As new ideas are generated by alert and inspired minds nearly every day, there’s no shortage of startups sprouting at a steady rate. Yet not every startup is capable of meeting growth head-on and emerging as a household name. Battling these obstacles we’ve got an elite section of startups that has proudly managed to pave its way through the venture world and emerge as a billion-dollar organization or rather, a unicorn. And this powerful section continues to further expand every year.
From SpaceX, Uber, Stripe to Pinterest, we are all well aware of the several popular companies which are often associated with the term “unicorn”. Yet you may or may not have a clear idea of what a unicorn actually means. Have you ever pondered over why some startups are pegged with this title and what they have achieved to deserve it? Rather have you thought about how a company becomes a unicorn? This is exactly what we’ll be discussing in this blog.
What is a unicorn startup and how was the term coined?
In the context of the venture capital industry, ‘unicorn’ is a term that implies any start-up which has attained the valuation of $1 billion. Razorpay, Cars24, and Nykaa are some examples of popular Indian unicorns.
This term was coined by Aileen Lee, founder of the California-based seed-stage venture capital fund, CowboyVC. She wished to measure the chances of discovering and funding a promising startup. In 2013 she carried out research and discovered that only 0.07% of venture-backed businesses were valued at over $1 billion. Aiming to share her conclusions she decided to first coin a term that could authentically portray such startups.
“I played with different words like 'home run,' 'megahit,' and they just all sounded kind of 'blah.' So I put in 'unicorn' because they are - these are very rare companies in the sense that there are thousands of startups in tech every year, and only a handful will wind up becoming a unicorn company. They're really rare.”
- Aileen Lee
Unicorn Startups in India
The evolution in the number of Indian startups has reached remarkable levels in present times. As of early July, 2021, the number of unicorn startups in India presently stands at 50. In spite of the blow caused by the pandemic to the economy, 11 startups managed to achieve the tag of unicorns in the year 2020.
Below is a list of the startups who achieved unicorn status in 2020 and till mid 2021 :
Year Founded: 2015
Founder(s): Gaurav Munjal, Hemesh Singh, Roman Saini, and Sachin Gupta
Unacademy achieved unicorn status in September 2020 when it raised around $150 million in its Series F fundraising round which was headed by Softbank. The funding round raised the platform’s valuation from $510 million to $1.45 billion.
Founded in 2015 by Gaurav Munjal, Hemesh Singh, Roman Saini, and Sachin Gupta, Unacademy is an online learning platform, in which the user gets to view online videos of their curriculum as designed by experienced educators.
Year Founded: 2014
Founder(s): Shashank Kumar and Harshil Mathur
The payment gateway provider Razorpay gained unicorn status in October 2020 when the platform raised $100 million in its Series D funding round which was headed by GIC and Sequoia Capital India and Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund GIC.
Established in 2014 by Shashank Kumar and Harshil Mathur, Razorpay accepts, processes, and disburses money online for small businesses and enterprises. Some of its clients include NSE, Airtel, BookMyShow, IRCTC, as well as others.
Year Founded: 1998
Founder(s): Lokvir Kapoor
The leading merchant platform Pine Labs emerged as the first unicorn in 2020 after it raised a fresh round of funding from the global card network major Mastercard.
Reports around the time claimed that the platform’s valuation following the round neared $1.6 billion.
Founded in 1998 by Lokvir Kapoor, the company allows both online and offline retail transactions.Its services include payments acceptance technology, stored value products, in-store consumer credit and many more merchant solutions.
Year Founded: 2012
Founder(s): Falguni Nayar
The fashion and cosmetic retailer Nykaa successfully paved its way into the club of unicorns in April 2020, when it hoisted about Rs 100 crore through Steadview Capital in its Series F funding round.
Founded in 2012 by Falguni Nayar, Nykaa is an online marketplace for beauty and wellness products. The platform specializes in facilitating an extensive collection of cosmetics, skincare, haircare, fragrances, bath and body, luxury as well as wellness products for both women and men.
Year Founded: 2010
Founder(s): Nithin and Nikhil Kamath
The brokerage platform Zerodha earned the unicorn tag after the startup declared that it had decided to buy back the company’s shares given to its employees at a price following which the company valued itself at INR 7000 Cr (roughly $1 Bn).
