Giants like Uber, Airbnb, Snapchat and Pinterest have been part of the ‘unicorn’ club for years – where a private company is valued in the billions – but there are only three Aussie companies that boast a spot on the list, with a new one sliding into the exclusive group last year.
The big hitter on the Aussie side is digital graphic business Canva, which is now worth $6 billion, but was started by founder Melanie Perkins in her mother’s Perth loungeroom in 2013. It has 30 million users in 190 countries.
Next up is payment transfers provider Airwallex, which is worth a reported $1.8 billion.
Airwallex works by allowing a client to open a local bank account in 50 different currencies, so they can instantly send and receive money internationally using lower interbank rates.
But a bank you’ve probably never heard of – Judo Bank – joined the ranks in 2020 with a valuation of $1.6 billion, representing an increase of over 60 per cent in value over the last seven months during the COVID pandemic.
It’s the first of the Aussie challenger banks to reach the coveted position.
Known as a neoback – meaning its completely digital – Judo Bank has no physical branches to visit. It is backed by the Myer family and was launched in 2018 by David Hornery and NAB banker Joseph Healy.
Back in May 2020, Mr Hornery said it had close to 60 bankers on staff who supported about 650 customers – with a focus on small to medium sized businesses.
Nearly a billion dollars of lending were added to its portfolio during COVID-19 as small business customers turned their backs on the big banks out of frustration and lack of access to staff, Judo said.
“Relationship banking is something SMBs have cried out for years,” Mr Hornery told Smart Company.
“In times like this, you get a real impetus to move away from what is fundamentally the industrialised offering of the major banks, to one that is actually very relational in its approach.”
Analysis from US fintech company Tipalti found fintech, e-commerce and internet software and services were the industries that delivered the most unicorn companies.
Almost half of the world’s unicorn companies were formed in the US, closely followed by China, which boasts the likes of TikTok developer ByteDance and is the world’s only ‘hectocorn’ as its valued at over $100 billion.
Rob Israch, CMO at Tipalti, said Australia sits in 17th place in the world for the number of unicorn companies, alongside South Africa, Colombia and Canada.
“Some of the major factors when aiming for unicorn status include venture capital, team, strategy, size of the team and much more,” he said.
“Given that the Australian market alone may not be big enough to support this level of growth, it’s critical that Australian companies create go-to-market strategies and business models that enable them to expand globally, and to proactively put in the infrastructure that supports this type of global scale. Australian unicorns like Canva have done a great job of this.”
But Ms Perkins has been quick to point out that it was a hard slog to make the business a success.
“I’ve never heard of a company that’s an overnight success, not when you hear the real story,” she told Business Insider back in 2016.
“Every single company goes through a lot of trials and tribulations, and faces a lot of rejection and has a lot of really hard times and huge roller-coasters that they have to contend with. It’s really important just to continue to persist and to see it through.”