All About Unicorns, Decacorns and Hectocorns

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Remember back in 2013, when venture capitalist and founder of Cowboy Ventures, Aileen Lee, coined a specific term to represent a distinctive class of start-ups that were breaking the norms and catching the eye of investors worldwide? 

That’s right, the label ‘unicorn’ was born. In the world of business, a unicorn isn’t a mythical creature fresh out of a fantasy novel. Rather, it is an exceptional title granted to private companies or startups valued over a whopping $1 billion. Just as elusive and awe-inspiring as their fictional namesakes, these companies embark on the adventurous journey from mere concepts to billion-dollar businesses. 

But the unicorn landscape has dramatically changed. Seeing a startup reach unicorn status is no longer a rare achievement. CBInsights reported that as of September 2023, there are over 1,200 startups that have joined the unicorn club. Around ten years ago, we were astonished by a mere 39 unicorn startups

Of course, the talk about unicorns later sparked the creation of decacorns and hectocorns, even minicorns and soonicorns – just to be more inclusive.

But to fully appreciate these terms, it’s time to dive into the specifics. Up next, we’ll uncover the hidden meanings behind these playful business jargon terms.

What Is a Unicorn?

Yes, in the corporate sphere, a ‘unicorn’ refers to privately held startups valued at $1 billion or more. Scratching your head? Well, it’s named after its rarity, much like its fantastical namesake. While only a handful of startups cross the threshold into unicorn territory, those who do often find themselves amid venture capitalist favoritism and become catalysts for industry change. In some instances, they even disrupt the traditional business norms. 

Ever wondered what separates these unicorn businesses from other startups? No worries, because we’ve got the answers! In this breakdown, we’ll unravel the mystery behind what makes these unicorns in the business world so compelling.

  • Start-up Status: Typically, unicorns are start-ups, fresh and passionately working on innovative ideas in the tech space. Their youthfulness retains the capacity to take risks and scale upward quickly.
  • Private Ownership: Unlike many companies, Unicorns stay privately owned for most of their growth phase. They delay going public to retain control over decision-making and avoid the scrutiny and regulatory requirements that public companies face.
  • Innovation: Unicorns disrupt their industry with revolutionary technology or a business model. They bring something new to the table, challenging established norms and prevailing practices.
  • Speedy Growth: Unicorn companies exhibit a fast-paced, upward trajectory in terms of user base, market share, and revenue. Their growth defies traditional growth benchmarks, giving us some of the most remarkable success narratives in recent history

What Is a Decacorn?

Ever heard of a unicorn going supersize? Welcome to the world of decacorns. In business lingo, a decacorn is a startup that’s privately held and has hit a staggering $10 billion valuation.

The term decacorn emerged naturally following the unicorn, once the most prestigious label for a startup. But what enables companies to reach such an extraordinary milestone? 

In simple terms, the main distinction between a unicorn and a decacorn is their valuation. Decacorns, just like unicorns, are typically disruptive, led by technology. However, the magic trick lies in how they manage to magnify their valuation to a level ten times that of a unicorn. 

  • Persistent Innovation: Decacorns don’t rest. They continue to innovate, evolve, and create value over time with their products or technology, keeping them at the forefront of their industries and maintaining their high valuation.
  • Global Impact: While unicorns often make a splash in one market, decacorns create ripples around the globe. Their products or services tend to have a universal appeal and widespread adoption, contributing to their astronomical valuations.
  • Large User Base: Decacorn companies typically have large user bases. They leverage network effects to grow, exploiting the value derived from a larger number of users to offer more comprehensive and powerful services or products.
  • Financial Expertise: Navigating the tremendous growth required to reach decacorn status involves significant financial expertise. These companies show a knack for raising capital, spending wisely, and managing finances for continued growth.

See also: The Unexpected Obstacle Every Startup Faces (And How to Overcome It)

What Is a Hectocorn?

Allow me to pull back the curtain on a creature even more fascinating and scarce than both unicorns and decacorns, the unassuming hecacorn. Instead, it’s given to companies valued at an outstanding 100 billion dollars. This represents a height in startup valuation, only achieved by those companies that lead the pack in creativity and business potential. 

In simple terms, a hecacorn is a startup company possessing a value of $100 billion or more. This milestone isn’t merely about having a fantastic product or service. It is also a testament to the company’s capability to persuade investors about the prospects of a large, scalable market, and their potential to rule that market. In other words, these are the giants of the startup world. They achieve levels of success that most business leaders can only aspire to.

