What is a unicorn?

“Unicorn” in the startup world was first used by VC investor Aileen Lee in 2013 to describe a privately-owned tech company valued at over $1B. In 2013, unicorn was a suitably mythical term for a rare breed of startup – the ones that could return a fund. 

These days unicorns are not just more common, they’ve crossed over, featuring in mainstream news and political speeches. An important debate continues about the merit of championing unicorns above all else, but what’s sure is that the currency of unicorns is here to stay.

That’s why we’ve now made it super easy to find, filter and track every single one, globally. 

The Unicorn Club

 

What is a unicorn?

So a unicorn is just a billion dollar tech company right? Well, unfortunately startups have such individual growth and funding journeys, that it’s not quite that simple.

For Dealroom’s Unicorn Club we include tech companies founded since 1990, that are current valued at over $1b. We exclude companies that passed $1B as a subsidiary, but we include companies that may now be worth less than $1B, but exited at $1B+. Here’s a bit of insight into our own thinking on all the different edge cases.

 

What exactly do we mean by all these edge cases?

Bootstrapped to $1B

The same as any other unicorn, just harder to track. Without funding rounds to gather disclosed or inferred valuation these stealth unicorns fund their own impressive growth. Notable examples include Checkout.com, Mailchimp and Atlassian.

Post-IPO $1B

Startups that IPO’d below $1B but have subsequently passed the magic mark. E.g. Zendesk

Post Private Equity $1B

Companies that exited below $1B to private equity and later passed $1B. E.g. Callcredit, TheTrainline.com.

Phoenix: unicorn comeback

Introducing Fanduel. Valued at over a billion privately, exited below $1B, before passing $1B again. Most recently valued at $11.3B – quite the comeback.

From unicorn exit to zebra

These companies exited at over $1B but have subsequently fallen back in valuation. E.g. Funding Circle.

From unicorn to zebra (but no $1B exit)

These tend to be companies that made headlines for the wrong reasons. Companies that were valued in the private market over $1B but exited below. E.g. Ve Interactive, Shazam. These are not included in the Unicorn Club.

Icarus: from unicorn to failure

Even bigger headlines. Wirecard, Wonga, Theranos et al. who flew too close to the sun. These are not included in the Unicorn Club.

Became unicorn as subsidiary

We don’t include these as core Unicorn Club startups, but they do have their own tag and saved search so you can easily find them. 

Married into it

Became part of a unicorn through merger. Not included.

Rumoured $1B

Self explanatory. We don’t include these by default due to unverified valuations.

ICO unicorn

A minefield deserving of a dedicated post sometime. Currently we don’t include most companies that reach unicorn status via Initial Coin Offering. But it’s a case by case thing.

Biotech

Biotech has a slightly different growth and funding model from other startups so is arguably an edge-case. Some people count biotech unicorns, some don’t. On Dealroom we include them but they can be filtered out.

Quasi tech $1B

Some edge-case gambling companies and lightly tech-enabled consumer brands have been curated with the quasi tech tag. We don’t include them by default.

By getting so granular with our unicorn structure, we hope you can tailor your searches and tracking by as broad or narrow a definition as you like, to help you track trends, opportunities and tech ecosystem performance.
The Unicorn Club