In March 2018, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) software provider UiPath was valued at USD 1 billion, a rare enough event for the company to be dubbed a ‘unicorn’. But the road to success of this Romanian-born startup has been far from straightforward. Having strayed from the path a number of times, it faced closure before emerging as the leader of the global RPA market – proof that in UiPath’s case success lies not so much in the recipe, but in the ingredients.
As the saying goes, everything looks clear in the rear view mirror. In this particular case, due to the speed with which UiPath has moved in the past two years, one mere glance is bound to give anyone motion sickness. On 6 March, UiPath, which is headquartered in New York but has kept its software development in Bucharest, received a USD 153 million investment in the form of a Series B funding, pushing its valuation above USD 1.1 billion. The move came after a year of record growth, during which UiPath was named leader of the RPA market by Forrester, scoring highest when assessed for its technology. 2017 also saw the firm’s enterprise customer base grow from fewer than 100 customers to more than 700, pushing the company’s annual recurring revenue up by a staggering 690 percent.
To sustain the growth, last year the start-up embarked on a massive expansion of its global presence, doubling its workforce to over 500 professionals and opening offices in ten countries. Among them, the Japanese chapter, UiPath K.K., the first office opened in the country by a leading RPA software provider, had a major role in the company’s advancement.
But, having emerged from Bucharest as leader of a market that is only now taking shape at a global level, as a seller of enterprise software, Romania’s first unicorn is part of an extremely rare subspecies. Especially considering that it started developing its core product independently of a market it had very little knowledge of, and only five years ago considered shutting down the business.
An exception to nearly every rule
Romania’s first USD 1 billion tech start-up has its origins in a software outsourcing company founded by UiPath’s CEO Daniel Dines and Marius Tirca, its CTO, in 2005. Located in a flat in Bucharest’s Delea Veche, DeskOver built automation libraries and software development kits for companies such as IBM, Google and Microsoft, which embedded them in their own products. But it wasn’t until 2012 that the team, which numbered 10 people, realized the market fit with RPA and started putting its resources into building a platform for training and orchestrating software robots. While that may seem like a natural progression, for the start-up and its product, today’s most widely adopted RPA platform in the world, that time could have spelled a dead end.
“During that period, we failed multiple times. Uipath is a series of all possible mistakes that one entrepreneur can make,” says Daniel Dines in a candid interview in Bucharest, after making the global announcement that UiPath was a newly minted unicorn. To his right, in an airy office with a charming view in the heart of the city, sits a little rainbow-haired unicorn he had just been gifted. “The first mistake,” Dines recalls, “was to build a start-up while also doing consulting work and outsourcing. We had to bootstrap the company by doing consulting work. It’s distracting, really. You’re much better raising money by going to accelerators. But in our time it wasn’t possible,” he acknowledges, a hint that, perhaps, his confession should be taken with a grain of salt. “I didn’t even know that that was the idea of building a start-up: to raise money from investors, validate the ideas, build a go-to-market product and then a strategy.”
Secondly, “the motivation wasn’t right in the beginning,” says Dines, in what sounds more like explanation than self-criticism. “My motivation was, I think, to build the minimum wealth. To have a decent life, in a way – Romania was never an easy country in which to have that. And especially to be an entrepreneur. And going through the tough years, in the early 90s in Romania, to me was an experience that touched my entire life. So I was always a bit concerned about building some wealth, to live a decent life,” he recalls. “But that’s really a mistake,” he adds, stressing the perils of taking on the risk of becoming an entrepreneur in search of a stable income. “You don’t have to be an entrepreneur to build a decent life. It’s not worth it. So the right motivation for an entrepreneur must be something that thing deep inside of you … the desire to do something. Because being an entrepreneur is extremely risky and while doing it you risk ruining your career.”
“What changed my perspective was looking at new start-ups coming out of Silicon Valley. TechCrunch started talking about new start-ups, and then there was Y Combinator [an American seed accelerator, started in March 2005] and then Paul Graham, one of my virtual mentors whose thinking really influenced me deeply. And I saw that you could actually build a company out of love for technology. For the sake of doing something for the greater good, of doing something better in this world. It changed my thinking completely. We gave up outsourcing completely and we said, ‘let’s build the best thing that we can and then we’ll see what happens.’ That was really a pivotal thing in our history,” he says.
