Unicorns And Their Valuations


Unicorn: Mythical creature

Unicorns. Until about 2 years ago if you mentioned ‘unicorn,” I suspect most people in Silicon Valley and elsewhere would have instantly thought of that mythical creature. But, that is not the case anymore. Ever since Aileen Lee wrote an article about “unicorns” and startups, we now instantly think of startups whose valuation is north of $1 billion. And with so many unicorns in Silicon Valley today it was natural that questions about unicorn valuations is on the minds of many people.

I Got 99 Unicorns…” is the title of a study published a few weeks ago by KPMG and CB Insights. No guesses that the study is a list of 99 startups valued over $1 billion. Intrestingly,  the combined valuation of these 99 unicorns is less than the total market cap of Facebook which is $229.99 billion. Which VC firms have the most unicorns? Sequoia followed by Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers. The study includes companies from 2011 to April 2015. So, I guess the latest unicorn- San Francisco-based Zenefits is not included in the list. Last week Zenefits raisedt $500 million in a new round of funding with a valuation of $4.5 billion. I guess there is a new study in the works on “How I Got 100 Unicorns?”

A couple of days ago Fenwick & West, a well-known Silicon Valley law firm published a report on the terms behind the unicorn valuations. They analyzed 39 companies over a 12 month period ending March 2015. And they unearthed some interesting findings. And here are a couple of interesting highlights from the Fenwick and West report.

  • A significant percentage of the highest valuation unicorns had dual class common stock which provided founders/management and in some cases other shareholders with super voting rights.
  • Attaining a unicorn valuation appears to be a goal of promising companies raising money, as 35% of the companies we analyzed had valuations in the $1-1.1 billion dollar range, indicating that the companies may have negotiated specifically to attain the unicorn level.

You have got to wonder how this run away valuation of startups is going to end? How will we look back at this age of unicorns? Will there be a crash? Some venture capitalists are already talking about a crash and dead unicorns. One of them is Bill Gurley, who has invested in these legendary unicorn companies. You can read what Gurley has to say about that crash that is just round the corner.