COVID-19: These Startup Unicorns Are Thriving Despite Recession


What is a startup?

An entrepreneurial venture in search of financial backing, made by one or more people to develop a unique product or service is known as a startup. Startups tend to face challenges from the very instant of their existence. Their first and foremost challenge is proving the relevancy of the object in the world and then they need to attract investors to believe in those concepts. Although most startups get their initial economic backing from friends and families to develop an initial prototype which makes it easier for the to-be-entrepreneurs to attract investments.

If not a product they need to provide a strong argument on behalf of the products. In recent times with different initiatives from the government, there has been a surge in the number of startups in India. Investors go about a lot of points and take several approaches to determine the value of a startup.

The risk of failure of a start-up in India always remains high. But if nurtured correctly and ideas are tuned properly, it has the potential to grow exponentially. Microsoft founded by Bill Gates, Ford Motors founded by Henry Ford and McDonald’s started Ray Kroc all can be identified as startups.

How does a startup get through the initial stage?

The real struggle comes in the beginning. Ideas with relative potential to make it big are not that common to grow. Definite nurturing, research, and development are required to fulfill that idea and create a prototype.

Finding investors also poses a challenge. Though different applications and through the internet, the job becomes easier. Pitching the idea or the argument so that they receive an investment comes as the most essential phase of a startup.

Some funds at the beginning of a startup come from small business loans from banks and credit unions, small business administration loans from local banks, and grants from local government or non-profit organizations. Modern growth in the number of startups has also seen a growth in the number of incubator firms. They are organizations that provide help to the startups in their early stages. They might help the startup by providing office space, administrative functions, education and mentorship, access to investors and capital, and idea generation in exchange for a fee or some equity in the organization. The length of this stage is indefinite. Some startups can stand up on their feet within a few months. While for some others, it takes years to find soil under their feet.

Also, there are several venture capitalists or active angel investors who look for positive potential startups and boosts them up with every kind of need.

Investing in a startup:

With no financial records to show investing can be risky. Mostly it depends on the idea and the hunch of knowing that the idea can grow. Investors scrutinize the idea thoroughly and estimate the amount of money and time it would need to get it off the ground. They also need to be aware of the potential competitors in the market and how it might affect the growth of the product in development. In modern times as the number of product releases has increased, the time required to develop a certain product also needs to be calculated.

Unique ideas generally have a lot of potentials. The main problem they have is that the investors cannot look at any reference sheet that could predict how much money the startup can turn in. Any startup that is fully developed and has a website might help in revenue creation from the first day which also attracts investments.

Unicorn Startups:

The term is used to describe a privately held startup with a value of over 1 billion. Aileen Lee, the founder of CowboyVC, coined the term “Unicorn” startup. She used the term in her article “Welcome to the Unicorn Club: Learning from Billion-Dollar Startups.” In the article, she wrote about the software companies of the 2000s and how they reached the aimed valuation. The article also highlighted how only 0.07% of the companies reached the billion-dollar mark. According to her, finding a billion-dollar valued startup is so rare that it is almost equal to the struggle of finding a mythical unicorn.

Some popular unicorn startups are Airbnb, Uber, SpaceX, Robinhood, and SoFi.

Knowing about some popular unicorns of current times

1. ByteDance


The Chinese developing company is ranked highest among all the startups in the world. The younger generation is a lot more interested in mobiles than they are in televisions or other objects. Working on this, the Chinese company worked on an application that for a time took the world by storm. Being founded in 2012, the tech company had also worked on other platforms such as information, education, inspiration, and more, and these platforms are being loved and used by people from all around the world.

But their most successful application, by far, is TikTok. As of 2019, it had 800 million-plus users around the world. It was founded by Zhang Yiming on 9th March 2012. They have their headquarters situated in Beijing, China. The company has a valuation of $ 140 billion. Some of their other popular applications are Vigo, Toutiao, TopBuzz, and more.

Yiming, the founder, CEO, currently 37 years old, completed his graduation in Software engineering from Nankai University. He is also the 9th richest man of China with a personal wealth of $ 13 billion.

Some of its competitors are Alibaba, Tencent, and Baidu. ByteDance won the race in the digital advertising market, leaving behind Tencent and Baidu in the first half of 2019. They also overtook Baidu to become the second-largest performer in China. ByteDance has also seen growth over the years. Their revenue increased by $ 17 billion in 2019 and with over 50 million downloads of its applications, they saw a hike in TikTok’s revenue by 310% in the last quarter of 2019 as reported by mobile app analytics platform Apptopia.

In recent times the company has faced several problems. Their applications have been banned from several countries like India. The US is so in talks of banning its most popular application TikTok. This led to some loss in recent months. The company is in the process of making a deal with Microsoft to sell the application.

