Unicorn Startups Could Rule the Business World

A Unicorn Club

A Unicorn is a mythical creature that is not visible to the eye. In the world of business corporations and conglomerates, the term Unicorn refers to those startup companies that have a total valuation of more than a billion dollars. Promoted by the venture capitalist Aileen Lee, a Unicorn Club is a group of billion-dollar startups that are highly successful business ventures with a revolutionary trade brand tagged to their business operations. Most of such businesses exist in the USA, especially in San Francisco area. However, mighty Unicorn startups exist outside the USA too.

Top Unicorns do not belong in the United States

The majority of the world’s top unicorns are from the “US (54 percent), followed by China (23 percent), India (4 percent), the UK (4 percent), Germany (2 percent), and South Korea (2 percent). A brief review of available data suggests us that the majority of shares of the value of top unicorns do not belong to the United States but to those that lie outside that country.

Annual Share of Companies added to the global unicorn club by location (The Unicorn Club outside the US – Emerging Unicorn Dens that Could Rule the Business World - Greenhouse)

In essence, just over 50 percent of global unicorn startups that relocated in the United States have a cumulative value of 51 percent of the universal unicorn club of top firms.

The total capitalization of unicorn startups from the United States and China are $35.9 billion and $30.2 billion respectively. The percentage of unicorns that drop below the $1 billion is increasing day by day, and this position is witnessed in the case of both United States and China as they shift their position almost every year.

A blog by Redpoint partner Tom Tunguz analyzed this trend and concluded that over a half, a decade interval, the United States had the most lethargic venture capital market (up by 12 percent) when compared with China (an increase of 52 percent).

Unicorn startups outside of the US

The venture capital investment has witnessed several new vistas and development especially in those countries that lie outside the United States. According to a report published by CB Insights, more numbers of unicorns are appearing in Asia and Europe. In 2014-2015, 37 percent of firms that reached their first $1billion capitalization mark were found outside the United States.

In the year 2015-16, this number saw a steep rise of 53 percent and by the dawn of 2017, this figure rose even further to 58 percent. This report also concluded that out of 42 business forms that were added to the unicorn club, 24 were located in those countries that are outside the geographical territory of the United States. Outside the USA, many Unicorns also originate in Asia especially China, India and South East Asia.

International unicorn club: 106 private companies outside the US valued at $1B+ (The Unicorn Club outside the US – Emerging Unicorn Dens that Could Rule the Business World - Greenhouse)

The following diagram shows the locations of unicorn startups that are based outside the United States. In the year 2013, more than 70 percent of firms were located in the United States. However, with each passing year, the share of US-based unicorns has dropped down, and in 2016, less than 50 percent of unicorns were added to the United States (42 percent). The latest survey by CB Insights reported that the most valued non-US based unicorns were from China and the following companies led this pack:

  1.      Toutiao ($11B),
  2.      Mobike ($3B),
  3.      NIO ($2.9B), 
  4.      e-shang Redwood ($2B)

Based on the CB Insights report, China is the leader of the club with more than 55 unicorns. China also boasts of three of the most rated non-US unicorn startups like:

  1.       Didi Chuxing (50 billion)
  2.       Xiaomi ($46 billion) and
  3.       Lu.com ($18.5 billion)

Of the analyzed unicorn companies (32), the United States and China had the most number of unicorns that are valued above $5 billion. Out of this, China had 14 unicorns while the United States had 13 unicorns. India had three unicorns with an overall capitalization of $2.2 billion.

Now, other countries too boast of highly valued unicorn business firms. Some of them are listed below:


  1.    Africa Internet Group in Nigeria
  2.    Promasidor Holdings 
  3.    Cell C in South Africa.

The Middle East:

  1.    ironSource 
  2.    Infinidat in Israel
  3.    Careem in the United Arab Emirates

South America:

  1.    LifeMiles in Colombia
  2.    Decolar in Argentina

Some unicorn companies that have the highest capitalization value outside the United States and China are as follows:

  1.       Flipkart ($11.6 billion) in India
  2.       Spotify in Sweden ($8.5 billion)
  3.       Snapdeal in India ($7 billion)

South East Asia that is a home to millions of people spread across 11 countries is also witnessing tremendous growth in many areas of business. The exciting growth of unicorn startups from China and India has shadowed the immense growth that has taken place in the South East Asian region.

Available data indicate that there are plenty of opportunities for businesses to grow and become unicorns. Most of the unicorns of the region are still young (average age of around 6 years). The youngest and the fastest growing unicorn startup is Indonesia’s Traveloka (2012) while the oldest is the Vietnam-based VNG (11 years). The aggregate capitalizations of these two firms and others in the area are $10 billion. Tokopedia from Indonesia is yet another example of homebred unicorns that has a total capitalization of $100 million.

Most of the Asian unicorn startups are categorized into four main business models and they are listed here:

  1.       E-Commerce: like Indonesian unicorn, Tokopedia
  2.       Audience: website monetization through floating ads and leads like Google
  3.       SaaS: a user paid cloud-based software services
  4.       Enterprise: companies that sell and provide services for larger scale software

This century belongs to Asian unicorn startups. Once called “dragons”, some countries of Asia (China, India, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam) are waiting for global business opportunities to turn themselves into a unicorn’s den.

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