Competing with Unicorns



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Hello all – long time no see! It has been several years since my last update. But that’s only because I have been hard at work on a book that I have wanted to write for over six years – Competing with Unicorns. And I am proud to say it is finally out.

This book is the conversation I have wanted to have with many of you, since leaving Spotify. It contains all the tips, tricks, management strategies, and cultural norms that enable companies like Spotify to out execute the competition. And this book contains a summary of how they do it.

Here is a summary of what the book covers.

Chapter 1: What’s Different About Startups

Spotify, Google, Amazon, and Facebook were once all startups. What they try very hard to do as they scale is keep that small startup culture. This goes way beyond free lunches and foosball tables. It gets to the heart of how they work and where they focus. In a nutshell they are constantly trying to out learn the competition.

Chapter 2: Give Purpose with Missions

Big tech Unicorns don’t give their teams projects. Instead they give them something much more powerful – missions. Mission let teams operate autonomously, create their own work, and think for themselves.

Chapter 3: Empower Though Squads

Instead of continuously forming and reforming teams, Unicorns keep teams together longer. These longer running teams they call Squads. And self empowered Squads leave traditional Agile teams in the dust.

Chapter 4: Scale with Tribes

The way Unicorns get big initiatives done isn’t by breaking down teams into silos, and never letting them speak with one another. They create small autonomous companies right inside the organization. These they call Tribes, and it’s these Tribes full of self-empowered trusted Squads that do amazing things.

Chapter 5: Align with Bets

Unicorns swarm problems in ways traditional companies could, but for organizational reasons can’t. By creating company wide bet lists, and sharing that throughout the company, everyone knows what they should be working on, and what the companies highest priority items are.

Chapter 6: Working At a Tech Lead Company

Unicorns trust their people way more than most. On rare occasions this can cause problems. But the upside in terms of speed and innovation is so huge, that they are willing to accept a few bad apples, in an effort to enable everyone else to be happier and go faster.

Chapter 7: Invest in Productivity

Unicorns make investment in infrastructure and services that enable their teams to learn and go faster. The speed of iteration is incredible. And anything that gets in the way is fixed or removed.

Chapter 8: Learning with Data

Unicorns leverage data in ways other companies are only learning now. This gives them a big advantage strategically in finding opportunities, but also in product delivery as they better discover what their customers really want.

Chapter 9: Reinforce Through Culture

Culture is so important to Unicorns, that they dedicate a good chunk of time to supporting it. Too important to leave to chance, they support and foster it countless big and small ways.

Who is this book for?

This book is for leaders, people who are in the trenches, and are responsible for setting up teams doing software project delivery.

I would really love every high-level executive out there to read it, because they are often the ones with the power to make these kinds of changes happen.

But experience has taught me however that change seldom comes from the top. Instead it is often led from the bottom. For that reason this book was really written for the people doing the work in the trenches. And this book shows them how to do it.

My hope is that more companies start working this way. It’s a heck-of-a-lot more fun. It delivers outstanding results. And it makes you want to come into work.

Anyways. Enjoy. If you are like me you are working from home. I look forward to getting back out there, and seeing you all again soon.

Till next, Jonathan Rasmusson

Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Where can I buy the book?


Pragmatic Programmers (cheaper for you / better for me)