Starting from 2013, successful startups that swiftly reached an estimated value of $1+ billion have been referred to as unicorns. That’s how rare they are. Such companies as Airbnb, Uber, Facebook, Google, Snap, and Xiaomi were all seen as unicorns. Every startup dreams of getting this fabulous status because a billion-dollar estimate is a chance to make a statement to the world and get new growth opportunities.
The analytic agency CB Insights published a list of startups with a capitalization of more than $1 billion. It says that as of May 2021, there are 697 unicorns in the world. In our new blog post, you can read the success stories of the top 15 billion-dollar startups that are fun to watch as they inspire young projects to great deeds.
Analysts say that the company ByteDance has the world’s most expensive estimate. In 2021, its capitalization reached $140 billion. That’s why the startup was assigned the status of not only the unicorn but also hectocorn, i.e. a project worth more than $100 billion.
For most international users, the Chinese startup is known as the parent company of the social network TikTok and its Chinese twin Douyin. In addition, ByteDance owns about 10 applications and web services, such as news aggregator Jinri Toutiao, content platform TopBuzz, social networks Helo, cloud service Lark, smart lamps for parental control, and much more. The monthly audience coverage is over 1.5 billion active users. The company earns income through advertising and purchases within services.
The startup was founded by software engineer Zhang Yiming who developed a news application Toutiao in 2012. In 2016, the video service Douyin entered the Chinese market, and the year 2017 introduced TikTok to the world. 2019 saw the launch of the search engine Toutiao Search that provided keen and tough competition to Baidu.
Overall, ByteDance keeps growing rapidly: in 2017, its valuation was $20 billion, in 2018 the figure reached $75 billion, and this year it’s already over $140 billion. This startup is not only one of the world’s leading unicorns but also a member of China’s five biggest Internet companies together with Alibaba Group, NetEase, Tencent, and Baidu.
The online billing service Stripe has its own success story. Get ready to learn how a startup founded by two brothers from a small Irish village got ahead of the leading market players with thousands of workers and a multimillion client base.
Stripe develops software that allows businesses to accept payments from customers across the world by embedding a code into the website. The startup was founded in 2010 by Patrick and John Collison who have been fond of programming since they were kids. Brothers came up with the idea of their service when they faced the difficulties of transferring funds on the Internet while they were working on some side projects. It took them two years to test their product and build relationships with financial partners. 6 months after the launch, the project’s scale and potential became obvious to everyone, including investors.
The first seed investment came in 2010 from Y Combinator. Then the startup got investments from the head of Tesla Elon Musk, co-founder of PayPal Peter Thiel, and investment firm Capital G. According to Crunchbase, Stripe received $2.2 billion in investments over the 10 years of its existence. In 2017, the Forbes billionaire list included the Collison brothers for the first time.
The estimated value of the company amounted to $95 billion in 2021. Now the startup operates in 42 countries, and its client base includes Amazon, Github, Spotify, Uber, and Reddit amongsome other major players. Stripe generates its revenue from commissions charged per transaction (2.9% + 30 cents).
The main goals of this ambitious startup founded by Elon Musk are cheaper space flights and exploring Mars. Already in the 2030s, SpaceXplans to create a developable colony on the red planet and turn it into a city-like settlement by 2050. The company is also developing Starlink, the fastest possible broadband Internet connection for consumers around the world.
The startup was founded in 2002. Yet-unknown to wide circles, Elon Musk paid for its launch with money from selling his first IT project Zip2 and a stake in PayPal. The initial goal of SpaceX was to reduce the cost of space flights through reusable spaceships which cut costs by almost a half. In 2013, SpaceX offered the price of $56.5 million for a rocket launch, and it was recognized as the most cost-efficient in the space industry.
After almost twenty years of its existence, Elon Musk’s company has become the main competitor of Roskosmos and other players of the space industry, partly owing to solid state support. In 2021, the estimated value of the unicorn was $74 billion.
Epic Games was founded in 1991 by Tim Sweeney. Originally, it engaged in game development of such projects as Fortnite, Unreal, Gears of War, Shadow Complex, Infinity Blade, and others. One of the company’s main assets is the Unreal Engine used in modeling and architecture. It became so renowned that other developers pay a commission for using it.
In 2018, Epic Games opened a digital store to rival the leader of the segment, Steam (created by Valve). The new platform offered more favorable conditions for game creators who used it to sell their products. Valve’s commission totaled 30% while Epic Games held only 12% of the revenue.
Its estimated value makes it one of the ten most expensive companies in the world. In 2021, EG’s capitalization amounted to $28.7 billion. During its investment round, the startup attracted $1 billion of capital, including $200 million invested by Sony Corporation. The list of investors also included the Appaloosa fund, Baillie Gifford, Fidelity Management, and GIC.
Being one of the most serious Tesla competitors, this startup is called Elon Musk’s nightmare. The brand Rivianwas founded by RJ Scaringe in 2009, aiming to sell electric cars for active travel. Originally, the startup was working on a car that was bearing a strong resemblance to Tesla’s Roadster. But then Rivian pivoted two years later, changing its direction to producing luxury cargo and passenger vehicles.
