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The <em>other</em> billion dollar startup club

We at Fortune have written a lot about unicorns, which we define as privately-held startups that are valued at $1 billion or more by their investors. So much, in fact, that we did a cover story about them and Hasbro sent a toy unicorn for my amusement (disclaimer: “Ella” was intercepted by my 5 year-old daughter, and now lives on her bed).

But there also is a smaller, more exclusive group of billion-dollar companies within the unicorn herd: The companies that have actually raised $1 billion or more in equity funding. You know, the ones that would be considered unicorns even if their pre-funding valuations were zero dollars and zero cents. Let’s call them honey badgers.

The latest member of this clan is SoFi, which yesterday announced $1 billion in new equity funding led by SoftBank. That brings its overall total to $1.42 billion, not including another $400 million or so in debt financing. For context, that’s about 57x the amount of funding Google (GOOG) raised before going public.

According to data provided by research firm Mattermark, SoFi is the 26th startup to ever raise $1 billion or more in venture capital (including corporate venture), of which 21 remain privately-held.

Of the five ‘exited’ companies, the results are a decidedly mixed-bag. On the upside are Facebook (FB) and Alibaba (BABA) — yes, we’re counting the Yahoo (YHOO) investment. Somewhere in between is Groupon (GRPN), which has worked out great for its early investors but been a slog for those who came in pre-IPO. And then there was the partial flameout Clearwire (acquired by existing shareholder Sprint for just a fraction of its earlier valuation) and the total flameout Fisker Automotive (Chapter 11).

Of the still-private group, Uber has raised by far the most money — seemingly adding new cash on a weekly basis. Mattermark puts the current equity total at around $6.4 billion, although it may already be higher by the time you read this.

 

The next couple names on the list are foreign — Didi Kuaidi (Chinese rival to Uber) and Flipkart (Indian e-commerce) — followed by Airbnb. The “smallest” honey badger is WeWork, which has raised just a hair over $1 billion. Thirteen of the 21 are based in the U.S.

honey-badger-dont-careThis is the part where I should draw conclusions, like how the middling batting average for the exited companies should cause concern for those invested in the larger, still-private group. Particularly given the VC-backed IPO drought. But I honestly have no clue how this plays out, given that those earlier companies were exceedingly rare — and the newer, larger group has plenty of company and operates in a different financing/tech environment.

But given the SoFi news, I felt it was worth beginning to break out these companies and begin to track them a bit differently. Particularly because a company that raised $1 billion or more in equity can no longer be satisfied becoming a $3 billion or $5 billion public company. At least not if their investors have anything to say about it…

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