New study of unicorn founders finds most are ‘underdogs,’ and female founders are rising

New study of unicorn founders finds most are ‘underdogs,’ and female founders are rising post thumbnail image

A brand new examine that zeros-in on the founders of so-called “Unicorns” (corporations value over a billion {dollars}) has discovered most have “underdog” founders, are sometimes drawn from the highest 10 universities, a rising feminine founder make-up, however no apparent monopoly at Seed stage of funding for VCs.

The examine (“Unicorn Founder DNA Report) by Defiance Capital of 845 unicorns and a pair of,018 unicorn founders set out to have a look at the “DNA” of unicorn founders, concentrating on the US and UK (no EU/European) from 2013 to 2023, to outline the frequent traits of those sorts of founders.

The examine discovered:

• 70% of unicorns have “underdog founders” (immigrants, ladies, folks of color).

• Unicorns used to have solely male founders, however that is altering with 17% having a feminine founder in 2023.

• 53% have levels from the highest 10 international universities.

• 49% of unicorn CEOs had STEM levels (64% of feminine founding CEOs had STEM levels) and 70% of founder groups have STEM levels.

• Outdoors of SV Angel (6.4%) and YC (10%), no different VC fund obtained into greater than 2.8% (Sequoia) of unicorns. This implies the market to spend money on a possible unicorn is totally fragmented at Seed, which means outlier VC funds have as a lot probability as a well known fund to spend money on a unicorn on the earliest levels.

The examine additional discovered that unicorns had been dominated by white founders, however that each third unicorn had an Asian founder. Certainly, 38% of unicorns had at the very least one founder who was not white: 82% had at the very least one white founder, 62% had 1st or 2nd era immigrant founders. Solely 3% of unicorns had a black founder.

And solely 21% of immigrant and feminine founders raised from prime ten VCs. Groups with feminine founders had been two years youthful than all-male groups when founding their unicorns (32 vs 34).

Serial founders (50%) had been extra prone to succeed constructing unicorns, however just one in 5 unicorns had solo founders.

Over the last decade, all prime Seed funds had been generalist funds, and the marketplace for Seed funds is very fragmented. Solely 28% had raised capital from a prime VC seed fund (with greater than 1% market share).

Solely 34% of unicorn founders had labored at an elite employer previous to founding a unicorn, suggesting a McKinsey or comparable background just isn’t a prerequisite to success.

The examine additionally discovered three dominant elements within the “DNA” of a unicorn founder.

1. No “plan B”

2. “A chip on the shoulder”

3. Limitless self perception

The examine discovered that many unicorn founders had been compelled to develop a progress mindset, with values, work ethic, and ambitions all established throughout childhood.

Most had a private story of feeling unfairly handled or feeling restricted of their native setting.

The examine noticed these traits in communities left behind for generations, e.g. ladies founders, folks of color, neurodivergent, or founders with atypical backgrounds.

Many have a tendency additionally to be “bold rebels”, typically motivated by a better trigger they care deeply about, have sturdy household function fashions, a high quality peer community and no concern of failure.

A far better variety of 1st and 2nd era immigrant CEOs had STEM levels than native CEOs, suggesting a mind drain from rising or smaller economies to developed ones. Considerably, extra 2nd era immigrants attended an elite college than the remainder of the pattern.

Different fascinating information factors got here out of the examine. Solo founders tended to start out their unicorns three years later than founder groups, and it took 7 years on common to succeed in unicorn standing for every type of founder groups, however 2nd era immigrants took solely 6 years.

And in reality, the all-white, male, native, Ivy league archetype of founder was truly an rare incidence, at 11%, and just one third of founders native to a rustic the place they based the corporate graduated from a prime ten college.

As well as, the highest 20 US VC funds tended to favor male, immigrant founders with STEM levels from elite universities at Seed, however look like lacking a trick by largely ignoring feminine founders, a rising demographic within the unicorn house.

Commenting, Defiance Capital founder Christian Dorffer, advised me: “I consider that is essentially the most complete examine ever finished on the backgrounds of unicorn founders within the US and UK. We cowl all new unicorns from 2013-2023, masking over 2,000 founders and over 800 unicorns.”

“VCs famously say that ‘it’s all concerning the folks’, however with solely 10% of unicorn founders becoming the Mark Zuckerberg profile, a lot of the 1000’s of Seed funds are backing the mistaken kind of founders. One fascinating discovering in our examine is that even the perfect funds, like Sequoia, solely get into lower than 3% of unicorns – and solely 30 funds have a unicorn market share of 1% or extra,” he stated.

“The starvation, self-belief, ingenuity and resilience we discovered within the unicorn founders additionally make lots of sense once you see that 62% had immigrant founders (sometimes from nations the place it’s inconceivable to construct unicorns) and 17% of recent unicorns final 12 months had feminine founders.”

He continued: “Immigrants and different underrepresented founders are clearly in a position to produce these superb outcomes however I wished to show it to LPs. Numerous the immigrant founders are coming from the growing world, like India and Africa, even Jap Europe. They don’t actually have that many choices at residence. They’ve to go away and pursue alternatives elsewhere.”

“There’s solely 30 funds which have greater than 1% share of all these unicorns, which implies that it’s completely fragmented,” he added.

“For those who mix this fragmentation with the truth that immigrants and girls discovered it more durable to fundraise, there’s an enormous alternative for brand spanking new funds to return in and particularly got down to search for these founders.”

I requested him how a VC or a household workplace would possibly change their technique because of seeing this analysis?

“Sequoia being the highest fund in solely 2.8% of unicorns implies that they miss so much. Sure, for LPs, prime funds are a comparatively secure funding. However household workplaces at the moment are rising managers and particularly early stage funds because the potential Alpha. So if you happen to’re seeking to maximise returns as a household workplace, you have to be in a couple of new funds, rising managers in an effort to get that outlier firm that turns right into a unicorn,” he stated.

Dorffer, who intends now to supply a podcast with lots of the unicorn founders surveyed, stated: “The tales which might be popping out present loopy dedication. As a feminine founder, you need to work twice as onerous and take twice as many conferences to boost the cash. The founders of Andela and three African founders that constructed unicorns… have tales which might be simply so inspirational.”


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