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· Posted on
August 9, 2021

What’s a unicorn? And no, we don’t mean the mythical creature

In business, people talk a lot about unicorns - and they don't mean the one-horned horse. Here's what they actually mean.

What's the key learning?

  • Unicorns are a privately-held startup company, with a value of US$1 billion or more.
  • Venture capitalist Aileen Leen coined the term back in 2013.
  • She called them unicorns because finding one was extremely rare - about as tough as stumbling upon a one-horned beast.
  • Aussie companies Canva and Atlassian are unicorns.

What are the chances of seeing a real unicorn in the flesh? Unless you’re Harry Potter, the odds are 0. Mostly because unicorns don’t exist (sorry kids).

But back in the day when people thought unicorns were real, these one-horned beasts were quick, magical, and most of all - extremely rare.

Fast-forward to the 21st century in Silicon Valley, and a ‘unicorn’ has taken on a different meaning altogether: it’s a privately-held startup company with a value of over the ~magical~ US$1 billion-mark (AU$1.35 billion).

Venture capitalist Aileen Lee, coined the term back in 2013. Lee said startups that reached the $1 billion-mark were rare, and you’d have about as much luck finding one of those as you would a unicorn. 

But since 2013 (when there were 39 unicorns globally), a LOT has changed. Get this: in the second quarter of 2021 alone, there were 161 newly-minted unicorns.

And Australia’s been home to a couple unicorns in our lifetime too. Think Canva, Atlassian and Go1.

Investors love finding unicorns, because they reckon they can ride that baby all across the rainbow to the magical money pot. And sometimes, it’s true. But now, the true value for investors is finding the decacorn (US $10 billion) or the hectocorn (US $100 billion).

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