But they still had room to make more mistakes. “We launched our product too late,” Dines explains.” That’s because we polished it too much, instead of bringing it to market much faster, getting feedback and going where the market wanted and not where we wanted to take it. And second, we killed it too late. So we didn’t fail fast, we failed late. We launched it late and failed late. Two big mistakes. I think for two to three years we were going in the wrong direction” he adds, as compelling as this can sound from the mouth of the co-founder of one of the world’s newest unicorns.
The breakthrough came in 2013, and it was nothing short of an “astral moment,” as Dines put it in the post-announcement press conference that introduced him to the Romanian public. Before that, with no clients willing to pay for their technology, they had considered closing their business. And with some justification, as they were breaking the basic rules of entrepreneurship: know your market well and build a product that the market needs. Instead, as software developer Adrian Dorache, part of UiPath’s original team, puts it, “At that time, we were building an engine and selling that engine to other garages. We had a good product and were always busy with it, but we didn’t yet know what we could do with it. Until somebody came and told us ‘you can use it to build an airplane.’”
The first client discovered them, not the other way round. The Indian chapter of a large BPO company was doing a pilot project to find the best provider of RPA technology to meet its business needs. UiPath, still named DeskOver at that time, competed against other RPA providers and came out on top. According to Dines, three of their best people went to India and spent three months immersed in this new challenge. But the biggest take away from the experience was a keen understanding of the market their product was operating for. “We understood there was a huge market out there of people who just do repetitive processes all day long, for whom our technology, which emulates what people do, is perfect. From that moment on, things changed dramatically for us. We started to grow,” Dines explains.
That year DeskOver launched the first UiPath Desktop Automation product line based on Microsoft Workflow Designer that specifically targeted the RPA market. “In 2014 and 2015 it seemed to me that we had giant competitors, but without looking at them, we started to grow the team and things later exploded. There comes a moment when you need to get a little crazy,” Dines says.
Growing on the right path
In 2015 DeskOver became UiPath, and concluded its first partnerships with several global BPO and consulting firms. Moreover, the company opened its US office, UiPath Inc, and expanded the team from the core of 10 to over 100. In August, UiPath closed an initial seed round led by Earlybird, with Credo Ventures and Seedcamp as backers. Announced the previous year, the round required 14 months of negotiations and brought the start-up a USD 1.6 million investment. In September, it was included in Seedcamp Week in London.
It was as early as 2015 that UiPath appeared on the radar of EY Romania, with which it later developed a strategic partnership that turned global. “We got into Romania through our partner EY. EY Romania has built an implementation team based on UiPath technology and it is very successful worldwide within the entire EY group,” Dines says.
Aurelia Costache, advisory services leader at EY Romania and head of the RPA Center of Excellence in Bucharest, which is currently acting as a global hub for UiPath expertise, takes up the story, noting, “EY Romania became aware of UiPath’s technology in 2015 and, since then, we have been developing our partnership to jointly bring our clients the value-added of an end-to-end solution. With the benefit of proximity, we were able to work together in implementing the first RPA projects in Romania, leveraging on the trust relationships that EY had built with its clients. Being a globally integrated firm, we were able to support our offices in other countries with the UiPath expertise, facilitating UiPath’s access to EY’s global clients as well.”
By April 2016, the company had released its Front Office and Back Office Server suites and made available its Studio Community Edition, reaching 10,000 active members in six months. By the end of the year, it had opened new offices in London, New York and Bengaluru (Bangalore), India, and had added more than 250 enterprise customers to its portfolio.
2017 brought UiPath industry recognition and marked the year of the company’s global expansion. In February, it was recognized as an RPA industry leader in the Forrester Wave Robotic Process Automation, Q1 2017, which compared 12 RPA vendors against criteria in the areas of current offering, strategy and market presence. When assessed solely by RPA technology criteria, it received the industry’s highest score. “The ranking counted a lot,” Dorache says. “It matters a lot what analysts say, because they communicate with the funds and for us that was good feedback. Besides making sales, it is also important that the product you bring is indeed very good. It mattered because we had started as a team of ten. And by the time this report came out, we were a company that delivered. And this is important, because big companies want to deal with big companies.”
