Figure stretches "unicorn" definition too far
You may have read today that Europe is positively bursting at the seams with “unicorns”—those billion-dollar tech startups that were once mythical but are now popping up all over the place.
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The term “unicorn” has always been grating, but at least it has a definition: a privately-held tech startup with a valuation of $1 billion or more.
The source of Monday’s unicorn explosion is a report entitled “European Unicorns 2016” from investment bank GP Bullhound. Scanning through the names on the list, maybe 25 could—some with generosity of spirit—actually be classified as unicorns.
Sweden’s Spotify heads up the list with a valuation of $8.5 billion. Spotify is a unicorn. Skype, which sits in second place with pretty much the same valuation, is owned by Microsoft msft . Skype is not a unicorn, and neither is Minecraft-maker Mojang (20th place), which is also owned by Microsoft.
The next two names on the list, Zalando and Markit Group, are publicly-traded companies. They are not unicorns, nor are the other ten companies on the list that have had an IPO.
Three companies on the list were founded in Israel—two, Como and Mobli, are now headquartered in New York, while IronSource is still based in Tel Aviv. Israel may have extensive ties with Europe, but it remains firmly located in the Middle East. These are not European unicorns.
Even the number of 25 European unicorns may be stretching things somewhat.
For example, companies such as Anaplan and Fanduel may have been founded in the U.K., but they now operate out of the U.S. France’s Vente-Privee is 15 years old, and probably doesn’t even qualify as a startup, let alone as a unicorn.
For more on unicorns watch our video.
So what gives? GP Bullhound told Fortune that it counted publicly-traded companies as unicorns in this report because it’s done so since it started issuing the annual report in 2014.
“In order to keep a consistent record of the growth of European tech, GP Bullhound has chosen to continue to include public companies in the 2016 report,” the company said.
What about those companies on the list that were bought out by other companies, such as Skype, Vkontakte (Mail.ru), Skrill (Paysafe Group), and King Digital (Activision Blizzard)? “Valuations at acquisition also provide an important measure of this growth, demonstrating the value being created across the continent by leading digital entrepreneurs,” GP Bullhound said.
Skype, let us remind ourselves, was acquired by Microsoft in 2011 (and by eBay five years before that). If Skype’s a “unicorn,” then so is YouTube—and heck, why not Google too while we’re at it?
“Nowhere is the unicorn phenomenon seen more clearly than in Europe,” wrote GP Bullhound co-founder Manish Madhavani in the report issued Monday. If that’s the case, the term is even less useful than it previously seemed.