These pre-IPO companies are valued at a whopping amount. Meet the founders behind the billion-dollar ideas.
Valuation: $10 billion Ask CEO Brian Chesky about Airbnb, and he’ll put it simply: “We are a hospitality company.” Indeed, in the six years since it was started from a San Francisco loft, Airbnb has become a leader in the “sharing economy,” a market where just about anyone can share anything from a car to, in this case, a spare room. Now the startup reaches 34,000-plus cities in 192 countries, with co-founder Joe Gebbia as chief product officer and Nate Blecharczyk as its CTO, and ranks as one of the highest valued startups today.
Valuation: $10 billion
Angel investor and company CEO Lei Jun founded the consumer electronics startup in 2010 to tackle the “lower-middle market” with products like the Mi3, a smartphone priced less than half that of the iPhone 5c. Now Lei has set his sights on global expansion, with plans to expand into 10 countries this year and a goal of growing sales fivefold to 100 million phones next year.
Valuation: $10 billion
MIT graduate Drew Houston co-founded Dropbox with Arash Ferdowsi in 2007 when he grew tired of transferring files via USB thumb drive. Seven years later, Dropbox is more than your average cloud storage and file-syncing company. Last year, Dropbox acquired the buzzy mobile email app Mailbox; earlier this year, it released Camera, a separate mobile app that lets Dropbox’s 275 million users easily share and view their photos. “We want Dropbox to be a home for all of your important stuff,” Houston told Fortune this April.
Valuation: $9 billion
CEO Alex Karp and Peter Thiel, who know each other from Stanford Law School, hatched Palantir in 2004 after Thiel drummed up the idea of developing anti-terrorism software. At its core, Palantir helps government and private organizations make sense of massive amounts of disparate data and point out trends they might otherwise miss. To wit, the software proved invaluable agencies like the CIA and FBI, deciphering patterns in roadside bomb attacks and even reportedly playing a role in the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
Valuation: $7.3 billion
When the deadly SARS virus ravaged the Chinese populace in 2002, Qiangdong “Richard” Liu saw profits from his small electronics distribution business plunge as more people avoided going out. Luckily, one of Liu’s managers came up with the idea of trying to sell some of the company’s inventory online, a move that proved a turning point. “I barely knew what the Internet was back then,” Liu admitted to Fortune in 2011. “Seriously. I had never used it.” But when the company was on track to do $12 million in online sales just three years later, Liu decided to shut down the brick and mortar side and go online-only. Fast forward: Jingdong is reportedly looking to raise $2 billion in an initial public offering during the second half of 2014.
Valuation: $5.4 billion
College classmates Robert Gentz and David Schneider started the Berlin e-commerce startup after their first idea — a social network for colleges in Mexico, Argentina and Chile — flopped. Initially, they modeled Zalando after Zappos and sold footwear but grew the company’s inventory to include clothes and accessories. The company is expected to reach profitability next year. Meanwhile, it is also reportedly exploring an initial public offer in late 2014 or 2015.
Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, or "SpaceX"
Valuation: $4.8 billion
In 2002, Tesla CEO Elon Musk started the private space transportation company SpaceX to realize his dream of colonizing far-flung planets like Mars. Getting there means a long series of baby steps for Musk and his 3,000-plus employees. So in 2002, SpaceX developed a new wave of cutting-edge rockets that can deliver payloads to space for far less. In 2010, SpaceX became the first private company to launch a spacecraft into orbit, and in 2012 one of its unmanned vehicles docked with the International Space Station, the product of a $1.6 billion contract with NASA.
Valuation: $4.1 billion
In 2009, three engineers from Google, Facebook and Yahoo (Christophe Bisciglia, Jeff Hammerbacher and Amr Awadallah) teamed up with Oracle exec Mike Olson to launch Cloudera, a startup that sells software, support and services to help corporations manage big data. Moreover, the quartet argue Cloudera’s technology can businesses of virtually every kind, from bio-tech to retail. They’re not alone: Cloudera raised $900 million this March from Intel, Google Ventures, T. Rowe Price and Michael Dell’s investment firm, MSD Capital, at a $4.1 billion valuation.
Valuation: $4 billion
Why pay upfront for music when you can listen for free? That was Spotify’s raison d’etre when Swedish entrepreneur Daniel Ek launched the startup in 2008. The simple, legal music services two tiers of service: a free, ad-supported version where listeners can tune into 20 million tracks and a set of premium, ad-free plans. “The essential feeling we wanted to create was to have all of the world’s music available at your fingertips,” Ek told Fortune in 2011. Ek’s philosophy emphasizing content access over ownership has since been emulated by competitors.
Valuation: $3.8 billion
Ben Silbermann, Evan Sharp and Paul Sciarra started Pinterest four years ago around the idea of creating virtual collections, or “pinboards,” of content as a means of self-expression. (Indeed, Silberman was an avid bug collector as a boy.) Pinterest’s aesthetic is so uniquely clean and sophisticated, other sites, services and apps have copied it. Meanwhile, the product continues to grow at brisk pace: Silberman revealed this April there are over 750 million pinboards hosting 30 million-plus images, a 50% increase over the last six months.