In search of a Maltese unicorn


Last November I had the opportunity to attend the Web Summit in Dublin. A massive trade event which has considerably grown over the past five years. The event welcomed over 40,000 individuals from all over the world making it a bustling hive of budding entrepreneurs, tech gurus and investors. Everybody was probing around to uncover the next big thing out there. A constant hunt to get their sights on discovering the next unicorn.

While unicorns are mythical creatures, Aileen Lee of Cowboy Ventures popularised the term ‘unicorn’ as a metaphor to classify potential start-ups which can exceed a valuation of one billion dollars. While the value might seem quite excessive, one start-up called Facebook just took three years to achieve its unicorn status were afterwards it reached a $100 billion valuation when going public in 2012.

This is just to put you into the perspective of the expectations set by venture capitalists and business angels when assessing investment opportunities. They are interested in exciting projects with even more exciting returns. The unicorn is the ultimate investment opportunity. It can offer bountiful shareholder value making a gold rush look like pocket change.

Even though unicorn start-ups are so rare, you could feel the energy and vibe at the Web Summit of those attending to achieve and succeed. The event can be quite intimidating when you really put yourself as if you were in a lion’s den. But then again it’s all about perspective. Nothing is stopping you from starting up your business. After all we all share the same market. We all utilise the same technology. We all have access to knowledge and education. So what is stopping you from becoming the next unicorn?

The Right Proposition

First of all it is quite obvious that whatever you have to offer to the market has to be useful. It has to be beneficial for the end-user to pay up to enjoy your product or service. Many times we get tangled in the specifics of the tangible product or service. Nobody cares about the product per se. What engages customers is the solution. What is unique about your solution? How unique is your selling proposition?

The Right Patent

Whatever you do make sure your intellectual property is protected. This can be quite costly but essentially you would be protecting yourself from eventual competitors trying to piggy back on your success. Do your research on the process to apply for a trademark or patent. There is quite a lot of literature available online at EU institutions such as the European Patent Office ( Don’t take this step lightly. You can be seriously exposed once you break out and go to market.

The Right Culture

Putting it simply you need to have the right attitude. At the Web Summit you could feel the drive, enthusiasm and hunger. Entrepreneurship is not a stroll in the park. Many obstacles will come your way before you finally make that successful break. There is a lot of motivational content online on the fine line between success and failure. Winston Churchill summed it up perfectly when he said “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm”. Buckle up. May the journey begin.

Winston Churchill - better known for his success than his many failures
Winston Churchill – better known for his success than his many failures

The Right Expertise

You can’t succeed by being a one-man-band. You need help to fulfil your vision. Delegation is the key to get more things done effectively. Of course who you delegate tasks too is even more important. Therefore don’t be intimidated by people who you feel are better than you in some or many matters. Getting the right and best talent on your team is essential.

Internal competition can be very healthy as it will empower you and your team to excel and dare to make the impossible possible. Even though Steve Jobs was constantly depicted as the mastermind of all that happened at Apple, it was also Steve Jobs that said that “Great things in business are not done by one person but done by a team of people”.

The Right Partners

You cannot do it alone. You need help whatsoever for your entrepreneurial venture to take off successfully. Be it financing to logistics to advise make sure you seek to team up with the right partners that fully believe in the potential of your endeavours. Partners that are capable of standing by your side not only when the sun shines but even when skies are grey.

Apart from this you need to ensure that your partners can offer you longevity. Partners which add value to the venture. Partners that can facilitate the creation of a new empire. Partners that will make you realise that you could not have succeeded without their contribution to your endeavours.

The Right Market

It is useless having an attractive business model and the luxury of resources if you don’t have the right market. When locals set up a business in Malta for some reason they forget there is a much bigger market waiting for us beyond our coastline. We tend to set our sights purely on the local market alone. Forget local. Go global. Whatever your endeavour be ambitious and exist for a global market. Unicorns are global operators. A wide market base gives you surmountable scale. Focus on creating something accessible and relevant for a bigger market than Malta. The world is your market.

The Right Location

Choosing the location you operate in can be a tricky decision. If we are talking about technology the major cities around the world are always the ones mainly mentioned. But as my possible bias kicks in, I seriously believe that Malta is a great place to set up your new business. True that as an island we have this tendency to feel inferior and isolated. But realistically Malta has a lot to offer any willing individual planning to start up a new business.

Malta is close to important and emerging markets. Malta has attractive fiscal incentives. Malta has a reputable and solid financial system offering opportunities for access to finance. Malta has a dedicated and knowledgeable workforce. Apart from all this Malta enjoys an attractive Mediterranean lifestyle. As rightly pointed out by the Prime Minister during CHOGM last month, we pride in enjoying 300 days of sunshine throughout the year.

The Right Dream

Big ideas start off from dreams. Paddy Cosgrave had a dream. In 2010 he initiated the first Web Summit in Dublin with a meagre attendance of 500 participants coming mainly from the local Irish technology community. In 5 years that dream grew so big that the Web Summit this year welcomed over 42,000 visitors coming from 134 countries around the world.

Paddy Cosgrave’s dream has become so big that the Web Summit has outgrown itself in Dublin and will be moving to Lisbon, Portugal in 2016. Just one of many examples where there is no harm in dreaming. The sky is the limit. Walt Disney was a master of making dreams a reality. As he so rightly said, “All our dreams come true if we have the courage to pursue them”.

Walt Disney - The ultimate dreamer
Walt Disney – The ultimate dreamer