The World's Biggest Startups: Top Unicorns of 2021 – Visual Capitalist

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Many entrepreneurs start businesses around the world, but only the most successful new companies become “unicorns”—the biggest startups with a valuation above $1 billion.
Some unicorns are little-known companies making quiet but impactful strides in software, healthcare, automotive, and other fields. Others have already become well-known industry leaders, like aerospace manufacturer SpaceX and game developer and publisher Epic Games.
In total, there are more than 800 unicorn startups globally. That said, this visualization specifically hones in on the world’s decacorns (unicorns with valuations above $10 billion) as of December 2021 according to CB Insights.
The world’s most prominent unicorns constantly see their valuations change as they enter different rounds of funding or maturity.
In December 2021, there were 35 startups with a valuation above $10 billion, spread out across different countries and industries.
Many of the most valuable startups are already giants in their fields. For example, social media company Bytedance is the developer behind video network platform Douyin and its international version, TikTok, and has amassed a valuation of $140 billion.
Financial services and payment software company Stripe jumped from a valuation of $36 billion to $95 billion over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Even less universally prominent names like Swedish fintech Klarna ($45.6 billion) and Australian graphic design platform Canva ($40.0 billion) are well known within their respective fields.
But private valuations don’t last forever. Many eventually go public, like electric vehicle maker and Tesla competitor Rivian, which had a valuation of $27.6 billion before listing on the NASDAQ.
Breaking down the world’s biggest startups by industry highlights that tech is still king in most investing circles.
More than 77% of unicorns valued above $10 billion are categorized directly in tech-related fields, primarily in financial and commerce software.
And many of the unicorns categorized in non-tech fields are still technology companies at their core. In fact, Indonesia’s logistics and package delivery company J&T Express is one of the few unicorns not directly in tech, though it still uses automated sorting in its warehouses.
It was one of the few startups to come from somewhere other than the U.S. or China, which together accounted for over 70% of the 35 biggest startups. The UK (3) was the next most-frequently listed headquarters, while Australia, Brazil, Germany, India and Sweden each had one of these unicorns on the list.
With constantly fluctuating valuations and technological breakthroughs always around the corner, the next $10 billion unicorn could come from almost anywhere.
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This animation shows the evolution of web browser market share since 1994, showing the rise and fall of various internet portals.
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In its early stages, the internet was a highly technical interface that most people had difficulty navigating. But that all changed when the Mosaic web browser entered the scene in 1993.
Mosaic was one of the first “user-friendly” internet portals—although by today’s standards, the browser was actually quite difficult to access. Comparatively, modern browsers in high use today have changed exponentially.
This animated graphic by James Eagle chronicles the evolution of the web browser market, showing the rise and fall of various internet portals from January 1994 to March 2022.
In the early 90s, Mosaic was by far the most dominant web browser. At the time, about 97% of all internet searches were done through this popular web portal.
Mosaic was the first web browser to display images directly on a page in line with text. Earlier browsers loaded pictures as separate files, which meant users have to click, download, and open a new file in order to view them.
The pioneering portal was created by a team of university undergrads at the University of Illinois, led by 21-year-old Marc Andreessen. When Andreessen graduated, he went on to be the co-founder of Mosaic Communications Corporation, which evolved into Netscape Communications Corporation, the company that created Netscape Navigator.
Netscape was essentially a new and improved version of Mosaic, but since the University of Illinois owned the rights to Mosaic, Andreessen’s new company couldn’t actually use any of the original code.
Netscape became a nearly instant success, and as a result, Mosaic’s market share began to fall. By the late 90s, Netscape had captured 89% of the web browser market.
Netscape dominated the market for a few more years. However, in the new millennium, a new tech giant started to take over—Internet Explorer.
In 1995, Microsoft launched Internet Explorer as part of an add-on package for its operating system, Microsoft Windows 95.
Given the popularity of the Windows franchise at the time, Internet Explorer was quickly adopted. By the early 2000s, it had captured over 90% of the market, reflecting Microsoft’s hold on the personal computing market.
Netscape was mostly phased out of the market by then, which meant Internet Explorer didn’t have much competition until Mozilla entered the arena.
Founded by members of Netscape, Mozilla began in 1998 as a project for fostering innovation in the web browser market. They shared Netscape’s source code with the public, and over time built a community of programmers around the world that helped make the product even better.
By 2004, Mozilla launched Firefox, and by 2006, the free, open-source browser had captured nearly 30% of the market. Firefox and Internet Explorer battled it out for a few more years, but by the mid-2010s, both browsers started to get leapfrogged by Google Chrome.
When Google’s co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin pitched the idea of starting a Google web browser to CEO Larry Schmidt in 2003, he was worried that they couldn’t keep up with the fierce competition. Eventually, the co-founders convinced Schmidt, and in 2008, Google Chrome was released to the public.
One of Chrome’s distinguishing features was (and still is) the fact that each tab operated separately. This meant that if one tab froze, it wouldn’t stall or crash the others, at the cost of higher memory and CPU usage.
