2021 has been a record year in the startup ecosystem with mind-boggling venture capital investments and a generation of unicorns never seen before. Global funding increased 111% YoY to shatter previous record, reaching $621B. There are now almost 1,000 startups with a +$1B valuation after the unprecedented boom in the last twelve months: a new unicorn was minted every day in 2021.
In our podcast, we have interviewed multiple companies that have achieved this unicorn status over the last two years. They have captured the interest of our audience by sharing their advice on entrepreneurship and building a successful organisation from the ground up, as well as the key communication and culture tips for business leaders. If you don’t have time to listen to all these unicorn leader interviews, we have compiled the main insights from these installments in our book ‘Growing without borders: The unicorn CEO guide to communication and culture’ – you can download it for free here.
In 2021 we also started a new series of interviews with inspirational speakers from the worlds of technology, communications, media, which kind of take us out of our every day and challenge us to look at our industries from a slightly different perspective. We had the pleasure of interviewing Rebecca Vincent, Director of Campaigns at RSF, one of the world’s leading NGOs in the defense and promotion of freedom of information. We also interviewed Molly Watt, tech accessibility evangelist and founder of the Molly Watt Trust, which raises awareness of Usher Syndrome.
If you don’t want to miss our new interviews with unicorn CEOs and inspirational speakers (and there’s more to come – stay tuned!), subscribe to ‘Without Borders’ on your preferred podcast platform – you can listen to it on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts… Without further ado, let’s take a look at the episodes that attracted the most listeners in 2021.
5. Greg Jackson, founder and CEO at Octopus Energy
Is it possible to be disruptive in a sector like energy? The company founded by Greg Jackson has shown that it is. Jackson explains how tech can be used to drive a more efficient system, lower energy prices, improve customer service and help make the switch to renewable energy sources faster and cheaper.
The CEO of Octopus Energy talks about how they have established a culture of trust and accountability that does not apportion blame or encourage defensiveness when mistakes are made. Jackson also highlights the benefits of having a flat organizational structure and that reaching unicorn status was merely an enabler of its long-term mission: driving the transition to a cheaper, greener energy system.
Tune in to this episode here.
4. Clay Wilkes, founder and former CEO of Galileo
Now serving as Vice Chairman of Galileo after Derek White became the new CEO, in this episode Clay Wilkes talks about the successes Galileo has seen during the Covid-19 pandemic and the incredible opportunity that it represented bringing together his company and SoFi.
In this interview you will find out how a global payments company is managed and why reading regularly is a great habit. For Wilkes this is so important to building a successful company culture that the company established a book club. He says that learning from great minds is the key not only to personal success, but fostering a company wide culture of self-improvement.
Wilkes acknowledges that it’s the CEO’s role to be the chief communicator to the extent that if he could travel back in time he would challenge his younger self to communicate more clearly, succinctly and directly. In his own words, “being able to communicate the company’s strategy is really important; especially as you’re starting a new and young business.”.
Listen to this episode here.
3. Chen Amit, co-founder and CEO of Tipalti
Back in March, we discussed with Chen Amit, Tipalti’s CEO, the impact of achieving unicorn status. He admits it helped improve its talent and customer pulling power. “We’re that hidden gem. We weren’t very vocal for many years but this round of funding elevated our recognition.”.
Amit also stresses the importance of hiring the right people and making sure that the company elevates and celebrates those who are examples of the company values, those who exemplify what Tipalti believes in, what makes the company successful.
This unicorn startup leader states that he is not a ‘natural communicator’, so he has been coached to improve his speaking skills and he has found that the best advice on how to communicate effectively is to “be yourself”. After years of public speaking training, he has discovered that rather than a deficit, his reluctance to communicate his successes and being prone to understatement has become a part of his personal communication style.
Listen here for more business and communications advice.
2. Vijay Tella, founder and CEO of Workato
Tella’s decades of experience in the technology sector make this episode one you don’t want to miss as he shares all sorts of fascinating insights on how to successfully lead a company. For him, culture is the most important element of any organisation and highlights the sheer importance of having a great founding team as it will establish the cultural cornerstones of the business. He recommends defining core operating principles over values – having some guardrails for how things can operate in the company and reinforcing those core guiding principles as the company continues to grow in size.
Throughout his ventures, Tella learnt that “you can never communicate enough” so he is always on the front foot looking for new ways to enhance connectedness of the team and ensuring employees stay in the communication loop with full transparency.
Tune in to this episode here.
1. Arik Shtilman, CEO at Rapyd
Arik Shtilman has the honour of being the most listened-to interviewee of 2021. And it makes perfect sense because his episode is a handbook on how to scale a start-up. One of his most valuable insights is that business leaders must recognize the huge value of mistakes because a great company is a one that knows how to fix mistakes quickly.
According to Shtilman, successful companies need to assemble best-of-breed teams, meaning recruiting plays a key role and the guiding rule must be to hire people who are smarter than you.
Rapyd – like most startups – was built as a global player from day one. Unicorns are often global business from the start, and this imposes a steep learning curve when it comes to setting and communicating expectations to a multicultural team. As Shtilman says on this issue, “You need to understand the culture you’re talking to before you communicate. The fact that somebody on the other side speaks English doesn’t mean he understands you. There is a difference.”
Listen to our top podcast episode of 2021 here.