The main catalyst of growth, a USD 30 million investment, was secured in April in one of the biggest Series A rounds of funding in Europe in 2017, led by Accel. Previous investors Earlybird Venture Capital, Credo Ventures and Seedcamp also joined. The lead investor for the deal on behalf of Accel was Buzau-born but London-based partner Luciana Lixandru, who joined UiPath’s board. “What I thought was very intriguing early on,” she told howtoweb.com about the firm she was introduced to by Dan Lupu, partner at Earlybird Venture Capital, “was that the company did not have any real feet on the ground in the US and yet they were getting a lot of attention from US customers, riding a very timely trend.” What attracted Accel to UiPath, she notes, was the team and its commitment to building a large company. “We’re early stage investors, so for us at the end of the day it’s all about the founder and the team. Even the most successful companies grow with ups and downs; it’s never a straight line to the top. If you have the right team and the right founder they can navigate these periods smoothly. When I go back to the drawing board, I focus most on the team and their ability and ambition to build a large company, and I would not underestimate the value of the second part.”
At that time, UiPath already counted about 200 large enterprises among its customers, including Lufthansa, Generali, Telenor and Dong Energy. About 30 percent were located in the US, with another 40 percent in Europe and 30 percent in Asia, and they spanned sectors such as banking and financial services, insurance, manufacturing, utilities, healthcare and government.
The investment, UiPath’s chief robotics officer (CRO) Boris Krumrey told BR in an exclusive interview in December of last year, was directed at hiring the best people, growing the sales, technical customer service organization and product development as well as expanding into key markets and an infrastructure that is globally expanding. “Right now, we are focusing on growing and strengthening our partnerships with our service integrators, service providers, consulting partners and technology partners. Especially with the integration of leading technology partners such as Oracle, Celonis and ABBYY, we have realized an expandable and business agile RPA platform that can actually realize a ‘digital workforce’, he outlined. In 2017 UiPath opened offices in Australia, France, Japan and Singapore, and had an employee base of over 400 people.
Last year, UiPath’s number of clients increased by 611 percent, and included Allianz, BMW Group, CenturyLink, Dairy Farm Group, Dentsu Inc., Huawei, Morningstar and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group. 2017 also saw the launch of UiPath Academy, which allows thousands of people worldwide to train with the UiPath RPA platform solution.
Turnover went up by 790 percent. According to Dines, the company’s growth is unique in the world, as it takes place in the enterprise software enterprise field. “Our investors say they have never seen this level of growth from enterprise software, rather than the consumer kind.”
Big in Japan
In March 2017, UiPath became the first leading global RPA vendor to set a strong footing in Japan. The Tokyo-based subsidiary, UiPath K.K., is led by CEO Koichi Hasegawa. According to Hasegawa, RPA can provide significant help to Japanese companies, as the country is facing major problems due to ageing. “Japan is one of the leading countries in the world when it comes to the problem of ageing. Many companies are worrying about the decrease of the workforce in the near future. RPA will support workers in offices and enhance productivity of Japanese companies,” the UiPath Japan’s CEO tells BR. In particular, RPA is suited to the working style of Japanese companies and to its cultural particularities. “Japanese companies have well organized business processes and RPA can adopt them relatively easier. The Japanese working style ‘O mo te na shi’ – a traditional Japanese way of hospitality whose key elements are thoughtfulness, dedication to customers’ needs and meticulous attention to detail – needs many manual processes and is a serious burden for workers. RPA is a good tool for Japanese workers to release the burden,” Hasegawa explains.
According to Hasegawa, the business sectors most eager to adopt automation and RPA services are the banking and the automotive sectors. “Banking is the first RPA industry, because their business heavily depends on best usage of digital data now. But all other sectors are interested in using UiPath in their business process including the automobile sector. UiPath is seen as versatile tool regardless of industries.” When it comes to the readiness to adopt RPA, Hasegawa said that the public sector has shown resistance in the beginning. “The public sector is a bit conservative to apply RPA to start with. Even so, the sector has a lot of routine paper work. Now the public sector is interested in adopting RPA and some of them are already trying it,” he explains.
In Japan, UiPath’s Romanian connection has been its strength, Hasegawa argues. “UiPath is the best tool to meet the sophisticated and demanding Japanese business requirements.This needs to be supported locally, therefore Daneil Dines’ decision to build a Japanese organization has been also appreciated by Japanese executives to show commitment with substantial investment in resources and Japanese legal contracts,” the UiPath Japan CEO points out. “Actually, we are not the first to arrive in Japan, but we are the first ones that started a real business in Japan in a most strategic way among leading RPA vendors.”
“Many Japanese feel close to Romanians,” he says. “The Japanese view is that Romanians are diligent and sincere. Actually, in the beginning we had over 20 Romanian staff who helped UiPath implementation for major Japanese companies. So the Japanese fully appreciated the origin of UiPath in Romania. They understand that Romania has the education strength in computer science and mathematics. We also find Romania and Japan have lots in common in a sense of humbleness, which is also a major part of UiPath’s culture.”
