Lead Story

Who’ll bag the next billion?

India is churning out more unicorns than ever before, thanks to the digital transformation. We give you the start-ups next in line to hit the coveted valuation


Every other person assumes that the mythical unicorn is of Western origin. Maybe it is because Naturalis Historia by the Roman naturalist Pliny is one of the better-known recordings of its ‘sighting’. Or maybe it is because we have been taken in by popular movies, which show them gambolling about with blue-eyed royals. But really, unicorn may have been Indian. What may have fascinated the ancient adventurous heroes could have been our humble and reclusive rhino. We gave the world the first unicorn (most likely) and now we are unleashing a glory of them.

Except this time, our unicorns are start-ups, as defined by venture capitalist Aileen Lee. She had coined the term in 2013 to describe any new business with a billion-dollar valuation. According to a report by CB Insights, India had the fourth highest number in the world at the end of 2018 (See: The billion-dollar club). Of the total 360 unicorns, the US has nearly half. China comes in second with one-fourth, followed by the UK.

Year 2018 saw the maximum number of unicorns emerging out of India, with eight firms joining the elite club. These include foodtech companies Swiggy and Zomato, edutech firm Byju’s, insurance marketplace Policybazaar, hotel aggregator Oyo, online retailer Paytm Mall and India’s fastest unicorn, Udaan. The B2B e-commerce start-up was barely two years old when it raised $225 million from DST Global and Lightspeed Venture Partners in September 2018 and joined the billion-dollar club. 

Ola’s electric vehicle arm Mission: Electric bagged the benchmark valuation when it raised $250 million from SoftBank as part of its Series B round this July, even as the rollout of its first product is only expected by 2021. To drive home the contrast, in the six years between 2011 and 2017, only ten start-ups had joined the unicorn club.

A wave of optimism is sweeping across the world. Investors today are more confident about placing big bets of over $100 million in mega rounds of financing. When Lee wrote ‘Welcome to the Unicorn Club’ around six years ago, there were only about 39 unicorns across the world. They were as rare as the mythical creature. Today, there are nearly 10x that number. In


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