Unicorn Founders Have Three Simple Things in Common: Study

Ever wonder what founders of “unicorn” companies, or startups worth at least a billion dollars, have in common?

After looking at data from 845 unicorns and 2,018 unicorn founders in the U.S. and U.K. from the past decade, Defiance Capital found three common, qualitative traits in the “DNA” of unicorn founders:

  1. They do not have a backup plan
  2. They have personal stories of feeling limited or unfairly treated
  3. They believe in themselves.

“The stories that are coming out show crazy determination,” Defiance Capital founder Christian Dorffer told TechCrunch.

Dorffer said the founders all shared “hunger, self-belief, ingenuity, and resilience.”

Related: A New AI Startup from Unicorn Founders Wants Businesses to Know Their ‘Worth’

The report found that 70% of unicorns had “underdog” founders, which the researchers defined as founders who were immigrants, women, or people of color.

The study also found that more than half of the founders (53%) had degrees from top global universities. Most founder teams (70%) had at least one person with a STEM degree (science, technology, engineering, or math).

Founder teams were more common in the billion-dollar startup bracket than solo founders, with 80% of unicorns led by a team. Half of the founders surveyed were serial entrepreneurs, so they had created at least one other company before reaching a billion-dollar-plus valuation with their unicorn startup.

Related: Want to Start a Billion-Dollar Business? Look to These Two Industries, Which Have the Most Unicorn Growth

A separate February study found that two industries stood out last year in producing unicorns: cybersecurity and artificial intelligence. As of March 2024, there are more than 1,000 unicorns around the world, including OpenAI, Canva, and SpaceX, according to CB Insights.

Dorffer is now planning to create a podcast and interview many of the unicorn founders surveyed in the study.

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