To make his electric dream come true, Scaringe raised $450 million from Saudi Arabia’s Abdul Latif Jameel investment group, Japan’s Sumitomo Corporation, and London’s Standard Chartered.
It took Rivian almost 10 years to develop the first two electric vehicles. The R1S crossover and the R1T pickup were presented to the public at the 2018 Los Angeles motor show.
In 2021, the estimated value of the startup amounted to $27.6 billion. The ambitious brand plans to deliver 20,000 electric cars in 2021 and 40,000 in 2022, increasing sales to $1.4 billion and $2.8 billion respectively. Rivian’s customer Amazon ordered over 100,000 electric vans from the company and expects to get them by 2030.
Byju’s is an Indian educational platform offering educational materials for schoolchildren, including courses for exam preparation. The subjects are covered in animated videos that are 12–20 minutes long.
The startup was founded in 2011 by Byju Raveendran and Divya Gokulnath, and a learning app was launched in 2015. In 2016, the company raised the first round of investment. The list of investors includes Mark Zuckerberg’s fund, Sequoia Capital, Tencent, and the International Finance Corporation. Byju’s is the world’s most expensive education startup since its estimated value totaled $16.5 billion after raising $ 1 billion in 2021.
In April 2021, the company announced a new vector of development — Byju’s Future School. The platform moves from passive to active learning by introducing interactive elements, new teaching methods, and storytelling. Now, Byju’s is planning to expand to the educational markets of the US, UK, Australia, Brazil, Indonesia, and Mexico.
This private company from China is an innovator and market leader in unmanned aerial vehicles. It is widely recognized as a standard-bearer in the production of multicopters, their video equipment, and the most sophisticated microcontrollers.
Today DJI Innovations has branches all over the world, but it all started in the student dorm in Hong Kong in 2006. The startup’s founder and thought leader Frank Wang together with his friends launched a piece-production of unmanned aerial vehicles at a price of $6–10k. However, the first steps of the business were not successful and did not bring the desired profit.
Entrepreneurs decided to improve the technology and reduce its costs. In 2013, the $800-models were introduced to the market, which caused an explosion in demand around the world. The legendary Phantom quadrocopter was considered a breakthrough since it brought the company $130 million in revenue in 2013 and $500 million in 2015.
Innovation is one of the main startup’s features. The models are developed from scratch without borrowing other people’s technologies. DJI Innovations now occupies 70% of the global drone market. In 2021, the estimated value of the company was $15 billion.
Chinese EdTech startup Yuanfudao has benefitted a lot from the pandemic. COVID-19 and related restrictions have accelerated the growth of educational services significantly. This is an online distance learning platform that charges its tutors a commission from their fees.
The startup was founded in 2012 by former employees of NetEase — Shuai Ke, Xin Li, and Yong Li. In 2015, entrepreneurs launched Yuanfudao —a platform where students could find a tutor. In two years, the project received investments from three local giants at once as Alibaba, Baidu, and Tencent put their money into it. And in 2016, group lessons were introduced in addition to individual lessons, which also increased the number of users.
The end of 2019 consolidates the startup’s success since the number of attracted investments amounted to $542 million. But the corona-2020 became a driver for even more rapid growth. During the previous year, the company received $2.2 billion in investment from Tencent and DST Global across two rounds.
Today, the estimated value of Yuanfudao is $ 15.5 billion, making it the second most expensive education startup (after Byju’s).
Canvais an Australian graphic design platform founded by Melanie Perkins in 2012. This website and application allow you to create banners, logos, presentations, and graphic elements. You don’t have to be a professional designer to use Canva: users who have no such skills and/or special software can work with it too. The editor has a built-in set of templates, stock photos, and fonts to create images, infographics for web posts, and designs for prints.
Together with her partner Cliff Obrecht, Melanie launched her first design platform Fusion Books when she was 19. In 2012, Cameron Adams joined them to create Canva. It’s hard to believe that Melanie could not find investors for the startup even though she was regularly visiting Silicon Valley for several months. She held more than 100 meetings with investors, all of them unsuccessful. Thanks to her perseverance, the team still managed to attract the attention of investors and finally launched.
Now the service has 55 million users in 190 countries around the globe. A survey across 500 organizations showed that Canva is used in 85% of large US enterprises, including American Airlines, Kimberly-Clark, McKinsey, and Salesforce. The 2020 revenue totaled $500 million, showing an increase of 130%.
According to Crunchbaseestimates, the total investment in Canva has notched up $372.6 million since its foundation in 2012. As for 2021, the company costs somewhere around $15 billion.
Chimeprovides a mobile banking app where customers can open all sorts of accounts, including saving ones. Founded in 2013 by Chris Britt and Ryan King, the company immediately started billing itself as a consumer fintech organization rather than a bank.
