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The Companies that Defined 2021

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The Companies that Defined 2021

The Companies that Defined 2021

Attention is an increasingly valuable form of currency in the Information Age.

In 2021, a handful of companies stood out from the pack, dominating the conversation and influencing society in both positive and negative ways. After vigorous internal debate, here is Visual Capitalist’s list of companies that defined 2021:

  • Robinhood
  • Pfizer
  • Coinbase
  • Tesla
  • TikTok
  • Facebook/Meta

We looked at a number of metrics to select these companies, including Google search and news volume, performance relative to competitors, industry-specific indicators, and more.

Many of these are digital companies, and all have massive reach, scale, and influence. Interestingly, many of these companies also faced controversies along with their success, and were caught up in movements that were bigger than themselves.

With this context in mind, let’s dive in.

Robinhood

Robinhood’s eventful year reached its peak when the stock trading app was caught in a frenzy involving retail traders, short sellers, and “meme stonks”. It did not take long for Robinhood to go from hero to villain in this story. As the Gamestop stock shot up past $400, trading was halted and position limits were initiated on the app.

As well, Robinhood’s stated goal of democratizing finance came under scrutiny due to their pay-for-order-flow business model, where sensitive user trade activity data is sold to the highest bidder who then gets ahead of the trade, otherwise known as “front-running”.

robinhood account size vs competitors

Despite the controversy, Robinhood’s platform now has over 22 million users, many of whom are younger, first-time investors. While they have key attractions like zero commission trades, they were also accused of gamifying investing with features like confetti shooting across the screen after a trade is made (a feature that was removed after media criticism).

The company frequently made front page financial news in early 2021, and while the often negative press didn’t get in the way of their IPO—which commenced in late July—it has affected investor sentiment. Since their 52-week high of $70 per share in August, the stock has fallen some 70% towards the $18 range.

Furthermore, the SEC is rumored to be launching an investigation into them. With these headwinds, investing on Robinhood has probably fared better so far than investing in Robinhood.

Pfizer

Perhaps there was no bigger story in 2021 than COVID-19 vaccines.

Early in the year, the race to secure vaccines was on. Wealthy countries scrambled to buy stock and roll out widespread vaccination programs ahead of spring.

And the companies that managed to produce efficient vaccines saw the biggest benefits, like pharmaceutical giant Pfizer. The company’s COVID-19 vaccine, made in partnership with German firm BioNTech, ended up becoming the world’s most-preferred vaccine to fight the pandemic.

The company is forecasting revenue of $36 billion from its vaccine this year.

Competing vaccines from Moderna and AstraZeneca also saw their parent companies rise in both market cap and newsworthiness. All of the involved pharma companies have also faced constant scrutiny, with many countries in the world struggling to secure COVID-19 vaccines, and others dealing with vaccine hesitancy.

As the pandemic continues with the Omicron variant quickly spreading around the globe, Pfizer and its competitors will continue to be impactful into the new year. The company announced a COVID-19 antiviral pill that is planned to be released in the near future, and more effective vaccines and boosters against other variants are still a hot commodity.

Coinbase

2021 was a pivotal year for cryptocurrency. Prices reached new highs, and institutions and retail investors alike poured into the market.

With its user-friendly app and focus on security, Coinbase was well positioned to benefit from this surge in interest. The exchange started off the year by more than doubling its transacting user base as Bitcoin prices shot to new heights.

coinbase transacting users 2021

It’s easy to underestimate the influence of the company’s IPO—especially as its share price slid as the crypto market cooled off—but the exchange’s very entry into the public markets was a huge boost in legitimacy for crypto, paving the way for similar companies to IPO in the future.

Tesla

Nobody captures attention and creates controversy quite like Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk.

Most of Tesla’s actions are tied closely to the famous entrepreneur, who’s known for his brazen online presence. Musk’s social media persona is so strong, one tweet can send Tesla’s stock plummeting, like it did last year after Musk told Twitter that “Tesla’s stock is too high imo.”

While naysayers are quick to criticize Tesla and Musk, the company has some impressive numbers to back up its hype. 2020 was already a ridiculous year for Tesla—its stock surged by nearly 700%, and with a valuation of $630 billion, it became one of the most valuable companies in the world.

This momentum carried over into 2021. This year, revenue rose each quarter, and in October, the company’s market value surpassed $1 trillion.

Tesla was also intertwined within other societal narratives over the course of the year. The automaker’s move from California to Texas was part of a larger conversation about the “Bay Area exodus”, as jurisdictions in Texas and Florida looked to steal Silicon Valley’s thunder.

elon musk twitter poll

Musk’s Tesla stock sales generated a lot of buzz in Q4 as well.

