When Aileen Lee first coined the term “unicorn” in 2013 to describe startups valued at over $1 billion, there were only 39 of them. There are currently about 215 of them, many of which hail from emerging markets.
For instance, China is home to two of the highest valued unicorns: Didi Chuxing and Xiaomi. And India’s Institutes of Technology has produced 12 unicorn founders (only Stanford, Harvard, and the UC system have produced more).
Each year, new unicorns emerge, and it can be hard to keep track of them all. Here are the seven biggest unicorns — measured by user base, not valuation — that you probably don’t know about yet. Those with the largest number of users (and perhaps the most potential to break into Western markets) are listed first.
An Indian-based messaging app, Hike has some great functions, from privacy features to block out nosy relatives to SMS texts to friends who don’t have Hike. It’s a powerful platform, and many believe Hike has the best chance to dethrone WhatsApp as the top messaging service.
Since launching, Hike has grown exponentially. It currently has some 100 million registered users. Hike has also acquired Creo, an Indian-based hardware manufacturer that produces smartphones and streaming platforms, and even has its own OS.
2. Jumia (formerly Africa Internet Group)
Born in Silicon Lagoon, the local name for the bustling tech ecosystem in Lagos, Nigeria, Jumia is the continent’s first unicorn. A number of diverse, thriving businesses fall under Jumia’s expansive umbrella. These include the highly-popular used-car classified app Jumia Car (formerly Carmudi) and job search platform Jumia Jobs (formerly Everjobs).
People should keep an eye on Jumia, as this company has the potential to disrupt a lot of industries. For instance, in addition to e-commerce, Jumia is exploring financial products that will allow consumers and small businesses access to banking services they otherwise couldn’t get, like loans and savings accounts. This will transform lives in positive ways, while disrupting the financial sector.
A household name amongst gamers, Razer is the unsung hero of the computer hardware industry. Founded in Singapore and now headquartered in San Francisco, Razer has for years made cutting-edge, sleek products, mostly peripherals such as gaming mice, monitors, and keyboards, netting revenues of nearly $400 million in 2016. Though there are concerns about Razer’s long-term profitability, namely that the company needs to drum up support amongst the general public (not just gamers), the company is confident it can capture the estimated 2.1 billion active gamers globally.
Razer is aiming for an October 2017 IPO in Hong Kong, valued at around $5 billion. A previous round of funding was valued at $1.5 billion, with heavyweights like Accel and IDG Partners leading the way.
An English teaching service headquartered in Beijing, China, VIPKID raised $200 million in capital in mid-2017, giving the company a valuation of $1.5 billion dollars. The startup has tapped the growing need for English training in China, making it much more accessible and convenient with e-learning technologies that connect students to tutors in North America. In July 2017, VIPKID reported $60 million in revenue — proof enough that the model is working.
With major investors like Sequoia Capital and Tencent backing VIPKID, it looks like the company will continue to grow and disrupt the educational sector, especially as demand for English language education from China’s growing middle class increases and the company expands to other promising markets.
Maybe you’ve heard of this unicorn because Leonardo DiCaprio invested in the company. If you haven’t, now’s the time.
MindMaze, a virtually reality startup located in Switzerland that’s valued at $1 billion (as of September, 2017), builds intuitive human-machine interfaces. The platform uses brain imaging, neuroscience, computer graphics, augmented reality, and virtual reality to create a “neural virtual reality platform.” The application has tremendous potential in gaming, brain machine control, medicine, and other fields. The product is already being used for stroke victim therapy in Europe, helping to retrain patients’ brains.
Do you know why Airbnb is second in China? It’s because Tujia, a vacation rental startup, has tailored its services to Chinese travelers, made use of the 50 million vacant homes in China, and effectively targeted the growing middle and upper classes in the Middle Kingdom. For instance, you can use Tujia to rent a luxury villa with a butler in Shanghai. Tujia also provides exceptional services, including cleanings and inspections — and even directly manages 10,000 properties to build trust with skeptical customers.
Tujia became a unicorn in 2015 after a funding round that brought in $300 million. Now it’s looking to expand outside of China. Specifically, the company is in a strong position to attract Chinese travelers overseas — a group that spent $261 billion in 2016 (making China by far the largest outbound travel market).
Based in Singapore, Grab is a ride-hailing app that operates throughout Southeast Asia (Singapore, Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam, Malaysia, and The Philippines). Grab’s market includes 620 million people across a booming region, giving the company plenty of room for growth.
In 2017, Grab received $2 billion in investments from Didi and SoftBank, which catapulted the startup to a valuation of $6 billion. Grab looks like it will be the main ride-hailing player in Southeast Asia — not Uber. The company’s app, which includes powerful tracking services and the ability to share trip details with family and friends, is seamless. Grab has also launched GrabBike, allowing users to book-on-demand motorbike taxis.
Ping Jiang is an investor specializing in emerging markets and undervalued investment vehicles. As part of his specialization, he often writes on trends in emerging markets, from technology to infrastructure.