Which Unicorn Companies Reached $1 Billion the Fastest?


We're not talking about those horned horses from our dreams and fairytales. Instead, we're focusing on the unicorns of the business world. Business unicorns are those extremely rare start-ups that grew from a lightbulb idea into a billion-dollar company.

The term was coined in 2013 by Aileen Lee. The angel investor chose the mythical creature to represent the statistical rarity of startups that reach these dizzying heights of success.

Zen Business decided to take a closer look at these unique creatures. Using data collected from CB Insights, it put together a list of the world's fastest unicorn companies. It also looked at the industry by industry breakdown of successful unicorns, as well as the growing number of female-led unicorns.

Here's what Zen Business found out about the wonderful world of unicorns.

The fastest unicorns in the world

Founded in 2012 by Al Goldstein, Paul Zhang, and John Sun, Chicago-based AI firm Avant is the fastest unicorn in the history of all unicorns. It took just one month and 16 days for the company to receive its billion-dollar valuation.

NuCom Group is the second speediest unicorn. Reaching a billion-dollar valuation in one month and 21 days, it missed out on the top spot by the tip of its horn.

The chasing pack, which includes iCarbonX and exclusive social media platform Clubhouse, took between five months to a year to achieve the mythical unicorn status.

These front-runners out-paced the average US-based unicorn by over half a decade. It took most US unicorns seven years, three months, and 13 days to hit the billion-dollar mark.

Anyone with ambitions to create their own unicorn should think about heading to Germany. Europe's hotbed for innovation is the country with the fastest speeds from foundation to billion-dollar status. On average, it took German unicorns six years and nine months to prove just how special (and valuable) they really were.

Study reveals which unicorn companies reached $1B the fastest

Patient unicorns

What would you do if someone offered you a billion dollars right now? Like most of us, you'd probably take it.
But this is what makes unicorn owners different. They know the true value of their companies, which is why many hold on to it for as long as they can. Some unicorns have held onto their independence for up to 15 years after hitting the $1billion mark.

In the startup world, the race to reach that unicorn status of a $1 billion valuation has become the name of the game.

Online flash retailer Veepee is the world's oldest unicorn. Created in 2001, it became a unicorn in 2007. It still operates as a unicorn and now has a market cap of over $3billion.

How did founder Jacques-Antoine Granjon manage to resist all those huge early offers?

Well, he believed in his company. "We knew we were different, which made us worth more," says Jacques-Antoine. "Customers go to Amazon because they need something specific. They come to us to be surprised. We put the fun and adventure back into online retail."

The year of the unicorn

According to the Chinese calendar, 2021 was the year of the ox. But it was actually the year of the unicorn. And that's because 2021 saw the highest number of new unicorns in a single year (501.) The year 2021 produced more unicorns than the last five years combined.

They include Brazilian neo-bank Nubank, electric vehicle automaker Rivian, and South Korean e-commerce company Coupang. And the AI-powered speech recognition platform Nuance Communications Inc achieved its unicorn status in 2021 thanks to a billion-dollar takeover from Microsoft.

"Covid hit many businesses hard," says one commentator. "But all these new unicorns proves there's plenty of opportunity and money on the table for the entrepreneurs who understand the technology and digital platforms that helped us get through the crisis."

Girl power: female-led unicorns

Female founders are leading 66 new unicorns into 2022. Statistically speaking, females are still massively underrepresented in the billion-dollar business class. But that’s changing - and it's changing fast.

Since 2019 the number of unicorns run by female entrepreneurs has risen by over 2% each year. And with a renewed emphasis on leveling up the post-Covid business world for women, a period of exponential growth for female-powered unicorns is just over the horizon.

It means we can expect to see many more talented women following in the footsteps of Adi Tatarko.

She's the co-founder and CEO of home design company Houzz. Her company is now worth a staggering $4billion, making it the highest-valued business in the United States run by a female founder. Tatarko is also the longest-serving current female unicorn founder.

Other female-run unicorn firms include Cloudflare, a US web infrastructure and website security company, and biotech firm 23andMe.

Industry by industry breakdown

Scottish independent brewery company BrewDog has gone from strength to strength since it started serving up cold ones. Still, it took Brewdog over a decade to become a unicorn (10 years and 37 days, to be exact.)

But that's not unusual in the catering, hospitality, and retail sector. It takes an average of 12 years for a catering or retail start-up to become a billion-dollar giant. That's the longest unicorn journey in any sector or industry.

Other industries where would-be unicorns have a long road ahead of them include edtech (eight years), internet software (eight years), and data management (seven years.)

The auto and transportation industry offers the fastest route for start-ups chasing unicorn status. On average, a successful automotive company can hit a billion valuation in five years and three months. The biggest innovators can speed past that and start chasing the next big milestone - the trillion-dollar valuation! Tesla did that in 18 years. Only Facebook managed to get there faster.

Artificial intelligence is the second speediest industry for start-ups with dreams of becoming unicorns (five years). AI is one of the fast-growing industries in the world. This emerging technology has countless applications in transport, gaming, defense, healthcare, education, and finance.

Unicorns are real! And their numbers are growing. So given the hyper-competitive nature of successful entrepreneurs, many are already looking beyond unicorn status to something even rarer - the Super Unicorn or Heactacorn. Because while $1billion might be very cool, $100 billion is even cooler!

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