Founded in 2010 by Nithin and Nikhil Kamath, Zerodha is a financial service company. It is an online discount broking company which aims at offering lower costs to its customers.
The platform is also a member of NSE, BSE, MCX, MCX-SX that gives brokerage services to stock market traders.
Year Founded: 2014
Founder(s): Abhinav Asthana, Abhijit Kane, and Ankit Sobti
The API development platform Postman, entered the unicorn club in June 2020, after raising $150 million in a Series C investment round, headed by US-based venture capital fund Insight Partners, which valued it at nearly $2 billion.
Founded in 2014 by Abhinav Asthana, Abhijit Kane, and Ankit Sobti, Postman aids developers and organizations in supercharging their application programming interface (API) workflow. It also aids them in creating complex requests, rewinding, and smoothly viewing the results.
Year Founded: 2010
Founder(s): Sudheer Koneru and Dheeraj Koneru
The spa and salon software startup Zenoti paved its way into the unicorn club in December 2020. This occurred when the Washington-headquartered SaaS startup raised $160 Mn in its Series D fundraising round.
Established by Sudheer Koneru and Dheeraj Koneru in 2010, Zenoti has set up an all-in-one, cloud-based software for salons, spas, and health industries. The platform claims to hold the capacity to manage scheduling, online booking, billing, built-in marketing, inventory management, CRM, and many such features.
The company is also the first vertical (serving the needs of a niche industry) SaaS startup entering the Indian startup unicorn club.
Startups that entered unicorn clubs from January 2020 - February 2021
Year Founded: 2015
Founder(s): Vikram Chopra, Gajendra Jangid, Ruchit Agarwal, and Mehul Agrawal
The used car marketplace platform Cars24 entered the unicorn club in November 2020 after hoisting $200 million in a Series E funding round headed by DST Global.
Founded in 2015 by Vikram Chopra, Gajendra Jangid, Ruchit Agarwal, and Mehul Agrawal, CARS24 is a technology platform that facilitates the purchase and sale of used cars in the span of an hour following a single visit to one of the platform’s branches. Apart from payment, the platform also handles paperwork such as RC transfer and authorizes end-to-end transactions.
Year Founded: 2010
Founder(s): Supam Maheshwari and Amitava Saha
The Pune-based omnichannel retailer dedicated to baby and mother care products Firstcry earned the unicorn tag in February 2020 after raising $296 million in Series E funding from Japan-based marquee investor Softbank’s Vision Fund.
As per media reports, this funding round led the company to achieve a $1.2 billion valuation.
Founded in 2010 by Supam Maheshwari and Amitava Saha, Firstcry provides varying baby and kids product categories that include kid's clothing, footwear, baby toys, books, etc.
Year Founded: 2009
Founder(s): Virendra Gupta
Dailyhunt paved its way into the unicorn club in December 2020, emerging as the Indian nation’s first tech unicorn focused on local languages after raising $100 million funding through Google, Microsoft, and Alpha Wave Incubation.
Founded in 2009 by Virendra Gupta and named Newshunt, the content startup began as a news aggregator and was later rebranded as DailyHunt in 2015. It assembles the content from websites and newspapers in varying Indian regional languages, which include Bhojpuri, Tamil, Marathi, as well as Gujarati.
The platform’s services also incorporate original video content in Hindi and Telugu as well as free live TV streaming in varying regional languages.
Year Founded: 2016
Founder(s): Naveen Tewari
The short video platform Glance emerged as a unicorn in December 2020, after receiving $145 million investment from Google and Mithril Capital. This made the platform Naveen Tewari’s second unicorn after InMobi.
Glance is a built-in feature of smartphones that offers personalized content powered by various regional languages. Being an InMobi Group subsidiary as well as the owner of Roposo a video-sharing social media platform, Glance facilitates content in five languages which include English, Hindi, Tamil, and Telugu in India, and Bahasa in Indonesia on the Android smartphone lock screens.
The latest two entrants into the unicorn club are namely Innovaccer and Digit Insurance.
Year Founded: 2016
Founder(s): Kamesh Goyal
The non-life insurance startup Digit Insurance, its headquarters residing in Bengaluru was valued at $1.9 billion in January 2021, after raising Rs 135 crore from its existing investors in its fundraising round, bringing the total funding of the platform to $224 million to date and pegging the platform as a unicorn.
