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Ranked: Who Made the Most U.S. Unicorn Acquisitions Since 1997?

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A bubble chart visualizing the companies that made the most U.S.-based unicorn acquisitions between 1997 and 2021.

Who Made the Most U.S. Unicorn Acquisitions Since 1997?

The elusive unicorn is no longer a myth in the U.S. startup world, with over a thousand private startups reaching a $1 billion valuation in the last 25 years.

While some of these startups eventually go public and go on to become household names, it’s also common for founders to exit through mergers and acquisitions (M&A), by selling their startup to another organization. In fact, over half of the 1,110 unicorns in the U.S. have made some sort of an exit—either through an IPO, a direct listing, a SPAC or an acquisition—since 1997.

Ilya Strebulaev, professor of finance and private equity at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, brings us this visualization featuring the companies that acquired the most unicorns over the last 25 years.

Strebulaev’s database lists 137 private and public companies along with PE firms who’ve acquired at least one unicorn since 1997, totaling 177 acquisitions.

The Biggest U.S. Unicorn Acquirers

In total, 27 companies have acquired two or more unicorns, accounting for nearly 38% of all acquisitions. 110 companies have acquired just one unicorn.

Company/ PE GroupAcquired
Meta5
Cisco4
Alphabet4
Amazon3
Nortel Networks3
Bristol-Myers Squibb3
Johnson & Johnson3
Merck & Co.3
AT&T3
Recruit Holdings2
IBM2
Microsoft2
Thoma Bravo2
Headspace Health2
Allergan2
Qualcomm2
Rakuten2
Adobe Systems2
Eli Lilly2
Vista Equity2
Dell2
Uber2
Oracle2
Nestle2
Lucent Technologies2
Broadcom Corporation2
GlaxoSmithKline2
BlackBerry2
Searchlight Capital Partners1
Singtel1
Vmware1
Internet Capital Group1
Hellman & Friedman1
AppLovin1
Ciena Corporation1
Redback Networks1
Aether Systems1
Fresenius Medical Care1
Electronic Arts1
Genentech1
Inktomi1
VistaJet1
Ariba1
Keurig Dr Pepper1
Fullscreen1
Sycamore Networks1
Novartis1
TP ICAP1
eBay1
DoveBid1
McKesson1
IG Group1
Empower Retirement1
Dentsply Sirona1
Novo Nordisk1
Centocor1
Bausch Health1
Dainippon Sumitomo Pharma1
Medtronic1
Mubadala Investment Company1
Cint Group1
Qualtrics1
Rocket Companies1
Saudi Arabia's PIF1
Prosus1
Cigna1
One Medical1
Exact Sciences1
Teladoc Health1
Ericsson1
SoFi1
PayPal Holdings1
Bayer1
Monsanto1
AMD1
Aurora1
Marvell International1
Bill.com1
ADC1
Dealertrack1
Cox Enterprises1
L'Oreal1
AstraZeneca1
Workday1
Iron Mountain1
Splunk1
Stonepeak1
American Express1
OfferUp1
VMware1
Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan1
Groupon1
Allstate Corporation1
LinkedIn1
SAP1
Mindbody1
Mallinckrodt1
Walmart1
GMT Communications1
Brightstar Capital1
Enterprise Holdings1
Healtheon Corporation1
Apple1
PetSmart1
Epiphany1
Rice Energy1
Unilever1
SBA Communications1
Bridgepoint Advisers1
Aurea1
Vector Capital1
FireEye1
Littlejohn & Co1
Alexion1
SoftBank Investment Advisers1
Francisco Partners1
Betfair Group1
Shift Technologies1
Hudson's Bay1
Illumina1
Hewlett Packard Enterprise1
AbbVie1
Salesforce1
Hanergy1
Teleflex1
Twilio1
Okta1
Celgene1
NantCell1
VMware & EMC Corp1
Intuit1
Yahoo!1
Netmarble Games1
F5 Networks1
Roche1
Centerbridge Partners1
Total177

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, leads the pack with the most unicorn acquisitions in the U.S., purchasing five unicorns since its founding in 2008, including: Kustomer, WhatsApp, Instagram, CTRL-Labs, and Oculus VR.