  • Groundbreaking Innovation: Hecacorns aren’t your run-of-the-mill companies that merely follow trends. They are the supreme pioneers, pushing the bounds of innovation to unthinkable dimensions. From groundbreaking product offerings and remarkable leadership to using cutting-edge technology, these startups are the epitome of radical innovation.
  • Sustainable Business Model: But don’t be fooled into thinking it’s all about a breakthrough product or service. Hecacorns charm investors with sustainable business models that promise a lucrative financial future. Whether that entails devising novel revenue streams or minimizing costs, these companies continually redefine operational efficiency.
  • Dominant Market Position: Having mesmerized investors and consumers alike, they tower over competitors and exert substantial influence over the entire industry, mastering the art of navigating market challenges.
  • Global Presence: Hecacorns aren’t limited to their birth countries. Their prowess knows no bounds as they venture out globally, colonizing the international market with their innovative products or services.
  • Adaptability: In the volatile landscape of startups, Hecacorns harbor the capacity to adapt and evolve. They navigate shifting customer demands and trends, not just to conform, but to lead the promise of future evolution.

This concept is relatively new, yet there have been companies that have already scaled these summits and are proudly tossing their heads in the business stratosphere, all being common household names.

Can you guess any?

What Are Some Famous Examples?

You will notice that these creatures are more commonly found roaming the meadows of Silicon Valley and other tech hubs worldwide. Let’s dig in! 

Unicorn (Former Examples)

  1. Calendly: A scheduling fairy, making the task of setting up meetings magically easy, that swooped into the realm of unicorns in 2020. worth a solid $3 billion.
  2. Tinder: Circling the people around the globe from the comfort of your living room, Tinder has transformed the dating industry. The company holds a dazzling valuation of about $3 billion.
  3. Grab Financial Group: The golden child of the startup world, a Singapore-based technology company initially started as a ride-hailing service. Grab quickly transformed its business model, spreading its wings to fly into financial services. This inspired pivot catapulted it into a new valuation high of around $3 billion.

Decacorn Examples 

  1. Stripe: With a knack for simplifying online payments, Stripe elegantly pranced into the unicorn pasture and kept racing all the way up to decacorn. With its most recent valuation of over $50 billion, it’s no mere trot — it’s a galloping success.
  2. Didi Chuxing: China’s ride-hailing success, often referred to as the “Uber of China,” Didi Chuxing is another decacorn with a valuation of around $16.77 billion.
  3. OpenAI: Originating as a non-profit, OpenAI transitioned into a capped-profit company in 2019. Enthralled with artificial intelligence, OpenAI’s dedication to creating friendly AI for the benefit of all humanity has ramped up their valuation beyond the silhouettes of possibly $90 billion.

Hectocorn Examples 

  1. ByteDance: The Chinese company that owns TikTok, ByteDance, has rapidly achieved hectocorn status with a valuation jumping to nearly $220 billion. Its impact on social media has been, without doubt, phenom-enal!
  2. SpaceX: Rocketing into the stratosphere, Elon Musk’s SpaceX is taking hectocorn status to new heights – literally. As of recently, their valuation hovers around $150 billion.
  3. SHEIN: China’s e-commerce success, often referred to as the “Zara of China,” SHEIN is another hectocorn with a valuation of around $16.77 billion.

See also: Mastering Entrepreneurship: Your Ultimate Guide to Starting Strong

Former Examples

Let’s recall the golden era where some of these illustrious companies bore the tantalizing title of unicorns. However, it’s important to remember the key characteristic that truly seals their unicorn status – they must be privately owned or yet dreaming to have their initial public offering (IPO).

  1. Apple: Synonymous with innovative technology and sleek design, this tech mammoth reached hectocorn status way back in 1980. Today, they’re beyond it, into the ‘tera-firma’ of trillion-dollar companies. Perhaps we need a new term—titancorns, anyone?
  2. Amazon: Beginning as an online bookstore, Amazon has since expanded into just about every retail category imaginable and even provides cloud computing services. They surfed into the hectocorn club on a tidal wave of ecommerce in 1999.
  3. Google: ‘Google it’ has become part of the global lexicon, so it’s no surprise that the tech giant vaulted into hectocorn status in 2004. They’ve since diversified into a plethora of sectors, from self-driving cars to life extension research.
  4. Microsoft: The pioneer of personal computing made it to the hectocorn club in 1995 and has since remained one of the major players in the technology industry.

These are not just names; they symbolize the enormous potential that a start-up holds if it hits the nail on the head with the right product, at the right time, in the right market. But remember, reaching unicorn or decacorn status doesn’t come overnight—these companies are the result of relentless hard work, monumental risk-taking, and a sprinkling of good luck.