In your business, are you building a pyramid or riding a wave?

Yesterday, Clio announced a CAD $333.5 million investment in their company by US firms TCV and JMI Equity, making it the largest venture capital investment in Canada since 2000.

This may come as a surprise to many in BC since the legal tech provider keeps a low profile. But Jack Newton and his team have been quietly building a Canadian unicorn-in-waiting that will be a name all Canadian business news readers know in the years ahead as they continue on a path to IPO.

We can compare Clio’s story with Hootsuite’s, another successful BC startup that has flirted with unicorn status and was started at about the same time.

Hootsuite shot to prominence like a rocket, creating a worldwide brand almost overnight in social media – a space that heated up as fast any in business. Ryan Holmes and his team realized the opportunity they were sitting on and acted quickly and adeptly to capitalize on it. Hootsuite’s culture is aggressive and intrepid. It produces some experiments that don’t always work out, but it’s a company not afraid to try and learn.

Having worked for both companies, I found that they’re each geared for a different type of market pattern. There’s a lesson in this divide for startup entrepreneurs who are planning their strategy for long term growth. They need to be clear with themselves whether they are in a highly dynamic market, like a wave, or a static landscape where patience and long term vision win out.

It may sound like it would be obvious for a business, but undoubtedly there are thousands of entrepreneurs out there who are forecasting their space to “explode” in the next couple of years. It’s a natural instinct – to help combat the internal tension of starting a business that half the people you speak to think you’re crazy for starting – par for the course in the innovation space.

I haven’t seen Clio’s early pitch decks, so perhaps they forecast the same. But the key thing is they acted in a way that didn’t require the market immediately to change for them.

From the start Clio was built to stand the test of time, like an Egyptian pyramid. They’ve always been cost conscious, building the company block by block – floor by floor – in a low-key business park in Burnaby. They’re highly transparent with their staff about financial metrics and performance, so everyone knows what they’re building and internal hype doesn’t get too far ahead of the key numbers.

On a graph their revenue growth forms an incredibly straight line over ten years, not unlike the profile of a pyramid gradually mounting against the horizon.

I don’t think this approach would have worked in social media. It’s a race where the hare actually wins and the tortoise doesn’t finish. But with the deeply entrenched conservatism in the legal industry and numerous regulatory barriers, it’s clearly the right play in legal tech.

We should congratulate Clio on their performance to date. It’s impressive. But it should also be a call to study their strategy and inspire more entrepreneurs to play the long game.

Guest author Steve Lowry is a serial entrepreneur and media disrupter.