Most of the fees charged by traditional financial institutions aren’t present at Chime. For example, the service does not charge fees for customer service, ATM withdrawals, and overdrafts. Instead, it receives the vast majority of its income from insignificant transaction commissions. Chime also encourages its customers to use cards more often by offering automatic savings. The app rounds the transaction amount to the dollar and adds the difference to the person’s savings account.
The pandemic has caused astonishing development within a company. In 2020, the volume of transactions increased more than three times. Chime also noticed an influx of new users from larger banks. Over 18 months, the startup’s valuation increased by 1015% to $14.5 billion. The total amount of investments is $485 million, and in comparison with March 2020, capitalization increased 9 times.
Juul Labs manufactures electronic cigarettes — you have probably seen these metal bars equipped with a USB input to connect tobacco cartridges and recharge the device. The startup was founded by two heavy smokers James Monsees and Adam Bowen who considered the tobacco industry to be rudimentary and in need of innovation.
This compact nicotine delivery system was introduced in 2015. At that time, there were already a lot of such devices on the market, but they were too bulky and required complex user settings. Juul’s simplicity and size were among its main advantages. A wide range of flavors was selected according to smokers’ preferences determined by surveys.
Three years after its launch, the startup captured 75% of the American market. The company grew rapidly and had an annual income of about $2 billion. In 2018, the global cigarette manufacturer Altria acquired 35% of Juul Labs for $12.8 billion. Because of that, critics believe that Juul used teenagers to capture a niche through advertising on social networks but then found protection in the face of a major market player. In 2021, the estimated value of the company got to $12 billion.
Aurora develops and manufactures unmanned vehicles, hardware, and software for engineering and machine learning. The startup was founded in 2017 and has become one of the industry leaders in terms of the number of funds raised.
Despite the high level of skepticism about autonomous driving, the company gained investors’ confidence thanks to its creators. Aurora’s founding team united former employees of Google (Chris Urmson), Tesla (Sterling Anderson), and Uber (Drew Bagnell). This year, the startup’s value is estimated at around $10 billion.
The company is working on improving its technology to make vehicles scan the environment, navigate the road, and prevent accidents. Among the partners of Aurora, there are such giants as Hyundai Motor, Volkswagen, and the Chinese manufacturer of electric vehicles Byton.
Another startup, Lalamove provides delivery services through a mobile and web application, connecting users with drivers in the same way as Uber. The service is popular in Asia and Latin America, allowing for interaction between 7 million customers and more than 700,000 drivers.
The startup was founded by Chow Shing-yuk in 2013 in Hong Kong and began to deliver goods within its local city premises. The company quickly expanded to other areas, reaching Singapore in 2014 and Bangkok and Taipei in 2015. Lalamove currently operates in 352 cities in mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, and Thailand. It also launched in the United States at the end of 2020. The business offers such services as cargo transportation, corporate logistics, moving, and car rental.
Lalamove attracted $2.5 billion of investments in total, and the last round took place in January 2021. The estimated value of the company hit $10 billion.
The startup offers B2B products for the cybersecurity and IT systems management. Tanium monitors and prevents hacker attacks, and its main competitive advantage is its high-speed response. The system connects PCs, laptops, servers, cash registers, and other technological devices used by an enterprise.
The startup was created in 2007 by father and son David Hindawi and Orion Hindawi. The growing need for network security ensured the project’s success, especially since it proved its excellence in testing. Also, the demand for information security has grown exponentially in 2020 due to the limitations of the pandemic and the massive transition to remote work.
Tanium is now trusted by major organizations around the world, including nearly half of the Fortune 100 and several units of the US Armed Forces. The startup is one of the most expensive in the field of cybersecurity, and in 2021, its estimated value got to $9 billion.
Discord is a free application that allows you to communicate via your PC or phone using text, voice, and video. Initially, the service was created for gamers, aiming to assist gameplay to the smallest detail. For example, it was meant to use minimal RAM to avoid game lags. It also allowed its users to moderate chats and allow/deny certain actions to other chat participants. Finally, Discord had excellent audio transmission parameters, and users could join conversations anytime.
The startup was created in 2014 by Jason Citron (CEO) and Stanislav Vishnevsky (CTO). But the developers consider Discord’s real launch day to be on May 13, 2015. It was when some users posted reviews on Reddit, thus attracting a great audience. Noticing the newcomers, the founders did not stand aside and initiated active communication. Gamers liked the atmosphere of the community and started recommending their chats to new members, attracting them to the app. Discord kept seeing several hundred accounts sign up daily.
Soon, the developers noticed that Discord is used not only by gamers but also by general users. A survey showed that 30% of participants have nothing to do with the game industry. That’s how the startup decided to pivot towards a mass audience. The pandemic also worked in the project’s favor: from February to June 2020, the number of users increased by 20%. Discord began to be used for distance learning and conferences.
Both founders adamantly refuse to sell ads and user data. They only make money on the Nitro service, selling it for $10 per month or $100 per year. It provides an expanded set of emojis, animated avatars, and increased file sizes for downloads. In April 2021, Microsoft offered developers to sell Discord for $12 billion, but the offer was rejected. The estimated cost of this unicorn is $7 billion.