Notably, WhatsApp—which closed at a purchase price of $19 billion—was Meta’s most expensive acquisition yet, over nine times their next most expensive purchase, Oculus VR.

Meanwhile, Alphabet (now the parent company of Google) and Cisco are tied in second place with four U.S. unicorn acquisitions each.

  • Alphabet: YouTube, Actifio, Nest Labs, Looker Data Sciences
  • Cisco: Cerent, Duo Security, AppDynamics, Jasper

Unlike its Big Tech peers, Apple has only made the one U.S. unicorn acquisition: navigation company HopStop that helped bring public transit features to Apple Maps.

Meanwhile, 56% of acquirers received venture capital funding of their own when they were private companies. This includes pack leaders like Meta, Cisco, Alphabet, and Amazon.

Are Unicorn Acquisitions Slowing Down?

Unicorn acquisitions are driven by two factors: the rate at which new unicorns are minted, and the climate for M&A transactions more broadly.

To begin with, the minting of new unicorns is largely influenced by the venture funding environment. Funding opportunities increase when interest rates go down, which makes riskier, venture-scale ideas more enticing. During the last decade of persistently low interest rates up until 2022, unicorns flourished more than ever.

Meanwhile, as tech companies like Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, and Meta began seeing outsized profits in the 2010s, venture investors and their LPs looked to get in on the ground floor of tech startups that could emulate their success, often paying premium valuations for the chance. Simultaneously, big tech looked to acquire unicorns themselves, both to augment their business lines and to squash potential competitors.

However, the era of “easy money” may have come to an end, and privately-held startups have seen valuations drop in recent years. This means that for the next little while—at least until monetary policy stops tightening—unicorns could become a rarer sight.

Unicorn acquisitions may also see a similar fate. Persistent inflation and the government anti-trust push are just some of the other factors that have led to VC-backed startup acquisitions falling to their lowest quarterly levels in a decade. The more expensive the valuation, the harder to find a buyer, which means that some unicorns may even lose their $1 billion tag even when they do get acquired.

How does a startup become a unicorn? Check out How Startups Can Improve Their Odds of Becoming a Unicorn which provides a blueprint to navigate this enormous task.
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This article was published as a part of Visual Capitalist's Creator Program, which features data-driven visuals from some of our favorite Creators around the world.

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Finance

Companies Gone Public in 2021: Visualizing IPO Valuations

Tracking the companies that have gone public in 2021, their valuation, and how they did it.

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Companies Gone Public in 2021 Share

Companies Gone Public in 2021: Visualizing Valuations

Despite its many tumultuous turns, last year was a productive year for global markets, and companies going public in 2021 benefited.

From much-hyped tech initial public offerings (IPOs) to food and healthcare services, many companies with already large followings have gone public this year. Some were supposed to go public in 2020 but got delayed due to the pandemic, and others saw the opportunity to take advantage of a strong current market.

This graphic measures 68 companies that have gone public in 2021 — including IPOs, SPACs, and Direct Listings—as well as their subsequent valuations after listing.

Who’s Gone Public in 2021?

Historically, companies that wanted to go public employed one main method above others: the initial public offering (IPO).

But companies going public today readily choose from one of three different options, depending on market situations, associated costs, and shareholder preference:

  • Initial Public Offering (IPO): A private company creates new shares which are underwritten by a financial organization and sold to the public.
  • Special Purpose Acquisition Company (SPAC): A separate company with no operations is created strictly to raise capital to acquire the company going public. SPACs are the fastest method of going public, and have become popular in recent years.
  • Direct Listing: A private company enters a market with only existing, outstanding shares being traded and no new shares created. The cost is lower than that of an IPO, since no fees need to be paid for underwriting.

The majority of companies going public in 2021 chose the IPO route, but some of the biggest valuations resulted from direct listings.