Seemingly in response to criticism over inequality and tax avoidance, Musk ran a Twitter poll to decide whether or not to sell a significant portion of his Tesla holdings. After a majority “yes” vote, the Tesla CEO now appears to have sold off enough stock to hold up his end of the bargain.

TikTok

TikTok was already popular in 2020, but this year truly solidified its status as a cultural phenomenon.

The app topped a billion users in 2021, just five years after its launch in 2016. For context, it took Facebook and Instagram nearly eight years to hit that same milestone.

tiktok user growth

What’s so appealing about TikTok? Experts have many theories, but in an interview with Forbes, John Holdridge, GM of Fullscreen, puts its simply: “TikTok’s success can be attributed to how it flips what we think of as social media on its head, while at the same time returning us all to roots of the original appeal–the ability to go viral.”

TikTok’s short-style video format has become so popular that it’s inspired a slew of copycat apps, especially in regions like India where TikTok is banned.

Even established companies like Meta have tried to mimic TikTok’s success. In 2020, Instagram launched “reels,” its own short-form video feature where users can create and share 30 second videos. But Instagram reels failed to overtake TikTok’s growth—instead, reels has become a place for users to share and promote their TikTok videos.

Facebook/Meta

Facebook frequently finds itself in the news, given its status as the world’s largest social network. In 2021, however, it was for two different reasons.

The first was the U.S. Capitol Riot on January 6, 2021. In the aftermath of this event, many blamed Facebook for not doing enough to mitigate the negative effects of its platform—mainly polarization, conspiracy theories, and hate speech.

The controversy reached its peak in September 2021, when internal files leaked by whistleblower Frances Haugen were published. These documents exposed Facebook’s internal struggles with combating misinformation, as well as employee dissent.

Ultimately, Facebook weathered the storm and opted to shed its baggage with a new name. Not only does this help the company disassociate from its previous scandals, it also lines up with Mark Zuckerberg’s ambitions of pioneering the metaverse.

Facebook metaverse

Following the announcement, “metaverse” exploded overnight and became one of the hottest topics of 2021. The word “Meta” has also become incredibly valuable—Meta (the company) recently completed a $60 million deal to acquire the trademark assets of Meta Financial Group, a regional U.S. bank.

Honorable Mentions

While the companies highlighted above were undeniably influential in 2021, any list like this is bound to be subjective and open to debate. Here is a shortlist of other companies that we considered for the Companies that Defined 2021 list:

Reddit

The surge in investment that propelled Robinhood and Coinbase to new heights was partially fueled by communities on Reddit. One of the most fascinating moments of the year came when Reddit user u/deepfuckingvalue appeared before the House Committee on Financial Services proclaiming, “I am not a cat” and “I like the stock”.

On the business front, the “Front Page of the Internet” saw double-digit user growth during the pandemic, and now has a valuation of $10 billion after a hefty round of funding.

OpenSea

NFTs had a Cambrian explosion alongside the crypto bull run, with OpenSea emerging as the dominant marketplace this past year. In the second half of 2021, OpenSea made up 95% of NFT trading volume on major marketplaces, and has transacted $1.42B in volume in December so far.

While it seemed OpenSea was planning an IPO after their CFO Brian Roberts commented how “you’d be foolish not to think about it [OpenSea] going public,” user backlash resulted in Roberts later tweeting that the company is not actively planning an IPO. Whether or not OpenSea does set sail onto the public markets, they’ll soon have some serious competition from Coinbase’s own NFT marketplace currently in the works.

Netflix

Despite intense competition from rival streaming platforms, Netflix will finish the year on top once again. The company has a number of impressive tallies in the win column this year.

First, Squid Game was a cultural phenomenon, quickly becoming the streaming service’s number one show, and also the world’s most Googled TV show of 2021.

Next, Netflix’s Red Notice is likely the most watched new movie of 2021, logging well over 300 million hours of viewing time. Not bad, considering its tepid score of 36% on Rotten Tomatoes. It remains to be seen whether deep-pocketed competitors like Disney+ are able to dethrone Netflix, but for now, the company is as culturally relevant as ever.

SpaceX

The fact that Elon Musk has two companies in this conversation points to why he was named Time’s Most Influential Person for 2021.

SpaceX has made launching rockets drastically cheaper in recent years, which helps explain its massive reported valuation of $200 billion. The company, which is the top commercial launch provider in the U.S., will round out the year with 31 launches.

Which companies would you add to this list?

