A look at the start-up companies valued at over $1 billion.
Entrepreneurs, Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp, struck gold in 2009, when they developed a smartphone app that could summon a private taxi with the press of a button. Uber launched in their home city of San Francisco the following year, shuttling affluent young professionals around the booming tech metropolis in black Lincoln Town Cars with white-glove service. Passengers loved the convenience; drivers found an extra source of income and Uber built a business by pocketing 20% of each ride.
With its model established, Uber plotted a rapid global expansion, bringing the service to more than 270 cities around the world in five years. The company’s success has sprouted imitators like Lyft and Sidecar as well as opposition from the incumbent taxi industry and regulators who have raised concerns about safety. The service has been banned in Nevada and and outside the U.S. in parts of India, China and Thailand.
Aside from Apple Inc. and Google Inc., few tech companies can compete with China’s Xiaomi Corp. when it comes to fervent fans. Devotees of the smartphone maker (whose name means “little rice” in Chinese) will fly across the country to bear witness to a product launch and send founder Lei Jun handmade gifts on holidays.
It’s why Xiaomi has become China’s largest smartphone vendor after only four years. It also became the world’s most highly valued startup in December 2014, after closing a new $1.1 billion round of funding at a $46 billion valuation.
It has consistently launched smartphones with advanced specs that are comparable to leading global brands, but at a fraction of the price.
Hospitality startup Airbnb is the United States' second largest unicorn. Airbnb’s three cofounders CEO Brian Chesky, CPO Joe Gebbia, and CTO Nathan Blecharczyk are each worth $3.3 billion. The business initially turned off investors, including Y Combinator founder Paul Graham, who called it a "terrible idea". After a slow start, Airbnb began to blossom into a vast online database of lodging choices, letting users rent everything from treehouses in California to an 18th century windmill in France to bohemian beach houses in Rio. More than 60 million people had used Airbnb's room rental service, which operates in 34,000 cities in 190 countries.
The company sells software that performs link analysis. The input could be anything – phone numbers, bank records, license plate numbers. Palantir analyzes their relationships and presents them in a slick visual format.Palantir’s best customers have been U.S. law enforcement and federal three-letter agencies.
Didi Dache and Kuaidi Dache, China’s two largest taxi-hailing applications, agreed to merge in February 2015, putting an end to their escalating battle over customers and creating a dominant player. The combined company, Didi Chuxing Technology Co., has become a ride-hailing superpower, even overtaking the world's largest such startup, Uber Technologies Inc. In early 2016, Uber sold its China operation to Didi for roughly $20 billion in a stock swap. Both companies were spending huge sums on subsidies to entice drivers and riders, raising fresh capital to spend on luring traffic to their services. Now Uber is its largest shareholder, next to Apple Inc., Alibaba and Tencent.
Snapchat co-founders Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy are the world's youngest self-made billionaires. Snapchat is an image messaging and multimedia mobile application with the ability to share a photo with one or more friends under the condition they can only view it for 24 hours before it disappears forever. With more than 150 million monthly users, Snapchat has become one of the most used apps in the U.S.
Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal, who are unrelated but share the same last name, both worked at Amazon Web Services in Bangalore before teaming up to develop an e-commerce site for Indians. The portal started selling books initially and later electronics before it transformed into a retail platform for small and large businesses to sell their products. Flipkart has launched its own product range under the name "DigiFlip" with products including tablets, USBs, and laptop bags. Flipkart is the only Indian unicorn.
Pinterest is a web and mobile application company that operates a photo sharing website. Users can upload, save, sort, and manage images—known as pins—and other media content (e.g., videos) through collections known as pinboards. Pinterest also allows businesses to create pages aimed at promoting their companies online. A few months after it launched the service took off first among the arts and crafts crowd in the Midwest, then expanded to home decorators, home cooks and young brides who collect or “pin” images ranging from do-it-yourself projects to cupcake recipes and favorite wedding hairstyles. Pinterest’s content library has grown to over 30 billion unique pins, and doubling every nine months. n 2016 Pinterest boosted its monthly user totals to 150 million world-wide from 100 million in September 2015.
Dropbox is a file hosting service that offers cloud storage, file synchronization, personal cloud, and client software. Dropbox allows users to create a special folder on their computers, which Dropbox then synchronizes so that it appears to be the same folder (with the same contents) regardless of which device is used to view it. Files placed in this folder are also accessible via the Dropbox website and mobile apps. Dropbox claims more than a half-billion users, some of whom pay. It says its software is used by nearly all Fortune 500 companies and that some 200,000 customers are businesses.