2. Didi Chuxing

Didi Chuxing by aura mobiles
Didi Chuxing app daily activity users by Aurora mobiles

Also founded in 2012 and having headquarters in Beijing, China, the company is a multi-modal transportation platform. They provide app-based transportation services, including taxi hailing, private car-hailing, social ride-sharing and bike-sharing; on-demand delivery services; and automobile services, including sales, leasing, financing, maintenance, fleet operation, electric vehicle charging and co-development of vehicles with automakers. It was founded by Cheng Wei, Zhang Bo, and Wu Rui. Cheng Wei is also the current CEO.

The company was founded when Didi Dache and Kuaidi Dache, announced a $6 billion merger in 2015. From February 2015 to September 2015 the company was known as Didi Kuaidi. They are also partners of some of the most popular ride-sharing applications in the world like Grab, Lyft, Ola, Uber, Careem, 99, and Taxify.

To “redefine the future of mobility” they have introduced AI to ease the transportation industry.

The company has been struggling in recent times. Even before the pandemic hit the company’s share price has been found to sink in local markets. The pandemic hit them hard and now they are using the investment money to provide subsidies to drivers and customers. Their valuation stands as $56 billion as of August 2020.

3. Stripe

Collison brothers. Founders of the Stripe
Collison brothers. Founders of the Stripe

With a valuation of $ 36 billion, it ranks third as the most valuable unicorn Startups in the world. It is an online-based, payment processing platform based in the United States of America with headquarters in San Francisco. The company was founded by Irish entrepreneur brothers John and Patrick Collison in the year 2010 to develop e-commerce. They made their first acquisition in 2013 as they acquired Kickoff, a chat, and a task-management application. Though being founded at Palo Alto it was moved to San Francisco in 2012.

Stripe received $ 2 million investment from venture capitalists Peter Thiel, Sequoia Capital, and Andreessen Horowitz in 2011. The company launched its services in September 2011.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, governments across the globe are pushing for e-commerce to slow the spread of the virus. Stripe raised $ 600 million in funding amidst this severe outbreak. Some of the return investors in the round are Andreessen Horowitz, General Catalyst, Alphabet’s GV, and Sequoia Capital. They are the most valued Silicon Valley company with a $ 36 billion valuations as first reported by Axios.

The startup’s applications help users to accept payments over the internet. E-commerce was being pushed in many countries like India, for a long time. The pandemic has increased the speed of the process. Over the years the company has attracted investors like Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, and Google’s venture arm Capital G, among others. It also boasts of being the most valuable private fintech company, with Robinhood trailing at a roughly $8 billion valuation.

In May of this year, the company expanded its territory into the Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Malta.

4. SpaceX


Also with a $ 36 billion foundations, the company ranks fourth in the list of the most valuable startups in the world. The organization’s main objective remains in designing, manufacturing, and launching advanced rockets and spacecraft. The American aerospace manufacturer and space transportation services company headquartered in Hawthorne, California, was founded by Elon Musk who hardly needs any introduction. The company was founded in 2002.

Throughout its existence, the company has fulfilled several achievements. Some of the recent ones are that they became the first private company to send humans to the International Space Station (Crew Dragon Demo-2 in May 2020).

They also had a lot of “firsts” in the space programs which helped them to grow over the years.

As of August, the company was in talks of raising another $1 billion investment which would raise its market value to $44 billion. With reusable rockets, the company focuses on making interplanetary transportation from the Earth to the moon and Mars a reality. The company’s efforts in space exploration have caught the eyes of major investors and had attracted investors like Fidelity, Gigafund, and Google. Some investors also invest in the car company that Musk founded named Tesla. Some of the common investors are Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, Baillie Gifford, and Valor Equity Partners.

5. Palantir Technologies

Palantir Technologies
Palantir Technologies

The company features a range of software applications. They provide help in integrating, visualizing, and analyzing the world’s information, supporting datasets including structured, unstructured, relational, temporal, and geospatial. The company was founded by Peter Thiel, Joe Lonsdale, Nathan Gettings, Stephen Cohen, and Alex Karp, who is its chief executive. It was founded back in 2003. The company currently has a valuation of $ 20 billion.

First, the organization started to work with government and law firms to organize their data but since then has expanded into other areas. Some investments that the company attracted are $3 billion in venture capital funding from investors including In-Q-Tel which is the investment arm of the Central Intelligence Agency; Founders Fund, Mr. Thiel’s investment firm; Fidelity; and Tiger Global Management. Because of the secretive nature of its business, the company had avoided listing its shares. Going public would mean the loss of several contracts for the company, especially with government agencies.

The company has its headquarters in Palo Alto, California.

Biggest Indian startups:

Valuation of Indian startups
Valuation of Indian startups

1. PayTM

PayTM G-round investments by entraker
PayTM G-round investments by entraker

One of the most successful unicorns of the country. The company knows how to attract investors. In November of last year, the company raised $1 billion in Series G-Round and reached a valuation of $16 billion. Before this in September 2019, it was valued at $10.5 billion. The investment saw a rise of 45% in valuation.

The Noida based company was founded by Vijay Shankar Sharma, who is also the current CEO. The company was founded in 2010 to promote e-commerce in India. As of FY 2019 the company had a user pool of 350 million.