The following members of the VC editorial staff contributed to this article: Nick Routley, Carmen Ang, Niccolo Conte, Marcus Lu, Aran Ali, and Omri Wallach.
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Every Mission to Mars in One Visualization

This graphic shows a timeline of every mission to Mars since 1960, highlighting which ones have been successful and which ones haven’t.

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Timeline: A Historical Look at Every Mission to Mars

Within our Solar System, Mars is one of the most similar planets to Earth—both have rocky landscapes, solid outer crusts, and cores made of molten rock.

Because of its similarities to Earth and proximity, humanity has been fascinated by Mars for centuries. In fact, it’s one of the most explored objects in our Solar System.

But just how many missions to Mars have we embarked on, and which of these journeys have been successful? This graphic by Jonathan Letourneau shows a timeline of every mission to Mars since 1960 using NASA’s historical data.

A Timeline of Mars Explorations

According to a historical log from NASA, there have been 48 missions to Mars over the last 60 years. Here’s a breakdown of each mission, and whether or not they were successful:

#LaunchNameCountryResult
11960Korabl 4USSR (flyby)Failure
21960Korabl 5USSR (flyby)Failure
31962Korabl 11USSR (flyby)Failure
41962Mars 1USSR (flyby)Failure
51962Korabl 13USSR (flyby)Failure
61964Mariner 3US (flyby)Failure
71964Mariner 4US (flyby)Success
81964Zond 2USSR (flyby)Failure
91969Mars 1969AUSSRFailure
101969Mars 1969BUSSRFailure
111969Mariner 6US (flyby)Success
121969Mariner 7US (flyby)Success
131971Mariner 8USFailure
141971Kosmos 419USSRFailure
151971Mars 2 Orbiter/LanderUSSRFailure
161971Mars 3 Orbiter/LanderUSSRSuccess/Failure
171971Mariner 9USSuccess
181973Mars 4USSRFailure
191973Mars 5USSRSuccess
201973Mars 6 Orbiter/LanderUSSRSuccess/Failure
211973Mars 7 LanderUSSRFailure
221975Viking 1 Orbiter/LanderUSSuccess
231975Viking 2 Orbiter/LanderUSSuccess
241988Phobos 1 OrbiterUSSRFailure
251988Phobos 2 Orbiter/LanderUSSRFailure
261992Mars ObserverUSFailure
271996Mars Global SurveyorUSSuccess
281996Mars 96RussiaFailure
291996Mars PathfinderUSSuccess
301998NozomiJapanFailure
311998Mars Climate OrbiterUSFailure
321999Mars Polar LanderUSFailure
331999Deep Space 2 Probes (2)USFailure
342001Mars OdysseyUSSuccess
352003Mars Express Orbiter/Beagle 2 LanderESASuccess/Failure
362003Mars Exploration Rover - SpiritUSSuccess
372003Mars Exploration Rover - OpportunityUSSuccess
382005Mars Reconnaissance OrbiterUSSuccess
392007Phoenix Mars LanderUSSuccess
402011Mars Science LaboratoryUSSuccess
412011Phobos-Grunt/Yinghuo-1Russia/ChinaFailure
422013Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutionUSSuccess
432013Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM)IndiaSuccess
442016ExoMars Orbiter/Schiaparelli EDL Demo LanderESA/RussiaSuccess/Failure
452018Mars InSight LanderUSSuccess
462020Hope OrbiterUAESuccess
472020Tianwen-1 Orbiter/Zhurong RoverChinaSuccess
482020Mars 2020 Perseverance RoverUSSuccess

The first mission to Mars was attempted by the Soviets in 1960, with the launch of Korabl 4, also known as Mars 1960A.

As the table above shows, the voyage was unsuccessful. The spacecraft made it 120 km into the air, but its third-stage pumps didn’t generate enough momentum for it to stay in Earth’s orbit.

For the next few years, several more unsuccessful Mars missions were attempted by the USSR and then NASA. Then, in 1964, history was made when NASA launched the Mariner 4 and completed the first-ever successful trip to Mars.

The Mariner 4 didn’t actually land on the planet, but the spacecraft flew by Mars and was able to capture photos, which gave us an up-close glimpse at the planet’s rocky surface.

Then on July 20, 1976, NASA made history again when its spacecraft called Viking 1 touched down on Mars’ surface, making it the first space agency to complete a successful Mars landing. Viking 1 captured panoramic images of the planet’s terrain, and also enabled scientists to monitor the planet’s weather.

Vacation to Mars, Anyone?

To date, all Mars landings have been done without crews, but NASA is planning to send humans to Mars by the late 2030s.

