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Charted: How Long Does it Take Unicorns to Exit?

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Charting How Many Years Unicorns take to Exit

How Long Does it Take For Unicorns to Exit?

For most unicorns—startups with a $1 billion valuation or more—it can take years to see a liquidity event.

Take Twitter, which went public seven years after its 2006 founding. Or Uber, which had an IPO after a decade of operation in 2019. After all, companies first have to succeed and build up their valuation in order to not go bankrupt or dissolve. Few are able to succeed and capitalize in a quick and tidy manner.

So when do unicorns exit, either successfully through an IPO or acquisition, or unsuccessfully through bankruptcy or liquidation? The above visualization from Ilya Strebulaev breaks down the time it took for 595 unicorns to exit from 1997 to 2022.

Unicorns: From Founding to Exit

Here’s how unicorn exits broke down over the last 25 years. Data was collected by Strebulaev at the Venture Capital Initiative in Stanford and covers exits up to October 2022:

Years
(Founding to Exit)
Unicorn ExampleNumber of Unicorns
1997‒2022
1YouTube10
2Instagram31
3Groupon41
4Zynga43
5Salesforce36
6Alphabet (Google)51
7Tesla35
8Zoom59
9Coursera44
10Uber Technologies45
11WeWork46
12Airbnb35
13Credit Karma18
14SimilarWeb19
1523andMe15
16Sonos11
17Roblox12
18Squarespace6
19Vizio9
>20Cytek17

Overall, unicorns exited after a median of eight years in business.

Companies like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Indeed are among the unicorns that exited in exactly eight years, which in total made up 10% of tracked exits. Another major example is Zoom, which launched in 2011 and went public in 2019 at a $9.2 billion valuation.

There were also many earlier exits, such as YouTube’s one-year turnaround from 2005 founding to 2006 acquisition by Google. Groupon also had an early exit just three years after its founding in 2008, after turning down an even earlier acquisition exit (also through Google).

In total, unicorn exits within 11 years or less accounted for just over three-quarters of tracked exits from 1997 to 2022. Many of the companies that took longer to exit also took longer to reach unicorn status, including website company Squarespace, which was founded in 2003 but didn’t reach a billion-dollar valuation until 2017 (and listed on the NYSE in 2021).

Unicorns, by Exit Strategy

Broadly speaking, there are three main types of exits: going public through an IPO, SPAC, or direct listing, being acquired, or liquidation/bankruptcy.

The most well-known are IPOs, or initial public offerings. These are the most common types of unicorn exits in strong market conditions, with 2021 seeing 79 unicorn IPOs globally, with $83 billion in proceeds.

20212022% Change
# Unicorn IPOs7913-84%
Proceeds$82.9B$5.3B-94%

But the number of IPOs drops drastically given weaker market performance, as seen above. At the end of 2022, an estimated 91% of unicorn IPOs listed since 2021 had share prices fall below their IPO price.

A less common unicorn exit is an SPAC (special purpose acquisition company), although they’ve been gaining momentum and were used by WeWork and BuzzFeed. With an SPAC, a shell company raises money in an IPO and merges with a private company to take it public.

Finally, while an IPO lists new shares to the public with an underwriter, a direct listing sells existing shares without an underwriter. Though it was historically seen as a cheaper IPO alternative, some well-known unicorns have used direct listings including Roblox and Coinbase.

And as valuations for unicorns (and their public listings) have grown, acquisitions have become less frequent. Additionally, many major firms have been buying back shares since 2022 to shore up investor confidence instead of engaging in acquisitions.

Slower Exit Activity

While the growth of unicorns has been exponential over the last decade, exit activity has virtually ground to a halt in 2023.

Investor caution and increased conservation of capital have contributed to the lack of unicorn exits. As of the second quarter of 2023, just eight unicorns in the U.S. exited. These include Mosaic ML, an artificial intelligence startup, and carbon recycling firm LanzaTech.

As exit activity declines, companies may halt listing plans and eventually slow expansion and cut costs. What’s uncertain is whether or not this lull in unicorn exits—and declining influx of private capital influx—is temporary or part of a long-term readjustment.

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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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Technology

Visualizing Microsoft’s Revenue, by Product Line

This graphic breaks down Microsoft’s revenue by segment—from cloud office software to AI search engine capabilities in 2023.

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Visualizing Microsoft’s Revenue, by Product Line

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

Over the last decade, Microsoft’s revenue has more than doubled, driven by key product lines like its intelligent cloud infrastructure.

Adding to this, Microsoft launched its AI-enabled search engine, Copilot last year, which has already generated $12 billion for the company. Beyond this search engine, Microsoft is developing a range of AI-based services, such as Azure Arc, a cloud computing platform with 18,000 customers.

This graphic breaks down Microsoft’s revenue in 2023, based on data from Affinity powered by Syntax.

Microsoft’s Most Lucrative Business Segments

In 2023, Microsoft revenues soared to a record $211 billion as demand for AI services accelerated.

As one of the world’s largest companies by market cap, Microsoft reached a $2.8 trillion valuation as investors flocked to big tech and AI-related stocks last year. Amid strong growth, here’s how much revenue was generated from Microsoft’s product lines in 2023:

Product LIneFY2023 Revenue Share of Revenue
Cloud Computing Services$80B38%
Cloud Office Suite Software$49B23%
Operating Systems$22B10%
Gaming Consoles$15B7%
Employment Listing Platform$15B7%
AI-Enabled Search Engine$12B6%
Other$19B9%
Total Revenue$211B100%

Comprising 38% of total revenues in 2023, Microsoft’s cloud computing services segment earns more than any other by a long shot.

These intelligent cloud services provide the servers, storage, and data centers that enable businesses to run websites and other computing services without the need for buying individual hardware and software.

The second-highest revenue driver was cloud office suite software, with sales of Microsoft 365 bringing in $49 billion in revenue.

Meanwhile, Microsoft’s gaming consoles segment pulled in $15 billion in one of its best years ever. In 2023, the company acquired Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion, known for World of Warcraft and Call of Duty. It was the company’s biggest acquisition in its history.

Falling after gaming revenues is Copilot, its AI-enabled search engine, making up 6% of 2023 revenues. This productivity tool can be embedded into Microsoft 365, allowing companies to use natural language prompts to gain data on their company, summarize insights from meetings, and a host of other functions.

As AI-related services continue to gain momentum, it remains to be seen whether Microsft’s revenue will continue to see strong growth. So far, investor optimism has remained elevated.

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