2015 Was A Pretty Lousy Year For Unicorns…


It’s been a pretty awful year to be a unicorn in 2015.

Box and Square went public this year at significantly less than their last private valuation, Box at a 30 percent discount and Square at a 40 percent discount.

Meanwhile, Gilt Groupe, a New York-based online shopping destination for designer clothing, is in talks to be bought for $250 million. That’s less than the $268 million it has raised from investors and an even further cry from the $1.1 billion valuation it was assigned in August 2014.

Altogether, just five companies with billion-dollar-plus valuations have gone public this year. They include Box (in January), Shopify (May), Pure Storage (October), Square(November), and Atlassian (December) as seen here on the CrunchBase Unicorn Leaderboard.

That’s a small number, compared with the 156 companies globally that are privately valued at above $1 billion, according to CrunchBase. In comparison, CrunchBase tracked 88 private unicorns this time a year ago.

There wasn’t much in the way of major M&A activity either. Just four unicorns were acquired during 2015, and two were acquired at significantly less than their last private valuation: Fab, which sold for the fire-sale price of at $12 million, and Good Technology, which sold for 65 percent less than its last private valuation of $425 million.

Two that did better were Zulily, which had gone public in 2013 with a valuation of around $2.6 billion and was acquired this year by QVC for roughly the same amount, and Lynda, which sold to LinkedIn for $1.5 billion — or 26 percent more its venture investors had valued it.

Part of the problem is that some of these companies genuinely aren’t ready. Then there’s also the much discussed argument that Silicon Valley companies are reacting to a deep-seated antipathy for going public following the dot-com burst of 2000, followed by the financial crisis of 2008.

Whether true or not, the rationale for some companies today is that it’s better to raise more money in the private market rather than in the public markets — and in some cases, much more.

Uber has raised $6.3 billion and Airbnb $3.5 billion in the last two years. In fact, the average private raise for a unicorn is more than $500 million, and the median is $275 million. The five unicorn companies that went public this year collectively raised just over $1.4 billion.

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