Lufax, short for Shanghai Lujiazui International Financial Asset Exchange Co., Ltd., is a spin-off from Ping An Insurance (Group) Co. of China Ltd, and one of China’s biggest peer-to-peer lending platforms. P2P – peer-to-peer – lenders link lenders and borrowers directly, bypassing the banks that have traditionally had a near monopoly on making loans. Set up late in 2011, it has since arranged more than 200,000 loans worth $2.5 billion.
Meituan.com and Dianping Holdings Ltd., two of China’s largest Internet start-ups, joined forces in October to form Meituan-Dianping under a new holding company called China Internet Plus Holding Ltd. that turns two rivals into a dominant player in restaurant bookings, movie ticketing and other online-to-offline services. The company raised $3.3 billion in January in the largest private fundraising round for a venture capital-backed startup ever.
SpaceX is an aerospace manufacturer and space transport services with the goal of creating the technologies to reduce space transportation costs and enable the colonization of Mars. The company has built rocket engines, navigation systems and large parts of solar assemblies in-house, rather than buying them from others. It has developed the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 launch vehicles, both designed to be reusable, and the Dragon spacecraft which is flown into orbit by the Falcon 9 launch vehicle to supply the International Space Station (ISS) with cargo. A manned version of Dragon is in development.
WeWork is a company which provides shared workspace, community, and services for entrepreneurs, freelancers, startups and small businesses. WeWork designs and builds physical and virtual communities in which entrepreneurs share space and office services and have the opportunity to work together. The company’s 30,000+ members have access to health insurance, an internal social network, social events and workshops, and an annual summer retreat. WeWork has more than 250 employees and has locations in 19 United States cities and 11 countries including Australia, Canada, China, Hong Kong, France, United Kingdom, Israel, South Korea, Mexico and Netherlands. WeWork was named among the "most innovative companies" of 2015 by Fast Company magazine.
Dà-Jiāng Innovations Science and Technology Co., Ltd manufactures unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), also known as drones, for aerial photography and videography, gimbals, flight platforms, cameras, propulsion systems, camera stabilizers, and flight controllers.T he Chinese company has sold hundreds of thousands of its Phantom drones, enabling filmmakers, hobbyists and journalists to document the world from a new vantage point. DJI is now the world’s largest consumer-drone maker by revenue, topping $1 billion in 2015, roughly eight times the $130 million recorded in 2013. According to an article in The Economist in 2015, DJI is the leading company in the civilian-drone industry.
Spotify is a Swedish music, podcast, and video streaming service that provides digital rights management–protected content from record labels and media companies. It is available in most of Europe, the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, and limited Asian countries and territories. After applying unsuccessfully for a job at Google Inc. as a 16-year-old, Daniel Ek became a multimillionaire at age 23 when he sold an online advertising company in his native Sweden in 2006. He then turned his focus to the sputtering music industry to create an alternative to music-piracy services such as Napster. As of late 2016, the company counted 30 million subscribers to its $9.99 premium plan, and about 70 million active users of its free, ad-supported version – by far the biggest global user base of any subscription music offering.
Stripe is an Irish technology company, operating in over 25 countries, that allows both private individuals and businesses to accept payments over the Internet. Stripe focuses on providing the technical, fraud prevention, and banking infrastructure required to operate online payment systems. Prior to founding Stripe, the Collisons were founders of online-auction management firm Auctomatic. When it was valued at $9.2 billion in November 2016, Stripe said half of all U.S. internet users have made a payment through a merchant using Stripe—up from a quarter last year, but it declines to comment on its transaction volume. In 2016, Stripe was ranked #4 on the Forbes Cloud 100 list.
In November 2013 a range of Chinese technology firms came together to invest in and launch China's first online-only insurer.
The launch of Zhong An Online P&C Insurance Co. marked a rare collaboration between rivals Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Tencent Holdings Ltd., and also included the backing of Ping An Insurance, one of China's largest insurers.
Snapdeal was founded in 2010 by childhood friends Kunal Bahl and Rohit Bansal as a coupon site similar to Groupon Inc. In 2011, it shifted its business model to become an online marketplace selling everything from clothing, accessories, and electronics to homes. It is India’s largest online marketplace with about 275,000 sellers, over 30 million products and a reach of 6,000 towns and cities across the country.
Lyft is an American transportation network company based in San Francisco, California. Launched in June 2012 by Logan Green and John Zimmer, the company's mobile-phone application facilitates peer-to-peer ridesharing by connecting passengers who need a ride with drivers who have a car.
The Ola app connects people who want rides with drivers of taxis and auto rickshaws, motorized tricycles that are one of India's most popular modes of transportation. The app offers access to more than 75,000 cars in more than 50 locations that include all of India's major metropolitan areas as well as many smaller towns. Ola, which is incorporated as ANI Technologies, makes money by charging a commission of 20% on every booking.