Unicorn founders have three simple things in common: Learning

Have you ever wondered what the founders of “unicorn” companies, or startups worth at least a billion dollars, have in common?

After examining data from 845 unicorns and 2,018 unicorn founders in the US and UK over the past decade, Defiance Capital found three common qualitative traits in the “DNA” of unicorn founders:

  1. They don’t have a backup plan
  2. They have personal stories where they feel limited or treated unfairly
  3. They believe in themselves.

“The stories that are emerging show crazy determination,” Defiance Capital founder Christian Dorffer told TechCrunch.

Dorffer said the founders all shared “hunger, self-belief, ingenuity and resilience.”

Related: A new AI startup from Unicorn founders wants companies to know their ‘value’

The report found that 70% of unicorns had “underdog” founders, which the researchers defined as founders who were immigrants, women or people of color.

The study also found that more than half of founders (53%) held degrees from top global universities. Most founding teams (70%) had at least one person with a STEM (science, technology, engineering, or math) degree.

Founding teams were more common in the billion-dollar startup bracket than solo founders, with 80% of unicorns led by a team. Half of the founders surveyed were serial entrepreneurs, so they had created at least one other company before reaching a billion-plus dollar valuation with their unicorn startup.

Related: Want to Start a Billion-Dollar Business? Look at these two sectors, which have the most exceptional growth

A separate study in February found that two sectors stood out last year in producing unicorns: cybersecurity and artificial intelligence. According to CB Insights, as of March 2024, there are more than 1,000 unicorns worldwide, including OpenAI, Canva, and SpaceX.

Dorffer is now planning to create a podcast and interview many of the unicorn founders interviewed in the study.

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