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Illustration created by Sherman Fuchs.

So You Want to be a Unicorn?

It's not magic. Startups can succeed if they have infrastructure that enables them to scale quickly and securely.

April 25, 2019

Illustration created by Sherman Fuchs.

Unicorns (startups valued at over $1 billion) depend on rapid, uninterrupted growth. With just a 1.28% chance of achieving this coveted status, you need to set yourself up for success from the very start.

Your growth begins with creating infrastructure that fits your needs. To realize your vision for the impact you want to have on the world, you need to assemble systems that enable speed and efficiency — and can also rapidly adapt to change.

It's no easy feat. Forbes believes Auth0 might be figuring it out. We wanted to share some of the insights and advice gleaned from our journey. While there's no one-size-fits-all solution, this piece offers entrepreneurs and their early technical teams advice on when to build or buy their tools, how to become a leader in customer engagement, and how to effectively manage a growing number of users as you scale.

Nailing these critical components of growth early on will provide a solid foundation from which to take off.

When Should You Buy, and When Should You Build?

As you grow, you'll need ways to store data, collaborate with co-workers (particularly remote ones), and understand and connect with your customers. You’ll also need systems for managing your finances, hiring and human resources, and, of course, security.

When confronting these challenges, teams at early-stage companies face trade-offs between building or buying their own tools.

Startup Unicorn in the build vs buy tools/tech analysis.

On the one hand, built tools have the potential to fit your specific use case and needs. If you create them in-house, your developers will have an intimate view of your team's mindset and working style. Though it might be time-consuming, building your systems fully on your own might pay off in the long run as you’re not incurring third-party fees.

On the other hand, when you're in the midst of rapid growth, buying can be faster to implement. The upfront cost might be a challenge, but you won’t tie up your tech talent for months on end and can begin using your tools for faster ROI.

An approach that many startups take is to build certain components in-house and find trustworthy partners that understand their business and need for flexible solutions to fill in critical gaps.

Here at Auth0, for instance, we offer a “buy and customize” model for our identity solutions that can immediately address core issues like federation and offer teams the ability to refine other processes like user authentication.

Auth0 Extensions enable third-party integrations that extend Auth0's base identity product. With Extensions, you can authorize users with groups, roles, and permissions; manage custom social connections; import and export existing users; create a single sign-on dashboard; and more.

The ability to customize and integrate can help reduce business risk and close sales.

As you grow and take on new enterprise level clients, striking the right balance of powerful and flexible tools becomes even more valuable — helping you to meet, and even exceed, demands of increasingly complex service-level agreements.

Unicorns are Always on the Front Lines of Customer Engagement

Before long, you'll have too many customers to reliably speak to or survey. The importance of feedback, metrics, and iteration will require sophisticated analytics tools that can capture granular user data.

Startup Unicorn analyzing customer data in their decision-making

Infrastructure that enables social login can provide a stage for these analytics. Every time a user authenticates to your site, you can learn more about who they are and what they want — all while making it easier for them to log in. Social logins reduce friction so that users don't have to create new accounts to join your site. Less friction can result in lower customer acquisition costs, maximizing the value of your marketing efforts.

With social login, you can correlate users' logins with other data, such as pages visited and shopping cart additions. You can even do sentiment analyses that search their login source, such as Twitter, for positive or negative mentions of your company.

The sooner you know more information about someone, the better you can personalize the onboarding experience and support retention down the line.

In addition, Auth0 enables progressive profiling, which builds up an image of each user as they interact with your product. Users authenticated through Auth0 each get a profile, which fills in with information from their identity provider, attributes created by Rules, and information directly from users.

Unicorns Always Efficiently Manage Their Users

This rapid model of change means that startups are constantly under pressure to spend resources on improving their core product. Speed must, however, match security. The more you grow, the more vulnerabilities you're likely to have, and the better target you become for hackers.

Over half of SMB breaches result from negligent employees or contractors, but you can mitigate these threats by authorizing different levels of access for different people working to improve your products.

Identity is one of those areas that might seem like an afterthought; however, it becomes essential as your company grows. Authenticating new employees while you let go of others, and tracking all of your temporary contractors, consultants, and partners can become so complex that it drains technical resources from core product development. Losing sight of this, however, can result in gaps in communication, project delays, and even data breaches.

Outsourcing your identity needs is one way that many teams remain focused on their core business while easily and securely managing different levels of access.

Auth0 profiles enable you to see detailed information on each of your users, such as authentication details, devices, login histories, and locations. With a comprehensive user management dashboard, authenticating users won't slow you down.

Managing users on your own will cost you time, but a security breach can cost you your company. If growth is your goal, then defense and recovery need to be as important as your offense.

You Want to be a Unicorn? Make Innovation + Infrastructure Work Together

Methods that made your company successful in its first year might not work in its fifth. If you want to be a unicorn company, your growth depends on flexible and powerful infrastructure that directly supports your bold startup vision — even as it changes over time.

Startup Unicorn innovating and growing thanks to powerful infrastructure

No one can guarantee your success; however, finding the right balance of partners and tools to support you will significantly increase your chances.

About Auth0

Auth0 by Okta takes a modern approach to customer identity and enables organizations to provide secure access to any application, for any user. Auth0 is a highly customizable platform that is as simple as development teams want, and as flexible as they need. Safeguarding billions of login transactions each month, Auth0 delivers convenience, privacy, and security so customers can focus on innovation. For more information, visit

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