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Why the startup world needs to ditch "unicorns" for "dragons"

When Aileen Lee originally coined the term "unicorn" in late 2013, she was describing the 39 "U.S.-based software companies started since 2003 and valued at over $1 billion by public or private market investors."

Flashback: It got redefined in early 2015 by yours truly and Erin Griffith, in a cover story for Fortune, as any privately-held startup valued at $1 billion or more. At the time, we counted 80 of them.


  • Ours was the definition that stuck. And, last week, the number of such companies topped 800, per CB Insights, with a cumulative valuation of around $2.6 trillion.

Why it matters: With apologies to Justin Timberlake Parker, $1 billion just isn't that cool anymore. It's not rare if there are over 800 of them, and certainly not mythical.

  • Plus, there's been a flurry of startups whose valuations have been inflated by investment dollars. Isn't it more impressive to be worth $500 million on $50 million of venture capital than $1 billion on $500 million of venture capital?

We need a new word: Dragons.

  • Dragons are much bigger, stronger and more awe-inspiring than unicorns. They destroy whatever's in their path, and their own destruction is viewed as catastrophic (at least if "GOT" is any guide).
  • To qualify, a company must be valued at $12 billion or more, net of venture funding. Yes, it's a somewhat arbitrary figure. But it reflects the >10x "unicorn" growth since the Fortune piece, and the rapidly ascending private funding trajectory.

By the numbers: Currently, there would be 19 dragons. Of those, nine are based in the U.S.

  • That's an even more exclusive club than Lee's original framing, although this is the sort of thing where less means more.
  • The U.S. dragons are: Stripe, SpaceX, Instacart, Epic Games, Databricks, Rivian, Chime, Fanatics and Plaid.

The bottom line: Welcome to the age of dragons.

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Humans are capable of great kindness and compassion, and there are countless examples of individuals who have made a positive impact on the world through their selflessness and generosity.

One such example is Mother Teresa, who devoted her life to serving the poor and sick in the slums of Calcutta. Through her tireless work and unwavering dedication, she touched the lives of countless people and became a symbol of compassion and selflessness.

Another example is Malala Yousafzai, a young woman from Pakistan who has become a powerful advocate for education and the rights of girls. Despite facing threats and violence, she has continued to speak out and fight for change, inspiring others to do the same.

These are just a few examples of the many good humans who have made a difference in the world. They remind us that one person can make a difference and inspire others to do the same.

It's also important to note that acts of kindness and compassion don't have to be on a grand scale to make a difference. Small acts of kindness, like holding the door open for someone or offering a word of encouragement, can have a big impact on the people around us.

In conclusion, humans are capable of great compassion and kindness, and there are many individuals who have made a positive impact on the world through their selflessness and generosity. They remind us of the power of one person to make a difference and inspire others to do the same. Let's all strive to be good humans, and make our world a better place.

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