What lessons can PR professionals learn from Unicorn CEOs about communications? Brendon Craigie, CEO, Tyto, discusses the importance of prioritizing authentic storytelling to have complex topics resonate with massive audiences. Brendon also outlines the unique challenges that Unicorn CEOs face such as mitigating workloads for a fast-growing staff and handling high-pressure situations from a young age.
Interested in learning more about how Unicorn CEOs approach communications and culture? Download Tyto’s guide “Growing Without Borders: The Unicorn CEO guide to communication and culture” here or listen to the Unicorn CEO series of interviews on “Without Borders”, Tyto’s podcast.
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About the Host:
HOST: DOUG SIMON
GUEST: BRENDON CRAIGIE
DOUG: We’re talking unicorn CEOs, and I thought Brendon, would be great to start, what’s your definition of a unicorn CEO?
BRENDON: Right. Well, we’re talking about CEOs of companies that have gone on that journey and achieved a valuation of $1 billion dollars.
DOUG: So, that’s something that lots of people would aspire to, and even if you’re not at that type of company, there are lots of communications, lessons that can be learned. You’ve incorporated some of those into the podcast you do. Can you talk about some of the lessons, what can be learned from the unicorn CEOs?
BRENDON: Well, I mean, I think the thing with unicorn CEOs is they kind of face a very unique set of challenges. So, these unicorns, typically technology companies are looking to grow at a rapid rate of knots. I mean, just to give you an example, one of our clients that we’ve interviewed that is on this series and is now a unicorn has gone from like the first employee to 800 employees in two years. So, you can imagine that from a leadership perspective, when you’re communicating in that environment, you’re facing a very unique set of challenges. I kind of almost think of it as being like a communications perfect storm. And some of those challenges, really, they range from starting off life and having to be a bit of a street fighter where your kind of having to kind of really kind of get people’s attention as the as the kind of the new upstart. And then as you kind of go on that journey, you have obviously both or all of the internal and external challenges that kind of come with that, but then you kind of eventually you get this unicorn milestone, and you’re suddenly expected to behave in a different way. So, you’ve got this kind of myriad of different challenges, both from an internal and an external communication standpoint.
DOUG: Yeah, and from an internal perspective, obviously, if you’re achieving that kind of growth, that also means there are great opportunities for people. They’re much better than to be at a failing company for internal communications, but what are some of the specific internal challenges that need to be overcome?
BRENDON: Well, I mean, I think, obviously we’re focusing with this kind of study that we did on the on the lead position of the leaders. And I think really the overwhelming challenge they’ve got is they need to get a group of individuals who are kind of a fast-growing team of people often spread around the world behind the vision, behind the values of the company. And then they need to be able to kind of really consistently be able to tell those, explain the vision and those values, and bring everyone with them, all while having to kind of like grow at this breakneck speed.
DOUG: Yeah, is it often hard for these Unicorn CEOs to learn to delegate because I would think it has to be pressed on them so quickly and they started out being in charge of everything.
BRENDON: Yeah, I mean, I think the interesting thing in the world of technology is, I think, yes, unquestionably, there is a management challenge with delegating, but I think from a communications standpoint, often in the early years of a technology company, a lot rests on the reputation of a founder. And as a consequence, they almost become the Chief Communications Officer within the business. So, I think they’re always in a great deal of responsibility. I think what’s interesting with these individuals is often they come from an engineering background or they come from a scientific background, and they’re not necessarily natural born communicators, and they’re often kind of really young as well.
DOUG: Yeah, are there nuances in communicating as a unicorn start-up?
BRENDON: Well, I think kind of one of them I mentioned was to do with the fact that at the beginning of your life you kind of need to really get people’s attention, but then very quickly, within a matter of years, you could be kind of having to have a much more corporate profile. And as a consequence, you need to really think about the legacy of your words so that when you are kind of one of these companies with thousands of employees, you’ve not sort of been so outspoken that you’re going to alienate people in a future iteration of your business.
DOUG: Yeah, and are their lessons for people who may not be at hypergrowth companies who would love to be part of a hypergrowth company or make their company a hypergrowth company. Are there any lessons they can take that can sort of feed this kind of rapid growth?
BRENDON: Well, I mean, I think one of the things that is just generally true of companies in the technology world is they kind of embrace the opportunity to learn from their mistakes. So, they kind of see mistakes as being the steppingstone to an improvement, and I think probably there’s something in that. I think another area, which I think that we can all learn from is that in the world of technology, you’re often grappling with subject matter, which are kind of very complex, and you have to be able to try and tell your story in a very authentic way that can be understood by lots of different people. And again, I think that puts a real emphasis on the ability of your storytelling.
DOUG: Yeah. Interestingly, in the U.S., we’ve been seeing a lot more CEOs, not just of unicorn companies, being forced to or it being necessary that they get out there and communicate more on television, in interviews, externally. And that’s even been folded into internal communications because, of course, their staff sees what they’re saying out to the public, and that almost has more credibility than an internal message. Are you seeing that trend as well with the unicorns, and even if they started as engineers, scientists, they’ve really got to be out there and communicate their message, and also have a team that can do that?
BRENDON: I think that these kind of Unicorn CEOs are some of the most kind of exposed business leaders in the world. There’s this tremendous expectation on them from their investors, from employees, for them to be visible and out there. So, I think that’s certainly the case within the technology industry.
DOUG: Well, Brendon, given the quality of your insights, you’ll probably be turning into a unicorn CEO in the not-too-distant future. Thanks so much for joining us in the conversation.
BRENDON: Well, it’s fantastic to be on here. Thanks for having me.