Discover the next big startup with Unicorner
Plus: how they increased open rates by 10% and are building a thriving community.
Discover the next big startup with this free newsletter.
Have you ever wondered what the world’s largest startups were doing before they were massive?
Think Airbnb and Uber. They are easily recognizable now, but they weren’t always.
Bringing one up-and-coming startup to your inbox every week.
It’s growing, profitable, has increased open rates by 10%, and climbing higher.
But it’s easy to doubt a newsletter like this. So many newsletters take a journalistic approach, but it's intimidating in a saturated industry like start-ups (and tech in general).
Will it take off?
Is the market over-saturated?
Why would someone read my “little” newsletter when so many big players cover the same?
These questions can stop you from publishing, but they shouldn’t. Unicorner is a prime example of how good quality, consistently, can take off and create opportunities.
With a list of just under 10,000, open rates over 40%, and a thriving community, this is an example we can all learn from.
Unicorner is run by a team of two: Arek Der-Sarkissian and Ethan Keshishian (more on them below).
Today we’ll cover.
The Unicorner origin story.
The content strategy that brings ideas to you.
How to win with less, but better.
Running a newsletter like a startup (OKRs, user interviews, and more).
Building community with in-person events.
And much more. Let’s get into it.
Unicorner covers an up-and-coming startup every Monday morning.
The team is clear:
“We are on a mission to find the next big unicorns, or companies with a $1 billion+ valuation, and share them with our community before they make it big. We have an audience of nearly 10,000 founders, investors, and tech enthusiasts from around the globe!”
Think Uber and Airbnb before they were Uber and Airbnb.
The company publishes their weekly newsletters, hosts in-person events, and keeps a talent pool that clearly fits well with its audience of start-up enthusiasts.
How it started:
There’s always an opportunity.
“We started working on Unicorner in 2020. At the time, we were both first-year computer science students and roommates at UCLA. Both of us had a shared passion for entrepreneurship and wanted to learn more.”
But passion doesn’t always equate to a thriving business. We all have passion, but what did that mean for them, more practically? In the team’s words:
“During the summer of 2020, we made it our goal to read a VC or founder essay every day. By the end of the summer, we had read and taken notes on almost a hundred essays….But we also recognized how difficult it was for people like us to find quality, easily digestible resources online in the startup world. In an ocean of long-form analyses, TechCrunch articles, and investor memos, we (and many others) were craving a two-minute solution. On top of that, we wanted to learn from real-life examples.”
With a clear “need” identified among themselves and others, they had a foundation for content.
Paul Graham, Y Combinator, Marc Andreessen, and more were already publishing some of the most well-known blogs in the space. But therein lies the difference. It wasn’t about the long form anymore. That was covered.
“We felt like we had learned a lot, but lacked those zero-to-one examples: early-stage startups that were redefining their industries in real-time… We wanted to share concise yet quality resources online with people interested in entrepreneurship. Thus, the mission for Unicorner was born, and we’ve put out an issue every Monday for the past two and a half years.”
Want an example? Here’s ours (it’s great, you should read it):
Selecting a topic is often the hard part, but after two and a half years, what’s often harder is continuing to come up with fresh ideas to keep an audience engaged. Unicorner has nailed this.
“We focus on early-stage companies in any industry. This often includes companies that have recently raised a funding round. Our goal is to create a beautiful and predictable newsletter experience for anyone looking to learn about startups. Everyone should be able to get a Unicorner email and know exactly what kind of information they’re getting every week.”
For all our readers looking to start their own newsletter: the content is out there.
“Companies come to us from everywhere. Our readers are a big source—we get a lot of inbound from folks wanting us to cover their companies or companies they’re passionate about. At the same time, we keep on top of recent company announcements, and end up writing about cool companies we come across.”
The team noted that while they have their “ear on the ground” and catch the latest, including AI companies that have been exploding lately, they also highlight their own interests. Arek stays updated with the healthcare space, and Ethan loves covering productivity.
Topics that provide you with content and have new developments to cover are all viable.
Perhaps you can learn about the latest in your industry from Twitter, Reddit, Discord communities, or niche websites most readers want to hear about but don’t have time to research themselves.
Winning with less, but better:
One startup, once a week, in a two-minute article that’s easy to read.
That’s been their winning formula, which can apply to many newsletters in other industries.
The format achieves higher quality without extra words or “unnecessary” detail that could be relevant but not as relevant to the audience.
This allows for high impact. Consistency shows the audience your focus and makes it easier for them to recommend great content (like how Unicorner’s audience sometimes recommends startups).
Marketing and Growth:
“Marketing and growth are consistent challenges for newsletters. We’ve both experienced this ourselves and heard it from friends running newsletters.”
Indeed it is. Among some of the biggest challenges, growth is one of the toughest, especially at first. Social media is a big opportunity here, and Unicorner capitalizes on this.
And we’ve officially wrapped up LA #TechWeek. Thanks for joining us on the journey via Twitter, and be on the lookout for a recap next week. 🦄
Here’s the 🐐 @denk_tweets blessing your favorite newsletter with a 10% higher open rate 🐝
— Arek Der-Sarkissian 🦄 (@areksds)
Jun 11, 2023
“In general, we prefer organic marketing channels over paid marketing channels. This means you’ll see us more active on social media and working with other newsletter writers to boost the entire ecosystem.”
“Our main content is the Startup of the Week coverage, which can be found in our newsletter. We take bite-sized bits of the content and share them on social media platforms. So, if the Startup of the Week newsletter is a two-minute read, then our social media threads are more like a one-minute read.”
What if you had a platform that told you the best way to run your finances? @MRGNbudgeting is providing those actionable insights. Some highlights 👇
— Unicorner 🦄 (@UnicornerNews)
Jul 17, 2023
Guest authors are another great opportunity. Sharing backlinks, and helping each other get exposure can be extremely effective. Beehiv’s recommendations are a great start, but users only see your recommendations after they subscribe. For promotions, consider guest authors.
There’s more (we’ll cover this later).
Running a newsletter like a startup:
After two and a half years, the duo has learned a lot about running their newsletter.
“We’re product-driven engineers assuming the role of content creators and community managers. That knowledge has been really useful in building our strategy; in many ways,”
“We run Unicorner much like we’d run a tech startup. We set quarterly OKRs, run audience tests, and conduct user interviews. It might sound like a lot, but we end up building a strong community as a result, [which] includes our events; we host meetups across the west coast (LA & SF so far), giving our audience an IRL component.”
All useful tips to take from this Spotlight.
Do you have goals and objectives for the newsletter?
Are they time-bound?
How are you measuring them?
Are there better metrics to consider?
Are there multiple ways for readers to engage with you (URL or IRL)?
Not sure where to start? Check out the full list of metrics.
Goals for the next 3 - 6 months:
While the team is doing well growing their list and hosting events, it looks like the focus will continue being on the value offered and keeping quality high.
“Right now, we’re focused on value. We’re looking at ways that we can bring our community of readers more ways to get involved with Unicorner, be that through our Talent pool, our Launch product, and in-person events.
“We’re also looking into more ways that we can work with the companies we cover. For now, keep an eye out for exciting announcements soon…”
We hope you enjoyed this Creator Spotlight! Subscribe to Unicorner here, or check out some of their amazing highlights including Pull: Get your future salary today and Yonder: The credit card for foodies.