A venture capitalist may have pumped enough money into your company’s bank account to push it into the unicorn category, but that doesn’t guarantee success.
Which is good news for people like me who are tasked with putting together a year-end list of the 10 worst unicorns of 2015.
On the one hand, finding the bad unicorns is easy enough because basically, every company is a unicorn as far as I can tell. So, odds are, some are just bound to suck.
Still, the job is difficult in part because there is an abundance of candidates. How does one begin to rank the suckiness of one unicorn against the suckiness of another? But also because “worst” (and “suck” for that matter) is inherently subjective.
Worst by financial performance? Biggest fall in valuation?
One thing is for sure: This job is bound to get easier as time goes by. According to TechCrunch, there are 156 unicorns, led by Uber with a $51 billion valuation. But since 2011, there have been only 21 exits for unicorns, either through IPOs or M&A deals.
The gap between those numbers represents the Valley of Unicorn Death, where we can expect more and more carcasses to pile up in the coming years.
Anyhoo, here are 10 unicorns that probably wished they could hit the Super Zapper Recharge button on 2015.
Fab: The real question with Fab seems to be whether you can count its suckiness in the calendar year of 2015, since it seems to have been falling apart in real-time-slow-motion for a while. But this was the year that the company – which previously raised $336 million in venture capital and was once valued at $1.7 billion — sold for $15 million. So, it goes in my 2015 bucket of unicorn blood.
Evernote: You know it’s been a bad year when people are publishing articles speculating whether your company will be the first dead unicorn. (And are debating whether Fab will beat you to the punch). But that’s what happens when you change CEOs and cut your workforce by 5 percent. Things start to look gloomy and the criticism piles up.
Good Technology: Once upon a time, Good raised $291 million in venture capital and was valued at $1.2 billion. Then it got bought by BlackBerry this year for $425 million. That raises two problems. First, that payday was far below its previous valuation. And second, it got bought by BlackBerry. There is a metaphor about being saved by a drowning man that I’m too lazy to remember here.
LivingSocial: To answer your first question: Yes, it still exists. The company has raised $935 million in VC and was once worth $1.51 billion. This year, the company fired 200 employees after axing 400 in 2014. The layoffs last year were supposed to be part of a strategic realignment. Which doesn’t look like it’s going so hot.
Pure Storage: The company went public this year at a market capitalization of $3.1 billion. Yeah! But the enterprise storage company raised at least $470 million in VC and had reached a value of $3.23 billion. Boo. And its stock price may end the year slightly below the IPO pricing. Lots of people are still bullish on this company longer term. But the IPO clearly didn’t deliver the desired shot of adrenaline or the payout expected by late-stage investors.
Gilt Groupe: First, the company cut 45 jobs in October, hoping to reach the land of profitability. Always a bad sign when a startup claims it’s trying to turn a profit. Then came word in December that the company was in talks to be bought for $250 million. When you were once valued at $1 billion and fall that far, it’s been a bad year for sure.
Dropbox: $600 million raised. $10.35 billion valuation. Coolio. But with the price of storage dropping fast, the company had looked to diversify its product lineup. Then it turned around and shuttered Mailbox, the email app it had bought for $100 million, and its own Carousel picture app. Now there is lots of thumbsucking about what the future holds for Dropbox, which wasn’t helped by rival Box’s lackluster IPO. Oh, speaking of which…
Box: Raised $558 million in VC, and was valued at $2.4 billion at one point. After delaying for a bit, Box finally went public earlier this year at a $1.67 billion valuation. The company had a decent first-day pop, but has since seen its stock fall, treading lately right around the initial $14 offering price. With Google and Microsoft punching harder into enterprise cloud services, it doesn’t seem like 2016 is going to get any easier for Box or Dropbox.
Theranos: Here’s one that’s purely subjective. But after years of riding a fluffy wave of PR and positive press to a $9 billion valuation for its blood-testing system, Theranos ran head-first into a series of investigative stories by the Wall Street Journal. The WSJ sought to debunk some of those claims. And the company, while mounting an all-out defense, also decided to stop using the tests in some cases. Meanwhile, federal regulators are sniffing around.
Square: I suspect this will likely get the most flak of any company on this list. Square went public in November at a $3.6 billion valuation. Going public was a victory of sorts. But there was a lot of debate about whether late-round investors got hosed or not. And then Square dropped its IPO price (not good) and had to distribute more stock to some investors (good for investors but bad for the company) but then the stock traded up on the first day (pretty good for everyone.) And the company’s stock has been basically flat since, a victory of sorts considering most tech IPOs tend to trade down quickly. But the fact remains: Square’s IPO is a warning that the public markets are not digging the private-market runaway valuations. And that puts Square on the list for me.
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