How to rear a unicorn in Poland? The art of creating start-up companies

Some are on a quest for a unicorn, some copy successful ideas or headhunt the best people in the market. It certainly is useful to be acquainted with the three philosophies of building start-ups, which have been tried and tested in the West; however, it should be remembered that a company is created with other people, for the people and thanks to these people.

Americans believe in unicorns and that is why they are always in their pursuit. As we know, this animal is extremely rare, if it exists at all… and therefore, we all seem to dream about locating this mythical creature – in other words, a company worth more than 1 billion dollars. However, for this to come true, we need to develop businesses which have the potential for wide-scale growth. This can be done in different ways.

Firstly: vision

Peter Thiel, the author of a well-known although slightly overrated book “Zero to one”, belongs to a group of investors and entrepreneurs from the so-called PayPal Mafia and has a strong belief in unicorns. He is against the opinion, which dominates in society, that there are no longer key problems to solve. He urges the business world to construct companies with a forward-looking vision (such as the colonisation of Mars, which is the dream of SpaceX), as only such companies can become unicorns.

At To Reforge we believe that vision is important, but not sufficient to achieve success. First, it needs to be realised.

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Germans have a slightly different approach. Rocket Internet, the Berlin-based company created by the Samwer brothers, does not strive to be innovative at all cost and instead copies what others have already achieved elsewhere. It is known for employing people with experience in the largest consulting companies. Every business venture developed by Rocket Internet is based on the same principles: use a successful business model, find a new market for it (for instance in Africa, South America or Central and Eastern Europe) and quickly and effectively invest in it. It must be remembered; however, that if a project does not develop quickly in several markets and does not bring the expected results, its life is short. Rocket closes new projects as quickly as it opens new ones.

At To Reforge, we aim to build profitable businesses. Both ones which are inspired by the ideas which are already in existence and ones – such as innovations – which provide solutions to important problems. Both approaches may lead to success. There is one aspect which must be considered: every project must be suitable for the team and its competencies and also match the specificity of the market and our current business ventures, in order to generate required synergy. In addition, practice makes perfect – having developed several online stores, it is much easier to create the next one. That is why we operate in sectors which we know very well, for instance – combining the online and offline world, mobile or health and beauty. Our philosophy is as follows: first we analyse the needs and then we look for solutions. This is the basis of many of our ongoing projects. By acting in this way, we are effective as we have access to many tools that allow us to identify problems of our potential clients. We must remember one thing: the bigger the problems, the larger the business which solves them.

Support for new start-ups

Paul Graham, the creator of the well-known fund and incubator “Y Combinator”, considers the birth of the idea and the development of the concept as the most crucial stage of his company’s development. This is when new entrepreneurs should receive solid support. Twice a year, Y Combinator invites about one hundred start-up teams for his three-month start-up boot camp. Each team receives about 120 thousand dollars. During these weeks, the creators refine their ideas under the watchful eye of their mentors and other programme participants.

We follow a similar principle at To Reforge, although in a slightly different form: we take people with a business idea under our wing. We either collaborate remotely or from our site (then the businesses can take advantage of the same amenities as our employees). And although we are not aware if their idea for a business venture will prove to be successful, and we may see many shortcomings, we provide them with support. We do so every time we see great potential in the idea and the team behind it.


What’s with Poland?

The examples of the philosophy of Thiel, Graham, and the Samwer brothers relate to the leading, global start-up environments. I believe that they may also have their place in Poland. At To Reforge, we become inspired by their activities, but we make use of only these elements which in our opinion will work in Polish conditions. That is why we have built a strong team and solid competencies within the company in order to create new business projects on many foreign markets at the same time. We are also a start-up company ourselves; therefore, we continue to learn, look for the best solutions, as well as test and adapt to any business requirements which come our way.

Regardless of the philosophy a company uses (or will use), people are and always will be of the greatest importance. Companies are created with other people, for the people and thanks to these people. In practice, we draw on many different approaches, we test them and introduce them permanently into our ecosystem once we are confident that they will bring actual value to what we do. The person who put this approach into words in the best possible way is a person who had very little in common with start-up companies – Benjamin Franklin himself: “When you are finished changing, you are finished”.



Article appeared on the website:, 27-06-2016

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