2. Oyo Rooms

With a valuation of $ 10 billion, this is also a profitable startup company. They have been increasing their valuation at a fast pace in the last few years. It first reached the $ 1 billion mark in October 2018. Since being a unicorn, it had set up more rooms in China than in India and has also expanded its business in Japan, the US, and Saudi Arabia.

The company in the Hospitality industry was founded in 2013. Ritesh Agarwal came up with a genius idea that almost has transformed the industry since. The company is headquartered in Gurgaon, Haryana, India.

3. Byju’s

Recent fundraising of $ 200 billion from Tiger Global Management, pushed up the company’s valuation to $ 8 billion. This pushed out Ola from the top three Indian startups and included Byju’s into the ranks.

Byju Raveendran founded the company in the education industry, which has seen large growth over the years. The company was founded in 2011 in Bangalore, India. The company started as the founder starting the application to help his friends clear CAT and are now a top-ranked world’s ed-tech company.

It is also proud of sponsoring the Indian Cricket Team and features Shah Rukh Khan as the company’s ambassador.

4. Ola Cabs

Fighting fierce competition and growing themselves, this startup has shown brilliant resilience in the transportation industry. It is backed by Didi Chuxing of China and competes against Uber. From cabs to bike taxis to shared taxis to even a ferry service, the company has a large range of services. This has made them be valued at $5.7 billion keeping them just out of the bronze medal spot in India.

Bhavish Aggarwal founded the company that was founded in 2010. Bhavish Aggarwal acts as the CEO of the company while Ankit Bhati acts as it’s CTO.

Startups of different industries to look out for:

1. AI

  • SurveyAuto: one of the latest startups in the industry, it provides precise survey results through geolocation, calls records, hyperspectral imagery, and open street maps. It received investment from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

  • Observe.AI: an AI-based voice assistant to help contact centers to become profit-generating machines. It uses multiple technologies like machine learning, natural language processing, and a list of error checks to ensure that all your voice calls are following the same procedures and to better the output. It also tracks, monitors, and educates the call agents to ensure that each of your calls can generate sales which in turn increases the profits. The startup has funding of $ 34.1 million and attracted investors like Scale Ventures.


2. e-commerce

  •  Cazoo: The company advertises itself as an inspection-cum-car selling store. They plan to make buying a car easier. Every car needs to go through 150+ point checkpoints before they get listed in the application. The company has raised a huge £80 million funding and lured in investors like DMG motors.

  • Wheels: They have raised monumental funding if $87 million and aim to promote smart city projects. They will lease bikes to their consumers to help them in their commute. The company also vouches to take care of services and expenses related to the vehicles and even ensures to replace the faulty ones with new vehicles without any trouble to the customer. DBL partners are one of their investors. This project if reliable can help to reduce pollution by a lot.


3. Ed-Tech Startup

  • Pleo: The company brings about a revolutionary change that will let you receive your salary to your Pleo card (Company Id card). They claim to reduce the time it takes for the users to receive a salary in the bank. The cards can be used anywhere including ATMs, banks, and other places. Stripes have invested in the company and it has raised the funding of the startup to $78.8 million.

  • Labster: They aim to help the high school students by giving them a safe environment to execute a large number of experiments. In countries like India, where students do not have much access to lab types of equipment this can help a lot of them. They will help in practical learning and will help students to understand better.


4. Food and Beverages startup

  • Kitopi: The acronym stands for Kitchen. Operation. Innovation. They aim to provide state-of-the-art kitchen network that prepares and delivers food to other retail outlets. They have a funding of $89 million.


5. FinTech startup

  • Radpay: One of the top blockchain startups that connect blockchain along with PCI-compliant card payment and banking infrastructure to reduce the time taken for payments and reduce cart abandonment. It is also funded by Stripes and raised a funding of $ 78.8 million.


6. Blockchain Startups

  • Mythical Games: With a vision to bring game developers and content creators closer to the games they love the company is about to transform the industry. They have raised $35 million in funds. Javelin Ventures have invested in them.

    Mythical games
    Mythical games

7. Transport and Travel Startups

  • Grab: They are a much-hyped startup in the transportation industry. They have raised $9.1 billion in funds and received investment from Hyundai Motors. The company has introduced features like GrabTaxi, GrabCar, GrabHitch, GrabShare, GrabCoach, GrabShuttle, GrabShuttle Plus, GrabFamily, JustGrab, GrabNow, and GrabRental. They also are one of the top startups to invest in.


8. Software and SaaS startups

  • Clumio: The startup plan to transform the SaaS Industry with its enterprise backup technology. They are a third-party app that will reduce the complexity and costs of running 3rd party backup software on the cloud. They raised $186 million and has investors like Cherry Ventures.


Conclusion :

The startup will be an essential part of the revival of India’s economy. It will create jobs in future and successful ventures will help to bring about more entrepreneurs in the country. They will be the main arm to answer the Prime minister’s call of “Atma nirbhar Bharat”.



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