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Fintech unicorns: the most expensive startups in the world

Aleksandre B

The unicorn is a mythical creature usually depicted as a horse with one horn. According to the legends, a unicorn is an extremely rare and powerful animal, it symbolizes purity, strength, chastity, and luck. But what does business have to do with it?

Investors hunting for unicorns

This term took its start in the sphere of business in 2013 and initially appeared in the article by American venture capital investor Aileen Lee, where she compared companies that were rapidly increasing their value in a short period of time to mythical creatures that can not be found in real life.

Lee complained about the difficult life of venture capitalists, how hard it is to choose the exact startup that will blow up the market and bring investors a multiple increase in invested funds. At that time she managed to find only thirty-nine unicorns. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Palantir, Airbnb were among them.

According to estimates of Aileen LEE, only 0.7% of the emerging startups do business so well that their value reaches one billion dollars. This mark is the entrance ticket to the Club of unicorns. Those who have invested their capital in such startups justify all the rest of their less successful investments and therefore they are extremely careful while scanning the market in search of a lucky startup.

Calculating the unicorns’ population

29-01-2019 11:35:36  |   News
Since the introduction of the term, there have been some changes, and unicorn startups are no longer a rarity. The number of the most expensive startups in the world that cost more than a billion dollars has increased almost tenfold.

According to research by CBI, in January 2019 there were already 310 such firms. In the ranking of Crunchbase — 293 startups. Wikipedia knows about 277 unicorns. The difference in numbers presented in such ratings is quite understandable: calculating the market value of a startup is not easy, because the modern understanding of the parameters of a company claiming the honorary title of the unicorn allows different interpretations and is often associated with subjective assessments.

So, it is now believed that the unicorn is a private company, a startup that has existed for more than a decade, the cost of which reached one billion dollars.

There are several subjective points in this definition that may affect the evaluation. A private company is an enterprise that did not place its shares on the stock exchange, did not go through an IPO, investments are made behind closed doors, and shares are divided as well. Strict regulations and restrictions that public companies are obliged to follow for the most part do not concern the unicorns.

30-07-2018 17:06:00  |   Technology
Since unicorns are fast-developing startups, they may not have any stable and consistent indicators and accountability to evaluate their capitalization and justify the cost in usual economic indicators. Therefore, often the cost of unicorns is only a subjective assessment of their owners or investors, supported by forecasts and approximate calculations.

Aileen Lee wrote that the largest super-unicorns signify the coming of some new technology, on which they build their business. With the help of advanced research in areas insufficiently explored by other players, they become able to capture markets. A startup, in fact, is any new private company that was created to test a business idea, test a market sector, implement a technology. The unicorn is a startup that has successfully implemented these plans and attracted a large number of users and investors.

Unicorn strategy — a very rapid expansion and seizure of the largest possible piece of pie, a constant and intensive increase in customers, growth of economic indicators, attraction of new investments.

Unicorn tactics — protection of know-how, allowing to leave the competitors behind; dumping prices to increase market share; expansion of media coverage and the formation of the image of the company to highlight the revolution it brings in the old and established areas; continuous management enhancement.

Unicorn goal — to go IPO and transform from a startup into a stable, thriving company. It is also possible to sell the business to a larger player (sometimes it seems that the latter is more often true).

Unicorns economy bubble

The economy of unicorns is the hype in the global media, which accompanies the emergence of each new member of the Club "from a billion dollars and above"; venture capitalists' hunt for startups that could potentially take off; entrepreneurs who dream to create a unicorn company and get into the elite Club. But not everyone shares the universal worship of this new economic phenomenon.

Sometimes there’s a talk about the bubble of the unicorns' economy, very similar to the burst bubble of the dot-com era. On the one hand, any innovation meets a similar opinion, and often opponents only contribute to sustainable moving forward, creating feedback. On the other hand, if criticism looks reasonable, then society should be aware of the possible danger.

The main claim to the fashionable fascination of unicorn startups is that tey are unreasonably overvalued (up to 50%). When listing shares, many unicorns become way cheaper. It means that the evaluation of investors and the assessment of the market do not match. The first usually overestimate the cost greatly.

Continuous pursuit of the capital increase, the number of customers, market share, new investment has the effect of cycling (you pedal — you go, you stop — you’re down) when any delay or slowdown leads to devastating consequences. Startup owners have no time to think, take a breath and look around the battlefield — they need to move, grow, expand, meet investors' expectations and maintain media images.

The desire to move is pushed by investors who want to bring a new unicorn into the world quickly and pump companies with unverified business models and uncertain future capital. It may be that the giants will fall and lose their stability if left without a permanent source of investment.

FinTech Unicorns

We offer several examples of unicorns, whose main activities are financial technologies, the so-called most expensive startups on the FinTech market. To compile this small list of FinTech enterprises, we selected representatives from countries with the most developed startup culture, hence, the largest number of unicorns with the highest value is concentrated there.


The company was founded in 2015 by Vlad Yatsenko and Nikolai Storonski in London. The line of business is considered one of the most popular in FinTech — a money transfer system and currency exchange.

The main feature of the product offered by Revolut is that commissions and rates are at the interbank level, the full range of services is provided online. More than 150 currencies and 24 cryptocurrencies are available to three million clients of the company. The reason that the startup hit the Unicorns Club is the news about the increase in the company's value to $1.7 bln after the next round of investment.


This company was founded in 2011 by Patrick and John Kolison. Stripe Headquarters is located in San Francisco. Business: an online payment system focused on working with companies and organizations. The e-commerce market is growing, and Stripe has a lot of work and good potential ahead. The company’s value is $22.5 bln.


The company was established in India in 2010, its founder is Vijay Shekhar Sharma. PayTM business line is a payment system that works with both organizations and private clients. The current cost of the company is $10 bln.


A startup from the Brazilian Sao Paulo was founded in 2013. The founders are David Vélez, Cristina Junqueira and Ed Wible. NuBank is an online bank offering its customers an international bank card served without a fee. The cost of the company is $1 bln.


The Chinese company was founded in 2011 and began its work as a platform for online loans. Later, the profile of Lufax was transformed, and now it is a marketplace of financial assets. The value of the company after the latest round of investments in December 2018 amounted to $3 bln.

Image courtesy of PYMNTS

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