Unicorn Investors: The Top 5 Firms With the Best Record
Unicorn. Few words are as celebrated in the tech world -- and few, as hated.
Coined in 2013 by Aileen Lee to describe a private company valued at over $1 billion, unicorn -- much like its relatives “growth hacking,” “deep dive” and “making the world a better place” -- began with the best of intentions …only to wind up where roads paved that way tend to go.
While no one can deny the unicorn’s past supremacy, a growing minority has begun hailing its “extinction,” and in its place, the rise of the “cockroach.” Dropping IPOs, rumors of tech’s next “burst,” and, of course, good old-fashioned hype all threaten the unicorn's existence.
However, don’t mourn just yet.
For many startups, the unicorn dream is very much alive, especially when it comes to mobile. As the 2016 Mary Meeker Report pointed out, we’re quickly nearing global smartphone saturation. The question for would-be unicorns isn’t so much whether to adopt a mobile-first approach, but instead: Who’s got the best record when it comes to mobile investment?
According to a new report from MindSea -- Mobile Midas Touch -- of the 200 investors who successfully put early money into unicorns, only 10 boast three or more unicorns in their portfolio. Turns out, being an early-stage investor in a mobile unicorn is somewhat of a unicorn status itself.
Here’s a look at five of the 10 investors who’ve backed the most early-stage mobile unicorns, along with the best resource for each to prep your startup for pitching.
Founded in 1972, Sequoia Capital’s investments reportedly now total over $1.4 trillion. Its portfolio reads like a who’s who of the last three decades and includes heavy hitters like Apple, 3M, Oracle, Google and PayPal. Today, Sequoia primarily focuses on post-seed investments, but its early bets on mobile, social and collaborative technology have led them to become a leading investor over a host of industries and verticals.
For tips on working with Sequoia (or any major league investor), grab their stripped down explanation of the kinds of business plans they look for.
Early Mobile Unicorns: LinkedIn, WhatsApp, Dropbox, Ourpalm, Ele.Me, Klarna, Instacart and Thumbtack
2. ACCEL Ventures
ACCEL is based in Palo Alto, Calif. and is often the first check in the bank for its startups. The firm has been seeking out and investing in high-growth startups since 1983 and played an instrumental role in the development of Silicon Valley as well as the global tech scene. To read their thoughts on 2016 and a look ahead at 2017 – along with the thoughts of other industry leaders – check out ACCEL’s most recent State of the Unicorn Report.
Early Mobile Unicorns: Facebook, FlipKart, Supercell, Blablacark, Slack and LinkedIn
Benchmark was founded in 1995, and since its inception has played an active role in finding and investing in promising startups. The firm’s $2.6 million investment in eBay two years after its founding was transformed into $5 billion by 1999. Since then, Benchmark has invested in more than 250 startups and is considered one of the top venture firms in California. Strangely enough, Benchmark’s website is a single page with just two physical addresses and a link to its Twitter profile. However, Forbes’ 2015 profile – The Benchmark Way: Five Partners Who Make Other VC Firms Look Outgunned And Overstaffed– offers a detailed look at the scrappy process that led Benchmark to deliver 1,000 percent gains to its backers over the last decade.
Early Mobile Unicorns: Snapchat, New Relic, Uber, GrubHub, and Yelp
4. Bessemer Venture Partners
BVP is considered by many to be the great-grandfather of venture capital in tech. Established in 1911, they’ve invested in some of the most successful startups over the last decade. However, what makes Bessemer stand out isn’t their 117 IPOs track record, but their misses. In fact, one of the most interesting parts of the Bessemer story is their Anti-Portfolio, which is a list of companies they had an opportunity to invest in but overlooked.
Early Mobile Unicorns: LinkedIn, Pinterest, Shopify and Yelp
4. SV Angel
SV Angel is an investment firm that focuses on early-stage investments. It recently closed its latest (sixth) fund at $53 million. The firm started in 2008 and its portfolio consists of household names such as Pinterest, Airbnb and Dropbox. Opposed to other VCs on this list, SV Angel differentiates themselves by not taking board seats but instead prioritizing the diversity and breadth of investments. For a detailed look at the “breakup” between Ron Conway and David Lee – as well as the recent aftermath – take a look at Fortune’s piece from last year.
Early Mobile Unicorns: Snapchat, Twitter, Zynga, and Instacart
5. Naval Ravikant
One of the most respected angel investors in the world, Naval Ravikant has built an impressive reputation. As the CEO and co-founder of Angellist, Naval has helped investors and entrepreneurs alike establish relationships and unlock new opportunities. According to Mattermark, more than 50 of the companies in Navals portfolio are in the mobile space. His appearance on Tim Ferriss’s podcast – who called Naval “the person I call most for start up advice” – is required listening for all founders.
Early Mobile Unicorns: Uber, Twitter, and Wish
Love for the Unicorn?
When you look at the early-stage mobile unicorn investors, it’s important to note that each of them made huge bets on social. Whether it was Snapchat or Twitter, these investors embraced the idea of global connectivity in its infancy.
The same is true when it comes to collaboration and the “shared” economy – think Dropbox for digital collaboration, Yelp and Grubhub for sharing recommendations, and Uber and BlaBlaCar when it comes to physical objects.
While your startup may not score a meeting with the five unicorn investors listed above, digging into their commonalities, understanding the trends that made them unicorn investors, and then applying those same lessons to your own pitches are musts.
Musts, that is, if you still have love in your heart for the “unicorn.”