In 2017, the Japanese entity represented the biggest investment for UiPath. By the end of the year, the Japanese office grew from three staff to over 60 employees. According to Hasegawa, the biggest achievement of UiPath K.K in its first year of operations was “to build a fully functional Japanese operation, which is both global and for Japanese clients and meeting the Japanese clients’ business operations needs. As a business, we’ve got more than 200 Japanese customers within one year, including Japanese big banks and big manufactures.”
His views are matched by those of UiPath’s CRO Boris Krumrey. “Japan is an absolute success,” says Krumrey, pointing that its ageing population and overworked staff put RPA in the very position to solve a social issue. “We have a visionary local management there, and the market is ripe for it. In terms of performance, UiPath has conducted the largest RPA deployment initiative in the world in 2017 resulting in over 400,000 hours saved across 200 operations. Another important indicator is that now UiPath Japan is working with 70 percent of he largest banks in the country,” he explains.
The year of the unicorn
Less than one year after receiving its first substantial investment, UiPath raised USD 153 million in a Series B funding, again led by Accel, with new investors CapitalG and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB) contributing, alongside early investors Earlybird, Credo Ventures and Seedcamp. The company’s USD 1.1 billion valuation put UiPath on the exclusive list of the so-called unicorn companies. According to Accel representatives, the new financing will be used to accelerate the development of the company’s product roadmap, particularly around innovations that integrate machine learning and AI algorithms within customers’ digital business operations. Following the round, Accel partner Rich Wong joined the company’s board of directors.
According to Dines, securing the Series B investment took just two months and choosing its future partners was this time up to UiPath, which went for investors with a Google connection. Apart from being a substantial endorsement for UiPath’s technology, the addition of CapitalG, the late-stage growth venture capital fund financed by Google’s Alphabet Inc., paves the way for collaboration with Google’s technical advisors to continue advancing AI and ML capabilities. “We chose Google for its interest in AI,” Dines says. Headquartered in Silicon Valley, KPCB was an early investor in Google, alongside Amazon and AOL, among others.
Needless to say, in 2018 UiPath proved to early investors that it was more than just a winning horse. “Two and a half years ago, when we invested, the company consisted of 12 people huddled together in an apartment in Bucharest. There was still no product presentation and no company deck. Commercial model and pricing were still to be tested with clients,” recalls Dan Lupu, partner at Earlybird Venture Capital, the largest Venture Capital Fund for Emerging Europe, in a March 2018 blog post. “In hindsight, after two large funding rounds in quick succession, the decision to invest in UiPath back at the seed stage now seems obvious… Tell that to the long list of smart investors that turned down our offer to become part of the syndicate and co-invest with us.”
That privileged category includes Marius Ghenea, partner at 3TS Capital, one of the region’s most important investment funds, who dubbed UiPath “the one that got away.” He tells BR: “of course I wish I had invested in the start-up, and furthermore, I was in discussions with Daniel, the co-founder, and the other VCs for the first round, but did not finalize the investment at that time. But one cannot make every investment.” Ghenea adds, “Besides, UiPath had very good and smart investors. I respect very much the activity of the VCs involved there, and the results are visible. Then again, in retrospect it is always a lot easier to determine which investments a VC should have made, when one sees the results.” Moreover, in his view, the USD 1 billion valuation “is excellent news for the company and its founders and shareholders and great news for the Romanian tech ecosystem, as something like that has almost never happened in the region,” he adds.
From Romanian start-up to global player
The growth of the company, both in size and in value, was explosive. No longer a Romanian start-up, UiPath morphed into a global firm that thrives on international talent, Dines is very keen to stress. Speaking from his office on Bucharest’s Caderea Bastiliei Street, where the company occupies three floors, Dines reflects on the effect of the growth on the company and its people. “In June 2017, we had only one person in our finance team and no one in the legal team. Now we have about 12 lawyers worldwide and almost 40 people in the finance team, that fast was our growth.”
The repeated metamorphoses of the company were witnessed by its core team, all of whom are still on board. “We have a few generations of UiPathers,” Dines outlines. “The first generation has around 15 people; then the second generation has 50; and the next, about 100.” Part of the “Delea Veche generation”, lead software developer Lavinia-Andreea Cojocaru, who still remembers the time when neighbors would come knocking on their door to bring treats to the young people working till late, was in the middle of it all. “Things changed very much. When there were ten of us, we would communicate with each other and that was that. But when the team grew, we had to transfer the knowledge to new employees, help them and answer a lot of questions. Moreover, it was a matter of learning to trust other people. Oftentimes, as we began to seek experts for newly-created roles, we realized that the ‘new people’ did things better than us. Still, it required some adjusting.”