And it’s not just government agencies that are planning missions to Mars—a number of private companies are getting involved, too. Elon Musk’s aerospace company SpaceX has a long-term plan to build an entire city on Mars.

Two other aerospace startups, Impulse and Relativity, also announced an unmanned joint mission to Mars in July 2022, with hopes it could be ready as soon as 2024.

As more players are added to the mix, the pressure is on to be the first company or agency to truly make it to Mars. If (or when) we reach that point, what’s next is anyone’s guess.

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Thematic Investing: 3 Key Trends in Cybersecurity

Cyberattacks are becoming more frequent and sophisticated. Here’s what investors need to know about the future of cybersecurity.

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Global X Cybersecurity ETF

The following content is sponsored by Global X ETFs
Global X Cybersecurity ETF

Thematic Investing: 3 Key Trends in Cybersecurity

In 2020, the global cost of cybercrime was estimated to be around $945 billion, according to McAfee.

It’s likely even higher today, as multiple sources have recorded an increase in the frequency and sophistication of cyberattacks during the pandemic.

In this infographic from Global X ETFs, we highlight three major trends that are shaping the future of the cybersecurity industry that investors need to know.

Trend 1: Increasing Costs

Research from IBM determined that the average data breach cost businesses $4.2 million in 2021, up from $3.6 million in 2017. The following table breaks this figure into four components:

Cost ComponentValue ($)
Cost of lost business$1.6M
Detection and escalation$1.2M
Post breach response$1.1M
Notification$0.3M
Total$4.2M

The greatest cost of a data breach is lost business, which results from system downtimes, reputational losses, and lost customers. Second is detection and escalation, including investigative activities, audit services, and communications to stakeholders.

Post breach response includes costs such as legal expenditures, issuing new accounts or credit cards (in the case of financial institutions), and other monitoring services. Lastly, notification refers to the cost of notifying regulators, stakeholders, and other third parties.

To stay ahead of these rising costs, businesses are placing more emphasis on cybersecurity. For example, Microsoft announced in September 2021 that it would quadruple its cybersecurity investments to $20 billion over the next five years.

Trend 2: Remote Work Opens New Vulnerabilities

According to IBM, companies that rely more on remote work experience greater losses from data breaches. For companies where 81 to 100% of employees were remote, the average cost of a data breach was $5.5 million (2021). This dropped to $3.7 million for companies that had under 10% of employees working from home.

A major reason for this gap is that work-from-home setups are typically less secure. Phishing attacks surged in 2021, taking advantage of the fact that many employees access corporate systems through their personal devices.

Type of AttackNumber of attacks in 2020Number of attacks in 2021Growth (%)
Spam phishing1.5M10.1M+573%
Credential phishing5.5M6.2M+13%

As detected by Trend Micro’s Cloud App Security.

Spam phishing refers to “fake” emails that trick users by impersonating company management. They can include malicious links that download ransomware onto the users device. Credential phishing is similar in concept, though the goal is to steal a person’s account credentials.

A tactic you may have seen before is the Amazon scam, where senders impersonate Amazon and convince users to update their payment methods. This strategy could also be used to gain access to a company’s internal systems.

Trend 3: AI Can Reduce the Cost of a Data Breach

AI-based cybersecurity can detect and respond to cyberattacks without any human intervention. When fully deployed, IBM measured a 20% reduction in the time it takes to identify and contain a breach. It also resulted in cost savings upwards of 60%.

A prominent user of AI-based cybersecurity is Google, which uses machine learning to detect phishing attacks within Gmail.

Machine learning helps Gmail block spam and phishing messages from showing up in your inbox with over 99.9% accuracy. This is huge, given that 50-70% of messages that Gmail receives are spam.
– Andy Wen, Google

As cybercrime escalates, Acumen Research and Consulting believes the market for AI-based security solutions will reach $134 billion by 2030, up from $15 billion in 2021.

Introducing the Global X Cybersecurity ETF

The Global X Cybersecurity ETF (Ticker: BUG) seeks to provide investment results that correspond generally to the price and yield performance, before fees and expenses, of the Indxx Cybersecurity Index. See below for industry and country-level breakdowns, as of June 2022.

Sector (By security type)Weight
Cloud28.0%
Network25.1%
Identity17.7%
Internet15.0%
Endpoint12.8%
CountryWeight
🇺🇸 U.S.71.6%
🇮🇱 Israel13.2%
🇬🇧 UK8.2%
🇯🇵 Japan5.5%
🇰🇷 South Korea0.9%
🇨🇦 Canada0.6%

Totals may not equal 100% due to rounding.

Investors can use this passively managed solution to gain exposure to the rising adoption of cybersecurity technologies.

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