Digit Insurance has established itself as a new-age insurer by adopting technology to streamline the process for customers such as smartphone-enabled self-inspection and audio claims. The startup was set up in 2016 by Kamesh Goyal and is also backed by the Canadian billionaire Prem Watsa’s Fairfax Holdings.
Year Founded: 2014
Founder(s): Abhinav Shashank, Kanav Hasija, and Sandeep Gupta
The healthcare software-as-a-service (SaaS) startup Innovaccer has paved its way to emerge as a unicorn after its fresh round of fundraising which was headed by Tiger Global Management which bumped up the platform’s valuation to $1.3 billion.
Founded in 2014 by Abhinav Shashank, Kanav Hasija, and Sandeep Gupta, this Silicon Valley startup operates the majority of its engineering, product management, and business functions like marketing and finance outside of India.
Apart from Innovaccer and Digit Insurance, many more companies have occupied the status of a unicorn this year so far as of early July 2021. These are namely, Meesho, Infra.Market, PharmEasy, CRED, Groww, ShareChat, Gupshup, Chargebee, Urban Company, Moglix, Zeta and BrowserStack.
Highest valued U.S Unicorns
Below are the top five highest-valued U.S based venture-backed organizations as compiled by Fortune :
SpaceX ($74 billion)
Owing to a fresh funding round led by Sequoia, SpaceX raised around $850 million making it the most valuable U.S.-based unicorn at a valuation of $74 billion as of February 2021. As reported by CNBC, the aerospace platform had a massive level of demand for its latest funding, helping its founder Elon Musk regain his status as the world’s richest person.
SpaceX is a private spaceflight platform that puts satellites into orbit and delivers cargo and crew to the International Space Station (ISS).
Stripe ($36 billion)
The payment processing fintech Stripe was valued at $36 billion after an extended Series G round in April 2020.
In the month of March 2021, Stripe raised a new $600 million round of funding valuing the company at $95 billion.
Pegged as the “Internet’s middleman”, Stripe is a platform that develops a variety of financial software products that empower online organizations like Google or Uber to handle and accept payments via the internet. The organization’s payment platform aims at streamlining the procedure of executing transactions online and as a result, propel online growth.
UiPath ($35 billion)
The Robotic process automation software company holds a valuation of $35 billion after it raised $750 million in a Series F funding round held in February 2020 headed by Coatue Management and Alkeon Capital Management. The platform is heading towards going public following the confidential listing for IPO by it in December 2020.
UiPath is an RPA (Robotic Process Automation) tool that is adopted for Windows desktop automation. It is adopted for automating repetitive tasks through the aid of drag and drop functionality and eradicates the involvement of humans. The tool facilitates various editions for backing different kinds of users, coupled with providing an active community for resolving issues.
Roblox ($29.5 billion)
The online video game platform and game designing system Roblox has raised around $855.8 million in the private markets, earning a $29.5 billion valuation.
The platform recently went public in the month of March, at a $41.9 billion valuation, in direct listing
Roblox is a vast online platform where kids can create and play millions of 3D online games. It allows users to program and play games created by other users.
The company generates maximum revenue through its Robux currency sale, which can be adopted for purchasing in-game virtual objects. On March 10, 2021, the company went public on Wednesday, i.e it opened up sales of its shares.
Databricks ($28 billion)
The platform became a unicorn in February 2019 when it raised a $250 million Series E round led by Andreessen Horowitz valuing the company at $2.75 billion.
The data analytics platform Databricks recently raised a massive $1 billion in February 2021, in a Series G round which was headed by Franklin Templeton Investments, bringing the platform’s total valuation to $28 billion.
The company facilitates data analytics and AI tools to businesses. It makes big data analytics software for processing data in the cloud. It is a cloud-based data analytics platform that aids businesses in deriving actionable insights by integrating data science, engineering and business workflow into a single platform through AI and machine learning.
What had merely been a U.S concept a couple of years back is now a frequent phenomenon spanning across the globe with fresh unicorns emerging from the rank every year. And while unicorns are frequently considered the new normal, there’s a caveat here.
Platforms funded by venture capital have also risen over 100,000 in the span of the past five years, implying that unicorns still remain a rare occurrence in the venture-backed world.
It would be interesting to observe how the scale of emerging unicorns grows and expands in the coming years.