According to Dines, it is down to the core team as well as his co-founders and himself to promote a culture built, in his own words, around the concept of “humbleness”. “It’s the natural evolution of a human being, to reach humbleness. Ego is the worst enemy in one’s life. And to us humbleness came a bit from the realization that we were not the best software engineers in the world. We don’t have the best ideas in the world. And what can make us successful is really the desire to do something better. To become better. And only people who think within the humbleness framework can improve. Because otherwise you think you are good enough. And humbleness helps you overcome this type of barrier,” he says.
Running towards the rainbow
To many analysts, 2017 was the year that RPA truly emerged as a new enterprise software category, similar in scope, size and impact to ERPs, databases and security software, which supports markets worth billions where big tech companies thrive. According to Krumrey, in 2017 Uipath grew alongside the market. “2017 was the year RPA proved itself in terms of ROI and business outcomes, with enterprises actually surpassing the prevision potential of RPA adoption and Enterprise RPA becoming a household name for global companies,” he notes. “We proved to customers and implementation partners that not only is our product superior, easier and faster to scale up, but that implementation is smooth with the support of our strong and dedicated specialists. UiPath was quick to respond to particular customer needs, so we went the extra mile in terms of both the product, and the delivery teams.”
Although overall the RPA market is still considered an emerging one, it is expected to grow to USD 8.75 billion by 2024. According to UiPath’s CEO, being a newcomer in a nascent market brings more advantages than challenges, because you are allowed to establish your presence in the market. “An incumbent in an enterprise is very difficult to replace,” says Dines, whose company expects to double its 700-strong customer base in 2018. For new start-ups now, that are trying to copy our technology… even if they succeed in building a slightly better technology than ours, it’s going to be very difficult to replace us in the enterprises where we have very good relationships and we will have more time to build better and better technology. It’s a race. Being new in the market allows you to be ahead in the race and it is very difficult to catch the market leader.”
“A well-established market is very difficult to disrupt,” he stressed.
That doesn’t mean that he and his team have taken their eyes off the prize or lost the focus on innovation, as difficult to define as that may be. “I don’t think innovation is something that you can gauge. If it’s difficult or if it’s easy. Innovation somehow comes. Ideas float in the air and people rally behind ideas. But what I learned – and the hard way – is that you need to know a subject very, very deeply in order to build a simple solution. If you don’t understand all the details, all the kind of branches of a solution, you will end up building something very simplistic. Simple is very difficult. Simplistic is very easy. That is why we need to spend 10 hours a day simply thinking about all the implications of a product.”
“Still, it will be a long time before someone disrupts you, and from the point of view of technology they will not be able to disrupt your position on a market you are already so well established in.” And investors agree. As Accel’s Lixandru told howtoweb.co last year, UiPath might very well become a decacorn. “I think we can expect to have a multi-billion dollar company out of Bucharest.” However, for Dines, listing on the NASDAQ, something he expects the company to achieve in two to three years’ time, is a much more coveted goal.
Can other Romanian start-ups replicate UiPath’s success?
Romania’s first unicorn started off as a business doing outsourcing. According to Valerica Dragomir, executive director of the Employers’ Association of the Software and Services Industry (ANIS), the Romanian IT industry, has become “very good at doing projects for third party clients and this made the outsourcing business model very successful for Romanian companies; it is a normal and natural stage of evolution for emerging economies. But further growth tends to be limited by the number of people companies can employ. The case of UiPath, a company which is essentially very young, helps set an example for all companies out there that you can actually make it – yes, even [if you come] from Romania.”
According to Dragomir, it is still early to say if and when there will be another Romanian-born unicorn. But, very likely, when that happens, it will have made it internationally at first. In what regards UiPath, “we estimate that, as it has happened before, more companies and more startups will strive and try to follow in their footsteps. And if there is a unicorn in the making, whenever they break out the general public will probably be surprised to hear about them. They will probably have been in the tech news at most – and again, not so much locally, but rather internationally. It is indeed a question of readiness of the local ecosystem and industry – because of the domestic test market limitations, most probably the next big success started from Romania will have made it internationally first, as well.”