By 2013, Chrome had swallowed up half the market. And with Android emerging as the most popular mobile OS on the global market, there were even more Chrome installations (and of course, searches on Google) as a result.
It’s important to note that the dataset in this animation uses visitor log files from web development site and resource W3Schools from 1999 onwards. Despite getting more than 60 million monthly visits, its userbase is likely slanted towards PC over mobile users.
Further, though Google’s Android platform has a sizable lead over Apple’s iOS in the global mobile sector, this likely slant also impacts the representation of iOS and therefore Safari browsers in the animation and dataset.
Media and information delivery is transforming at an increasing pace. Here’s why the future will be more data-driven, transparent, and verifiable.
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In today’s highly-connected and instantaneous world, we have access to a massive amount of information at our fingertips.
Historically, however, this hasn’t always been the case.
Time travel back just 20 years ago to 2002, and you’d notice the vast majority of people were still waiting on the daily paper or the evening news to help fill the information void.
In fact, for most of 2002, Google was trailing in search engine market share behind Yahoo! and MSN. Meanwhile, early social media incarnations (MySpace, Friendster, etc.) were just starting to come online, and all of Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and the iPhone did not yet exist.
Every so often, the dominant form of communication is upended by new technological developments and changing societal preferences.
These transitions seem to be happening faster over time, aligning with the accelerated progress of technology.
Each new wave of media comes with its own pros and cons.
For example, Connected Media was a huge step forward in that it enabled everyone to be a part of the conversation. On the other hand, algorithms and the sheer amount of content to sift through has created a lot of downsides as well. To name just a few problems with media today: filter bubbles, sensationalism, clickbait, and so on.
Before we dive into what we think is the next wave of media, let’s first break down the common attributes and problems with prior waves.
Before the first wave of media, amplifying a message took devotion and a lifetime.
Add in the fact that even by the year 1500, only 4% of global citizens lived in cities, and you can see how hard it would be to communicate effectively with the masses during this era.
Or, to paint a more vivid picture of what proto-media was like: information could only travel as fast as the speed of a horse.
In this first wave, new technological advancements enabled widescale communication for the first time in history.
Newspapers, books, magazines, radios, televisions, movies, and early websites all fit within this framework, enabling the owners of these assets to broadcast their message at scale.
With large amounts of infrastructure required to print books or broadcast television news programs, it took capital or connections to gain access. For this reason, large corporations and governments were usually the gatekeepers, and ordinary citizens had limited influence.
Importantly, these mediums only allowed one-way communication—meaning that they could broadcast a message, but the general public was restricted in how they could respond (i.e. a letter to the editor, or a phone call to a radio station).
Innovations like Web 2.0 and social media changed the game.
Starting in the mid-2000s, barriers to entry began to drop, and it eventually became free and easy for anyone to broadcast their opinion online. As the internet exploded with content, sorting through it became the number one problem to solve.
For better or worse, algorithms began to feed people what they loved, so they could consume even more. The ripple effect of this was that everyone competing for eyeballs suddenly found themselves optimizing content to try and “win” the algorithm game to get virality.
Viral content is often engaging and interesting, but it comes with tradeoffs. Content can be made artificially engaging by sensationalizing, using clickbait, or playing loose with the facts. It can be ultra-targeted to resonate emotionally within one particular filter bubble. It can be designed to enrage a certain group, and mobilize them towards action—even if it is extreme.
Despite the many benefits of Connected Media, we are seeing more polarization than ever before in society. Groups of people can’t relate to each other or discuss issues, because they can’t even agree on basic facts.
Perhaps most frustrating of all? Many people don’t know they are deep within their own bubble in which they are only fed information they agree with. They are unaware that other legitimate points of view exist. Everything is black and white, and grey thinking is rarer and rarer.
Between 2015 and 2025, the amount of data captured, created, and replicated globally will increase by 1,600%.
For the first time ever, a significant quantity of data is becoming “open source” and available to anyone. There have been massive advancements in how to store and verify data, and even the ownership of information can now be tracked on the blockchain. Both media and the population are becoming more data literate, and they are also becoming aware of the societal drawbacks stemming from Connected Media.
As this new wave emerges, it’s worth examining some of its attributes and connecting concepts in more detail:
The Data Media ecosystem is just beginning to emerge, but here are some early pioneers we like:
Growth in data journalism and the emergence of these pioneers helps give you a sense of the beginnings of Data Media, but we believe they are only scratching the surface of what is possible.
In a sense, it’s easier to define what Data Media isn’t.
Data Media is not partisan pundits arguing over each other on a newscast, and it’s not fake news, misinformation, or clickbait that is engineered to drive easy clicks. Data media is not an echo chamber that only reinforces existing biases. Because data is also less subjective, it’s less likely to be censored in the way we see today.
Data is not perfect, but it can help change the conversations we are having as a society to be more constructive and inclusive. We hope you agree!
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