By Arad Levertov
Don’t confuse your valuation with your values.
That may sound like a no-brainer for fast-growing firms, but it’s not.
In fact, it’s an even more critical axiom right now because of all the money pouring into startups. The padlocked gateway to the once-exclusive club of sky-high valuations has become more like a revolving door, as unicorns in the business world have become anything but mythical — there have been more than 150 US-based unicorns minted in 2021.
As the CEO of a business with over a $1 billion valuation myself, I should know.
I also know that too many people are blinded by the sparkle of dollar signs — “Wow, I built something so valuable!” — and forget that current valuation status suggests little about future trajectory.
Nothing is ensured. In fact, when your ‘on paper valuation goes up,’ it means you need to work harder to justify it: add more value to your partners and customers. The paper value is only on paper; even something like your public comparable missing projected earnings can result in the stripping of your unicorn horn. Investor perspective is an ever-moving target — I chose the “revolving door” analogy above for a reason.
Given all that, here’s the most important thing to remember: live your values, not your valuation. More than likely, your mission, culture, and values played a major role in getting your business to where it is today.
So sure, go ahead and celebrate a financial milestone, however big or small. But don’t confuse your valuation with your values. And make sure to live by the latter, for the benefit of all stakeholders.
That’s what we try to do. Our valuation may have grown many times over, but we’re still the same company we’ve always been — just with more people, including investors, paying attention. Our focus remains squarely on adding real value for our customers, thinking more like a hospitality business than a financial-services firm. That’s not just out of the goodness of our hearts, but because we all benefit from it, improving consumers’ lives while ensuring our survival as a business.
Here’s how we strive daily to live by our values:
We’re inclusive. We want Sunbit’s offerings — buy now, pay later plans — to reduce the stress of everyday buying needs literally for everyone, everywhere, whether they’re faced with an unexpected dentist bill, major auto repair, or anything else we cover. That’s why our technology approves over 90% of applicants, within 30 seconds.
We’re honest.We genuinely want people to succeed financially, on their terms. So it would be disingenuous at best and diabolical at worst to spring “gotchas” on our customers, like too many financial-services firms do. That means no hidden fees or other unpleasant surprises. And maximum transparency and flexibility. What we say you get is exactly what you get. In fact, we’ve never charged fees in our BNPL point of sale product , and we recently formalized that commitment to our customers, to make it even clearer where we stand.
We’re efficiency-minded. Waste not, want not, the saying goes. We take it even further by doing everything possible to eliminate financial waste, to pass that savings on to our customers — part of why we can commit to zero fees. So, when Sunbit hit unicorn status, there was no huge party in Cabo (um, that’s expensive). Instead, we reassessed where we were, leveled up our goals, and stayed focused on how to get there, keeping all of these values in mind.
We’re about long-term relationships. “We’re in this together” has become a popular term during the pandemic, with companies in every sector plastering that on their websites and ads. But we’ve always been about building relationships. We might not have flown everyone to Cabo after our Series D, but we are there for our employees, in both measurable and immeasurable ways.
When the pandemic started and we had only a few months of cash in our bank account with a lot of uncertainty, we were transparent with our employees and cut salaries across the board, with management taking the biggest cut. A few months later, when we saw that we were doing well and our bank account got filled, we got our employees back to their salaries before we went and hired new employees. Our employees are our ambassadors with our merchant partners and customers. If we treat them well and with respect, they will represent us well and treat the customers well.
Two things I try to remind our team members: Treat the customers and merchants the way you want to be treated, and treat each customer or merchant like she was the only customer or merchant for Sunbit. Don’t get blinded by the numbers. Remember that there are real people behind these numbers.
Live by your values, not your valuation. That’s our motto at Sunbit. I hope this has made you more willing to make it yours.