Startups Venture

Nine-Figure Rounds And The Unicorn Circle Of Life

Morning Markets: On the agenda today we have a new unicorn, a dead unicorn, and another $100 million in scooterbucks.

Happy Tuesday from the blisteringly cold East Coast. It’s so frigid here that I wouldn’t mind a recession as I have no intention of ever leaving the house. So whatever this is, I refuse to worry.

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Regardless, we have three key pieces of news from the overlapping magisteria of technology companies and money: the birth of a new unicorn, the death of an old unicorn, and a double-down bet by the tech industry on scooters. Let’s get into it.

Unicorn Death, Unicorn Birth

While the idea of “one in, one out” is good television fodder, it’s utter bunk in practice. Except for when reality lines up with cliche. Days like today, for example.

Starting with the out, Blippar is dead. The firm, which raised over $130 million, is now essentially bankrupt. According to recent reports, the startup, which was once worth as much as $1.5 billion, burned through “an emergency $5 million round of funding” after losing $44 million in calendar 2017. A pivot to the business space wasn’t enough to save the augmented-reality shop.

Given the lingering nascency of AR even as VR seems to slowly grow its consumer mindshare, Blippar’s end isn’t a huge surprise.

But the result must be a material disappointment for its investors (Qualcomm Ventures, Khazanah Nasional, Candy Ventures, per Crunchbase) who are now likely to see little for their capital. Precisely why the company died is more complicated than an undeveloped market, however. It seems that investor in-fighting may have contributed to Blippar’s death.

Moving on to the in, say hello to what I suspect is the world’s newest unicorn: Graphcore. The UK-based AI chip company raised $200 million at a $1.5 billion pre-money valuation ($1.7 billion post-money), picking up cash from MicrosoftBMWSequoiaDraper Esprit and Dell’s corporate venture arm, among others. A host of folks wanted a piece of the company.

According to Bloomberg, the firm couldn’t quite crack the $1 billion valuation mark the last time it raised, a $50 million round back in 2017. Sequoia led that one, but Graphcore’s prior valuation means that its horn is new.

So, that’s one new unicorn and one dead unicorn. One in, one out.


Another supergiant round caught my eye this morning, a $100 million investment into Vogo, an India scooter company. Before the new capital, Vogo had raised a mere $8.1 million (more here), making the new infusion huge in comparison.

There’s more to chew on here than just new monies for two-wheeled mobile delights. As TechCrunch’s Jon Russell reported this morning:

“We’re familiar with Uber cozying up to scooter startups — it has bought one and invested in another — but over in India, the U.S. firm’s key rival is hatching a major alliance of its own it invested $100 million in scooter rental startup Vogo.”

Russell goes on to note that Ola took part in Vogo’s preceding Series A. What all that means is that India, a critical market for Uber, is now more competitive (Uber is investing heavily in the country). For the American company hurtling towards an IPO, the news can’t be welcome.

Uber is rumored to be a potential acquirer for domestic scooter companies and has made its own strategic investment into Lime, a global micro mobility company most famous for scooters. Perhaps the Ola-Vogo deal will make that outcome more likely?

Anyway, that’s enough for one morning. And it’s quite a lot for the day a week before Christmas. Like we’ve been saying, so much for a seasonal slowdown.

Top Image Credit: Li-Anne Dias.

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