“As for what we can do, as an industry, to make it happen again”, Dragomir argues, “I think it comes down to very basic but very high-impact steps or actions – innovation is first of all a mindset, and we need to cultivate that mindset actively. We need to make it more than acceptable, and rather desirable to create new products and services, we need to talk more about and to those who have made it big, we need to learn how we can build better businesses while solving bigger problems and we need to learn how to make money out of it.”
According to Dragomir, start-ups trying to make it big in Romania are not particularly favoured by the repeated changes in taxation. According to Vatulator’s tax calculator , the current rate of value added tax in Romania is 19%. “It might be a little of a tight spot for start-ups right now, from the point of view of the taxation, in particular, in Romania. The changes to the Fiscal Code that state you have to pay tax on your revenue and not on profit make it especially difficult for young companies, especially ones that are doing innovation – since in the early stages there is no question of profit, but rather of significant spending for research and development,” she explains. “Adding to this that there is a general climate of lack of predictability of the economic environment, that we are not a very big market or very inclined towards tech consumption in general – all of these make it rather difficult for innovative companies to be successful locally.”
According to Dan Nechita, president and co-founder of Smart Everything Everywhere, a local initiative for accelerating Romania’s transition into the digital age, the success of UiPath came not due, but despite the conditions offered by the current environment and is down to the start-up’s team and business acumen. “The scale of their valuation is encouraging for the Romanian startup ecosystem, but it came as no surprise for those who followed their evolution – not only because they are developing a disruptive technology, but also because they have a great team and business acumen. In other words, where UiPath is now is the result of more than just great ideas – it is the result of hard work.”
“The Romanian IT industry and workforce has little to do with the success of a startup and company – we don’t see as many successful startups in Romania not because IT specialists lack technical skills but because building a successful company requires other skills as well, from business development and marketing to sales and people skills. The culture of entrepreneurship is quite young in Romania when compared to the West – and the growth of an entrepreneurial “ecosystem” takes time. UiPath’s success is encouraging because it shows this ecosystem is developing and is now capable of producing competitive companies – before going global, UiPath was backed by Romanian actors.”
The local IT industry has an important role to play in shaping a friendly environment for startups, “because an environment that is beneficial for startups and innovation is also beneficial for the development of the industry and established actors.” According to Nechita, “industry players can support entrepreneurship indirectly, by funding actors that foster innovation and entrepreneurship such as incubators, accelerators, NGOs, or by advocating for a stable, predictable, and entrepreneurship-friendly environment. But they can also support it directly, by doing more business with startups and, most importantly, by working with academia to train the new generations of future entrepreneurs or highly-innovative industry workers. In Romania, the link between industry and academia is feeble and oftentimes of no consequence, whereas in an innovation-driven society this particular link is the most significant in supporting the development of highly-successful startups.”
What does RPA do?
UiPath is a robotic process automation vendor providing a complete software platform helping organizations automate business processes. The ‘robotic’ term can be misleading, as it has nothing to do with physical robots. Instead, it is a software tool that digitises highly repetitive work processes. Hence, the company’s mission is to eradicate tedious, repetitive tasks and let software robots do the grunt work.
UiPath enables businesses and organizations to develop an agile digital workforce by providing a state-of-the-art platform for software robots orchestration. Their products automate across all internal or web-based applications/databases and have unmatched solutions for Citrix, SAP and BPO automation.
Being magical creatures, unicorns are very rare. According to TechCrunch, there are currently 279 private VC-backed start-ups valued at over USD 1 billion. Last year, only 60 new start-ups were added to the unicorn club, fewer than the 66 that had joined the year before and way behind the record-setting 2015, which brought 99 newcomers.
Also, they are highly unpredictable. Traditionally having taken a major liking to the financial- and innovation-driven climate of Silicon Valley, of late they have found in China the second friendliest place to develop. But although in 2017 the majority of newcomers still emerged from the US and China, which contributed 29 and 24 unicorns respectively, thanks to the rise of cloud computing and easier access to international funding, new unicorns have started popping up in more exotic locations across the globe. Zooming in on Europe, the continent currently boasts 31 unicorns, with the UK contributing last year with four and Switzerland with one.
Moreover, their preference for markets is also largely a guessing game, although, as trends go, in recent years start-ups in sectors such as ridesharing, bike-sharing and co-working have consistently attracted strong funding. And not least, the USD 1 billion valuation itself carries with it a magic formula. Being fully known to investors only, its algorithm takes into account alongside intuitive factors such as the size of the market, for instance, growth predictions based on calculations that mostly elude outsiders.