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Riding High: The Top 10 Startup Unicorns of 2018

While a $1 billion valuation isn’t as rare as it used to be, unicorn status is still coveted in startup circles. Every startup founder dreams of achieving a $1 billion worth for their company. However, not every startup is able to make it to that level. In 2018, there were less than 30 companies in the whole world that became unicorns.

1. Manbang Group
When Chinese entrepreneur Dai Wejian founded Huochebang in 2008, he had big plans to transform China’s trucking industry. Using his company’s app, 4 million truckers have been able to easily contact suppliers to find jobs hauling freight. Huochebang flourished, hitting unicorn status in 2016. However, Yunmanman, a trucking logistics startup based in Shanghai, began giving Huochebang a run for its money. In November 2017, the battling companies agreed to merge, forming Manbang Group. The merger set off an investment frenzy in early 2018, with firms like SoftBank and Sequoia pumping almost $2 billion into Manbang’s coffers.

2. Circle
In 2013, Jeremy Allaire and Sean Neville saw legitimate commercial potential in cryptocurrency. With Circle, Alaire and Neville created a trading platform for bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Along the way, they collected $26 million from investors like Breyer Capital. In 2014, the team launched their bitcoin exchange and became the first company to receive a business license to trade in virtual currency. In 2016, they moved into the U.K. and China and began to focus more on general payments. In February 2018, they acquired competitor Poloniex and finally hit unicorn status after snagging $110 million from Accel and Bitmain.

3. Meicai
Founder Liu Chuanjun helped start e-commerce website in 2010. After he sold the company, he decided to use his tech expertise to help struggling Chinese farmers. The team at Meicai developed an app that allows Chinese farmers to sell vegetables directly to restaurants. By 2016, Meicai’s delivery vans had spread to 100 Chinese cities and the company had raised more than $200 million in funding. In 2018, the company received $450 million from investors and was valued at $2.8 billion.

4. Yitu Technology
Zhu Long recognized the financial potential of AI technology after studying at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab. He joined with Alibaba engineer Lin Chenxi to create Yitu, a Shanghai-based AI startup. The company focused on developing facial recognition software for use in banks and hospitals. Their rapid growth impressed investors like Sequoia, who sunk more than $60 million into the company. In 2018, Yitu expanded into Singapore and Southeast Asia. They hit unicorn status in March, after being valued at $2.37 billion. Today, Yitu’s products are used by a variety of clients, including big hitters like Microsoft.

5. NuBank
Brazilian entrepreneur David Vélez honed his venture capital skills as a partner at Sequoia Capital before founding NuBank in 2013. At the time, Brazil was seen as a prime startup market, with a large population and a growing economy. Although the Brazilian economy soon tanked, NuBank’s no-fee credit card remained popular. By 2016, Vélez had attracted over $180 million in funding from firms like Tiger Global Management and Founders Fund. In March 2018, NuBank finally achieved unicorn status after a $150 million investment from Hong Kong’s DST Global.

6. Preferred Networks
After interning at Google, Daisuke Okanohara decided to jump on the AI train by founding a machine learning startup with former classmate Toru Nishikawa. The two men launched Preferred Networks in Tokyo in 2014. They found a dedicated financial backer in Toyota and used the funds to develop software for automated vehicles. In 2016, they inked a deal with robotics company FANUC to help create an AI system for factory automation. In 2018, they received an investment of $18 million from Hitachi and Hakuho in preparation for a new AI project with FANUC. In May 2018, Preferred Networks was valued at $2 billion, becoming Japan’s most valuable startup.

7. Revolut
Revolut is the brainchild of Russian financial maven Nikolay Storonsky and his business partner Vladyslav Yatsenko. In 2014, Storonsky left a lucrative career as a trader for Credit Suisse to launch the banking app. Revolut started small with only 6,000 users; by 2016, the app’s customer base had expanded to over 300,000 people. This success attracted an $8 million investment from Balderton Capital and Index Ventures. By 2017, Revolut had amassed 1 million users and was operating across Europe. A $250 million funding round in early 2018 helped to bump the company up to unicorn status.

8. Discord
Programmer Jason Citron is the brains behind Discord, a popular chatting app for gamers. After Citron sold his first project, OpenFeint, in 2011, he launched Discord. By 2016, the app had over 1 million monthly users and had attracted a bevy of famous eSports players. Venture capital firms noted the company’s rapid growth and funded the startup to the tune of $20 million in 2017. Spurred on by the popularity of games like Fornite and PUBG, Discord hit 135 million users in 2018. In April, the company was valued at $1.65 billion.

9. Cao Cao
Named for a 3rd-century Chinese warlord, the ride-sharing startup was launched in Hangzhou, China in 2015. Like other transport startups, the company offers individual rides to customers through its app. They also provide commercial and government rides as well. In 2019, they received a massive $155 million cash influx from Chinese car manufacturer Geely, maker of the Volvo. Cao Cao is currently valued at $1.6 billion.

10. Snowflake Computing
Founded in 2012, Snowflake has found success in cloud-based storage. The San Mateo-based firm has attracted some of the biggest companies in the tech sector, including Adobe and Instacart. The company has grown exponentially over the past few years, netting over $450 million in funding from firms like Sequoia, ICONIQ, and Redpoint. In January 2018, Snowflake was valued at $1.5 billion amid rumors of a pending IPO.

From fintech firms to logistics companies, these unicorns have had a successful run in 2018. By combining innovative ideas with rapid growth, these startups have attracted substantial investment from the industry’s biggest venture capital firms. While other startups languish behind with stagnant growth and tired ideas, these companies have managed to pass the $1 billion mark.