Anatomy of a Unicorn: Pressure Makes Diamonds

STEPN Official
5 min readJul 19, 2022


“Lots of important companies were started during down cycles. Your conviction will be tested. Those that survive will be stronger.”

-Brian Chesky, CEO and Founder of AirBnB

Hello STEPN family,

This is the first part of a series where we will do a deep dive — a case study — of successful companies that have been born out of economic downturns.

Some of the most important companies in the world were built during recessions. There’s AirBnB (‘08), Facebook (‘04), Uber (‘09), and Microsoft (’75) just to name a few.

As we like to think of it, there’s no better place to learn from than history. That’s why we’re starting this series, to investigate how economic headwinds and pressures made the diamonds of today.

For Context

First, let’s briefly set the stage.

It’s undeniable — we are in a period of significant economic downturn as recession fears loom, not just for the immediate crypto world we operate in, but for the global economy at large.

The typical benchmark for a bear market such as this is when the market comes down at least 20% from its high mark, and indeed that has been the case. As layoffs and hiring freezes occur across both Big Tech and web3, many projects that were built on hype are starting to suffer losses.

In an interview with fortune, Mark Cuban predicted a shakeout of not just stocks but of projects in the crypto market, predicting that many won’t survive the crash.

We’ll be the first to admit — STEPN has taken some hits to our tokenomy. To our community: we know it may seem difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel right now, but we’re actually more confident than ever in our team and product. We plan to stick around for a while.

Because at the end of the day, “what sustains crypto is building cool and useful stuff,” says writer mhonkasalo, whose attitude towards this slowdown is one of measured optimism and investigation — one that we can get behind!

“The crypto market cycle is a function of building → frustration with the market not reacting to it → a financial innovation triggering growth.”

Making a diamond

STEPN is through and through a team of builders. We have a one-track mind for putting more cool and useful stuff into the world. While we acknowledge that tough times are ahead, we have no doubt in our mind of our ability to survive… and become even stronger.

Why are we so confident? Well, because we are well aware that hard times actually make good businesses stronger.

For those of us who remember, the financial crisis of 2007–2008 (also known as “The Great Recession”) was among the five worst financial crises the world had experienced, leading to a staggering $2 trillion loss from the global economy. After the US housing bubble burst, the world was plunged into a period of severe economic slowdown — US GDP declined by 0.3% in 2008 and 2.8% in 2009, while unemployment briefly reached 10%.

There are countless statistics we could cite to show just how bad things were, but one statistic that many people overlook is actually a positive one. 2009, emerging from the recession, was the year where the largest number of US software companies were founded between 2003 and 2014. Indeed, builders were building… and the builders who believed in their product and team and persisted through tough times were richly rewarded.

Case Study: AirBnB

One example of such a company is online rental platform AirBnB.

Today, the startup is one of the most well-known companies in the world. And in 2020, it surged over a $100 billion valuation, notching the biggest US IPO of the year. The site has over 5 million listings worldwide, is active in over 100,000 cities, and boasts 150 million users who book vacations, stays, or experiences. In total, over 1 billion guests have stayed at AirBnBs.

But things weren’t always going so well for AirBnB… so let’s rewind things a bit and see how they got things started.

Back in 2007, roommates Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky were struggling to pay their San Francisco rent. They also knew that a big design conference was coming to the city, and that hotels would be booked up left and right.

That sparked an idea — and Gebbia wrote Chesky a pivotal email.


i thought of a way to make a few bucks — turning our place into “designers bed and breakfast” — offering young designers who come into town a place to crash during the 4 day event, complete with wireless internet, a small desk space, sleeping mat, and breakfast each morning. Ha!


Then, the pair actually did it — they created a simple site, called, and bought three air mattresses for their loft

…and then the rest was history?

Not quite. See, the duo were trying to build out their idea around 2008, during some of the worst times of the recession. They were broke and in debt and struggling to secure investor capital. Even after grabbing the attention from Paul Graham of Y Combinator, they were rejected by countless investors who simply couldn’t visualize their path to success.

So instead, the duo doubled down and got scrappy. Today, they’re one of the most well-known companies in the world.

But despite challenges from all angles, they persevered and continued to evolve their product in real-time. No doubt, iterating their product with skeptics abounding forced the founders to really develop their conviction for their idea and iron out snags in their business model.

Closing Thoughts

At STEPN, we’re particularly inspired by companies who have gone through hard times and made it out even stronger. We love nothing more than a scrappy success story. And now, according to Brian Chesky himself, is precisely the period to get building.

Like this series? Let us know what you think! And keep a lookout for the next part — where we dive into how projects weather bear markets.



STEPN Official

STEPN is a Web3 lifestyle app with Social and Game elements.