue Barsamian, Board of Directors, Box, NortonLifeLock, and Xactly
“Whether you are the founder of a young startup or a leader in a big company, Matt and Pablo’s lessons on strategic speed, experimentation, esprit de corps, and much more will surprise you, spark your imagination, and help you grow your company.” —Robert I. Sutton, Organizational Psychologist, Stanford University Professor, and New York Times Bestselling Author of Good Boss, Bad Boss
“If you’re looking for an essential operator’s guide to achieving efficient growth, this book should be your go-to source. Leaders will learn how to scale companies and achieve their growth potential. It’s a lofty goal that this guide delivers.” —Hilary Gosher, Managing Director, Insight Partners
“A rare book that adeptly blends conceptual grounding with ample step-by-step advice for practical application. This is a book that could only have been written by highly experienced practitioners who are themselves highly read. And it is a book that will benefit both new founders and seasoned veterans.”
—John Shook, former CEO, The Lean Enterprise Institute and Author of Learning to See and Managing to Learn
“Finally, an actionable framework based on proven methodologies, What A Unicorn Knows is a must-read, filled with lean principles, fresh insights, and essential templates to efficiently scale companies of all sizes. May and Dominguez will unleash the velocity of growth in your company.”—Wayne McCulloch, Chief Customer Officer, WalkMe and Bestselling Author of The 7 Pillars of Customer Success
“Like the magic healing properties of the unicorn’s horn, this book is the timely medicine to heal your business’ ailing growth ambitions. Taking lessons from entrepreneurs who have achieved unusual customer-savvy momentum using lean principles, the authors have crafted the S.C.A.L.E. framework as the reliable antidote to ‘big-company syndrome’ and many other corporate indispositions.”
—John Maeda, Chief Technology Officer, Everbridge and Author of How to Speak Machine and The Laws of Simplicity
“In What a Unicorn Knows, Matt and Pablo show us how to grow up without slowing down. Whether you are leading a startup or an emerging line of business at a large enterprise, this book will show you how to approach your first growth inflection point and keep the upward momentum going.” —Philip Potloff, GM, AWS Marketplace, Amazon Web Services
“In What a Unicorn Knows, Matthew May and Pablo Dominguez provide a brilliant summary of the principles that bind together all successful growth ventures. Combining storytelling with easy-to-follow, practical guidance, this book should be required reading for anybody who leads, works in, or advises early-stage businesses.” —Matthew Dixon, Coauthor of The Challenger Sale and The JOLT Effect
“The S.C.A.L.E. framework that May and Dominguez have developed is applicable for both early-stage companies that are beginning their journey to scale and more mature companies that are yearning to maintain their innovative roots.” —Deven Parekh, Managing Director, Insight Partners
“What a Unicorn Knows is a fascinating and thought-provoking read. Irrespective of your current level of success, any enterprise, leader, or individual who is tired of optimizing the status quo will definitely feel a renewed sense of purpose to take a hard look at their organization.” —Ken Krivanec, Division President, Tri Pointe Homes
“By applying the principles in What a Unicorn Knows, we improved our sales process efficiency and effectiveness by nearly 30 percent. No matter where you are in your growth journey, the S.C.A.L.E. model the authors put forth will help you optimize your operation.” —Hendrik Isebaert, CEO, Showpad
“This insightful read will help you unlock scale through the magic of subtraction. The S.C.A.L.E. framework contained in this book will give you an actionable way to avoid the pitfalls, find the leverage.”
—Tim Sanders, VP Client Strategy, Upwork and New York Times Bestselling Author of Love Is the Killer App and Dealstorming
“What a Unicorn Knows delivers an intuitive, powerful playbook for scaling up new business ventures in today’s disruptive world. The book’s five lean ScaleUp principles combine proven approaches that will take any new business to the next level.” —Soren Kaplan, Cofounder, Praxie and Author of Experiential Intelligence
“A unique and powerful framework to apply lean principles to accelerate value and effectively transition from startup to ScaleUp.” —Kevin Meyer, Cofounder, Gemba Academy and Author of The Simple Leader
“We all face a common challenge: how to stand out, stay relevant, and sustain growth in a world of massive disruption and distraction. The five principles in What a Unicorn Knows provide leaders at every level a means to find the focus they need to tackle that challenge.” —Nir Eyal, Author of Hooked and Indistractable
“A must-read book for explosive, yet sustainable growth. May and Dominguez have distilled the best practices from countless organizations that scaled up and stayed up . . . and they reveal how you can do the same.” —David Burkus, Author of Leading From Anywhere
“The authors bring an unparalleled understanding of ‘lean’ and reveal a heretofore unexplored dimension: its ability to drive growth. This book brings fresh insight and discipline to strategic leadership.” —Michael Bungay Stanier, Author of The Coaching Habit
“Fascinating insights for anyone interested in innovating at scale.” —Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Chief Innovation Officer, Manpower Group and Professor of Business Psychology at Columbia University and UCL
“Think of What a Unicorn Knows as your guide to achieving the extraordinary. Skillfully weaving together stories and practical applications, the authors show you how to apply operating principles central to ‘unicornship and beyond.’ And for me, what’s at the heart of this type of growth is the profound role of people and culture.” —Shawn Murphy, Author of The Optimistic Workplace and Work Tribes
About the Author:
MATTHEW E. MAY leads the Lean ScaleUp program at Insight Partners, a leading global venture capital and private equity firm investing in high-growth technology and software ScaleUp companies that are driving transformative change in their industries. His mastery of lean principles and methodologies comes from spending nearly a decade inside the Toyota organization, where he played an integral part in launching the University of Toyota, a corporate university dedicated to teaching, preserving and expanding the Toyota Way.
Matt is co-author with Pablo Dominguez of WHAT A UNICORN KNOWS: How Leading Entrepreneurs Use Lean Principles to Drive Sustainable Growth (2023) as well as five previous bestselling and/or award-winning books: Winning the Brain Game (2016), The Laws of Subtraction (2012), The Shibumi Strategy (2010), In Pursuit of Elegance (2009), and The Elegant Solution (2006).
A popular speaker and C-suite advisor on strategy, innovation, and lean, Matt’s many articles have appeared in national publications such as The New York Times, Harvard Business Review blogs, INC, Rotman Management Magazine, Fast Company, Design Mind, MIT/Sloan Management Review, USA Today, Strategy+Business, and Quality Progress. He has appeared in The Wall Street Journal and on National Public Radio.
Matt is graduate of the Wharton School (MBA) and Johns Hopkins University (BA), lives in Southern California with his wife and daughter, and is an avid cyclist and struggling tennis. In addition to his books and articles, he is a published songwriter but considers winning The New Yorker cartoon caption contest one of his proudest achievements.
Pablo Dominguez is an Operating Partner at Insight Partners, a leading global venture capital and private equity firm investing in high-growth technology and software ScaleUp companies that are driving transformative change in their industries. He leads the Sales & Customer Success Center of Excellence, an operational advisory unit of Insight’s Onsite team which partners with Insight portfolio companies to provide field support as they grow.
Pablo has spent his entire career as a go-to-market and sales-focused operator, working in consulting, public companies, startups, and, most recently, ScaleUps. The application of lean principles has figured centrally in driving sustainable growth in each of these ventures.