Recruiting for a Decade and Beyond: 5 Tips for Building a Unicorn Team

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So many startups fail to ever get off the ground. For your business to make it through its first year — that alone is a major accomplishment.

While making your way through those fledgling years is definitely a milestone to celebrate, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your business has any guaranteed longevity, nor is it any indication that you’re creating a “unicorn” company, which is a privately held startup worth more than $1 billion.

The truth is that 80 percent of companies survive their first year. A more telling statistic is that only 30 percent of companies are still in business after a decade. When you take a good look at the unicorns and other industry leaders, you’ll find they aren’t the overnight successes they might seem to be. Most are nearly 10 years old — meaning it took the company that long to be considered successful.

If your goal is to create a unicorn, you need to prepare yourself for the process to take at least a decade. It may happen sooner, but luck favors the prepared.

Building a company that can stand the test of time requires assembling a team with unique skill sets, drive, and stamina. Here are five tips for recruiting and retaining the people your company needs in order for it to grow and thrive for a decade and beyond:

1. Hire Based on Needs and Organizational Structure

Too many companies hire for the wrong reasons. For example, some entrepreneurs hire because their business plan says they should have X employees in their first year. This is a mistake. Make sure you are hiring to support the immediate and future needs of your business, not because of some script you devised months ago.

Your company should have a clear organizational structure for what the business will look like in 10 years, and that structure should be constantly re-evaluated as your team grows. While the decision to hire someone should be driven by current needs, the choice of who to hire should be informed by how they fit into the long-term vision for the company. This prevents you from hiring average employees just to fill positions and ensures that you focus on the best talent, no matter how long it takes to find them.

2. Hire Up-and-Coming Talent

Average employee retention rates are low, and employees are constantly looking for new challenges. The odds are the leaders you hire now will not be the people most impacting the company in 10 years. While hiring established leadership talent is key, it is just as important to hire candidates for mid-level and entry-level positions with the understanding that they will be the future of your company.

By creating a culture of engaged employees, promoting from within, and nurturing career growth, you’ll improve retention now and set the stage for strong new leaders to rise up through the ranks.

3. Hire Employees Experienced With Change

Your organization is bound to go through incredible periods of change over the next decade. For reference, consider just how much has changed for Apple in the 11 years since the iPhone was introduced.

Rather than hiring based on past experience and talents that may already be obsolete, look for candidates with proven track records of adapting to change. Often, these employees are able to fill multiple roles, have deep knowledge of the industry, and have demonstrated that they excel in chaotic or fluid circumstances.

4. Encourage Employees to Think Long-Term

The best thing your corporate culture can be is forward-thinking. This mindset will help you build a team that wants a future with your organization. It will also allow you to develop employees who are ready to innovate and disrupt the industry.

Hire employees with clear, visionary thinking styles. Encourage them to stay up to date on industry trends and share their potentially impactful ideas. Not only will this benefit your organization, but it will also help employee retention, as it will make your team will feel more invested in the company’s mission.

5. Know That You Can’t Anticipate Everything

There is a lot you can do to recruit and retain talent that will help your organization navigate the next decade of change. However, you can’t anticipate every major industry disruption or significant shift in your organization.

New trends will appear unexpectedly. Top talent will leave suddenly. These things can’t ever be fully planned for, but you can build an organization that can adapt when the unexpected happens.

Make sure to regularly evaluate your employee training, recruitment protocols, company culture, and organizational structure. Every time something unexpected happens, go back and see how you could be better prepared in the future.

Building a unicorn business and the team that will run it is not an easy or quick process. It requires long-term thinking and the ability to adapt to the constant change your industry will doubtlessly see. Hire the best, develop them into a strong team, and prepare yourself to conquer the challenges ahead.

Mark Flickinger is the COO of BIP Capital. Follow BIP on Twitter: @BIPCapital.

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Mark Flickinger is the chief operating officer of BIP Capital, one of the most active and successful venture investors in the Southeast, serving entrepreneurs, investors, and operators to grow the emerging company ecosystem. Follow BIP on Twitter: @BIPCapital.