Listing DateCompanyValuation ($B)Listing Type
08-Jan-21Clover Health$7.0SPAC
13-Jan-21Affirm$11.9IPO
13-Jan-21Billtrust$1.3SPAC
14-Jan-21Poshmark$3.0IPO
15-Jan-21Playtika$11.0IPO
21-Jan-21Hims and Hers Health$1.6SPAC
28-Jan-21Qualtrics$15.0IPO
09-Feb-21Metromile-SPAC
11-Feb-21Bumble$8.2IPO
26-Feb-21ChargePoint Holdings-SPAC
03-Mar-21Oscar Health$7.9IPO
10-Mar-21Roblox$30.0Direct Listing
11-Mar-21Coupang$60.0IPO
23-Mar-21DigitalOcean$5.0IPO
25-Mar-21VIZIO$3.9IPO
26-Mar-21ThredUp$1.3IPO
31-Mar-21Coursera$4.3IPO
01-Apr-21Compass$8.0IPO
14-Apr-21Coinbase$86.0Direct Listing
15-Apr-21AppLovin$28.6IPO
21-Apr-21UiPath$35.0IPO
21-Apr-21DoubleVerify$4.2IPO
05-May-21The Honest Company$1.4IPO
07-May-21Lightning eMotors$0.82SPAC
07-May-21Blade Air Mobility$0.83SPAC
19-May-21Squarespace$7.4Direct Listing
19-May-21Procore$9.6IPO
19-May-21Oatly$10.0IPO
26-May-21ZipRecruiter$2.4Direct Listing
26-May-21FIGS$4.4IPO
01-Jun-21SoFi$8.7SPAC
02-Jun-21BarkBox$1.6SPAC
08-Jun-21Marqueta$15.0IPO
10-Jun-21Monday.com$7.5IPO
16-Jun-21WalkMe$2.5IPO
22-Jun-21Sprinklr$3.7IPO
24-Jun-21Confluent$9.1IPO
29-Jun-21Clear$4.5IPO
30-Jun-21SentinelOne$10.0IPO
30-Jun-21LegalZoom$7.0IPO
30-Jun-21Didi Chuxing$73.0IPO
16-Jul-21Blend$4IPO
21-Jul-21Kaltura$1.24IPO
21-Jul-21DISCO$2.5IPO
21-Jul-21Couchbase$1.4IPO
23-Jul-21Vtex$3.5IPO
23-Jul-21Outbrain$1.1IPO
28-Jul-21Duolingo$3.7IPO
28-Jul-21Riskified$3.3IPO
29-Jul-21Robinhood$32.0IPO
22-Sep-21Toast$22.0IPO
22-Sep-21Freshworks$10.1IPO
23-Sep-21Remitly$6.9IPO
28-Sep-21Amplitude$6.4Direct Listing
29-Sep-21Warby Parker$6.0Direct Listing
14-Oct-21GitLab$11.0IPO
27-Oct-21Rent the Runway$1.7IPO
29-Oct-21Udemy$4.0IPO
03-Nov-21Allbirds$2.2IPO
04-Nov-21NerdWallet$1.2IPO
10-Nov-21Rivian$66.5IPO
10-Nov-21Expensify$2.2IPO
11-Nov-21Winc-IPO
11-Nov-21Weave-IPO
17-Nov-21UserTesting-IPO
17-Nov-21Braze$6.0IPO
18-Nov-21Sweetgreen$3.0IPO
09-Dec-21Nubank$41.0IPO

Though there are many well-known names in the list, one of the biggest through lines continues to be the importance of tech.

A majority of 2021’s newly public companies have been in tech, including multiple mobile apps, websites, and online services. The two biggest IPOs so far were South Korea’s Coupang, an online marketplace valued at $60 billion after going public, and China’s ride-hailing app Didi Chuxing, the year’s largest post-IPO valuation at $73 billion.

And there were many apps and services going public through other means as well. Gaming company Roblox went public through a direct listing, earning a valuation of $30 billion, and cryptocurrency platform Coinbase has earned the year’s largest valuation so far, with an $86 billion valuation following its direct listing.

Big Companies Going Public in 2022

As with every year, some of the biggest companies going public were lined up for the later half.

Tech will continue to be the talk of the markets. Payment processing firm Stripe was setting up to be the year’s biggest IPO with an estimated valuation of $95 billion, but got delayed. Likewise, online grocery delivery platform InstaCart, which saw a big upswing in traction due to the pandemic, has been looking to go public at a valuation of at least $39 billion.

Of course, it’s common that potential public listings and offerings fall through. Whether they get delayed due to weak market conditions or cancelled at the last minute, anything can happen when it comes to public markets.

This post has been updated as of January 1, 2022.

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