Posted on Wednesday, Feb 18th 2015
I have started 2015 with the launch of a new book called Billion Dollar Unicorns. Writing this book took me through the extensive process of talking to entrepreneurs who have built tech companies with valuations above a billion dollars. While there is a tremendous amount of serendipity involved in any extraordinary success story, one recurring theme comes up in these case studies. I am particularly excited to share this nugget because it applies broadly to all classes of entrepreneurial ventures.
Bootstrap first, raise money later.
That’s what Fred Luddy did when he founded ServiceNow back in 2005. Leveraging his domain knowledge and expertise in IT ServiceDesk software, he rapidly acquired 12 customers before raising funding. Initially, he started charging $25 per seat and the 12 customers paid up. He raised $2.5 million in venture capital WITH 12 customers, and ample validation.
Soon they clocked $850,000 in revenues in their first year as a real company. In 2010, they had grown to $45 million annual revenue run rate with 350 enterprise customers. Their latest fiscal results are yet to be announced, but they ended fiscal 2013 with revenues of $424.7 million.
Prior to listing on the NYSE in 2012, ServiceNow was venture funded with $83.7 million in investments received from JMI equity, Greylock Partners, and Sequoia Capital. They raised $162 million in their IPO. Soon after listing, ServiceNow had touched a valuation of $3 billion. Since then, the stock has skyrocketed. It is currently trading at $68.89 with a market capitalization of $10.22 billion. It touched a 52-week high of $71.80 in February last year. Clearly, a mega hit Unicorn that started, however, by bootstrapping first.
The same theme plays in the story of Tableau Software.
Seattle-based Tableau Software was founded by Stanford alumni and professors, Christian Chabot, Chris Stolte, and Pat Hanrahan in 2003. This was Christian’s second entrepreneurial venture after he had successfully sold BeeLine Software within 18 months of setting it up.
Initially, there was no investor involved. In fact, for two years, and 200 customers, there was no investor involved. In effect, they bootstrapped.
Then they got a mammoth 4-year OEM deal with Hyperion including an advance.
At this point, Tableau raised $5 million from NEA at a $20 million pre-money valuation. The average pre-money range at the time for Series A was $5 million.
Revenue ramped very well. In 2004 they did $800,000. That rose to $2.1 million in 2005, $3.7 million in 2006, $7.8 million in 2007, $13.9 million in 2008, and $20.1 million in 2009. The company earned $34.2 million in revenues in 2010 and had grown that to $127.7 million by the year 2012. Tableau saw revenues grow 82 percent over the year to $232.4 million for fiscal 2013.
Tableau went public in May 2013 raising over $250 million at a $2 billion valuation. Today their market capitalization is ~$6 billion.
I love this story for the sheer execution savvy of the entrepreneur team: turning $15 million of capital into a $2 billion valuation, going public, and then sustaining the momentum with flawless execution to now increase the valuation to $6 billion.
If you read Billion Dollar Unicorns, this general theme will come up many times. While we do have Unicorns that started life as “fat startups,” the “bootstrap first, raise money later” strategy gives entrepreneurs more control over their destinies.
Thus, even serial entrepreneurs often use this strategy, not just first-time entrepreneurs.
Finally, I want to also share with you the story of Aaron Skonnard and Pluralsight in this context. Aaron has built one of the very few EdTech ventures out there that are scaling at Unicorn levels. He discussed his journey over the last decade at our recent 1M/1M roundtable. Aaron bootstrapped Pluralsight to $16 million in revenue before raising a $27.5 million Series A at almost a $100 million valuation. From there on, the company has gone on to follow a roll-up strategy with additional funding and is currently valued at close to $1 billion. I suggest you listen to the recording of our discussion and read Aaron’s Entrepreneur Journeys story here.
More investigation and analysis of Unicorn companies can be found in my latest Entrepreneur Journeys book, Billion Dollar Unicorns. Unicorns will also be discussed with some special guests during our 1M/1M Roundtable programs over the next few weeks. To be a part of the conversation, please register here. The term Unicorn was coined in a TechCrunch article by Aileen Lee of Cowboy Ventures.
This segment is a part in the series : Billion Dollar Unicorns
. How Marketo Is Faring In The Public Market . Workday's Ramp to Multi-Billion Valuation . Gaurav Dhillon, Founder of Informatica and SnapLogic (Part 1) . ServiceNow's Expanding Market Opportunity . Gaurav Dhillon, Founder of Informatica and SnapLogic (Part 2) . Gaurav Dhillon, Founder of Informatica and SnapLogic (Part 3) . Gaurav Dhillon, Founder of Informatica and SnapLogic (Part 4) . Tableau's Valuation Increases to $6 Billion . A Rare Media Venture Called Vice . Gaurav Dhillon, Founder of Informatica and SnapLogic (Part 5)More »» . Gaurav Dhillon, Founder of Informatica and SnapLogic (Part 6) . Gaurav Dhillon, Founder of Informatica and SnapLogic (Part 7) . Will Box Implode Post IPO? . Net-a-Porter Cracks The Luxury Fashion Market . Outbrain Prepares for an IPO . Palantir's Skyrocketing Valuation May Be Justified . Online Education Player Lynda.com . Pluralsight's Impressive Rise . Snapchat Explores Revenue Generating Options . Analysts Project Revenue for Pinterest . The Market Awaits Etsy's IPO . Taboola's Content Marketing Growth . Egnyte Eyes IPO in 18 Months . Web 3.0 and E-Commerce Investment Thesis of 3 VCs . Cleversafe's Unique IP Strategy . Cloud Investment Thesis of 5 VCs . GoDaddy Shying Away from IPO, Yet Again . Can Square Sustain Its Valuation? . Zulily Tumbles . MuleSoft Will Be Joining Soon . Bootstrap First, Raise Money Later . ShopClues in India Shows Unicorn Characteristics . What Have You Learned? . ASOS Shines From London . Xiaomi Overtakes Samsung in China . eClinicalWorks Bootstraps With A Paycheck . Strategies From 5 Entrepreneurs . Lending Club Focuses on Growth Post IPO . Slack Speeds Its Way To The Mark . Eventbrite Shies Away from an IPO . Meituan Leads China's Group Buying Market . Gilt Groupe Delays IPO . Veeam Wants To Stay Private . Nextdoor's Valuation Skyrocketing With No Sign of Revenues . Stripe Exploring Tie-Ups for Growth . HubSpot Sustains Solid Growth Post IPO . Shazam Makes it to the Club . OnDeck Scoring in Small Businesses Instant Loans . Fat Startup Adaptive Insights Leading in Cloud CPM . Cloudera Leverages Open-Source Hadoop to Create a Multi-Billion Dollar Business . Evernote Cracks the Freemium Model . Rocket Fuel Crashes on Results . MongoDB Rises High on NoSQL Databases . Shopify Preparing for an IPO . JustFab Getting Ready for an IPO . Kabam to Stay Private? . Adyen Bootstraps to Multi-Billion Valuations . RetailMeNot Worries About Mobile Monetization . Elance-oDesk Taking on the Freelance World . Farfetch Connecting Designers with Consumers . The Impressive Story of Airpush . athenahealth Enters the EHR Market . Privalia Dominates the Latin America Markets . Niche E-Commerce Works for Fanatics . Powa Puts London on the Map . RealReal Shows How to Consign Luxury Products . Vancl On A Roller Coaster Ride . Didi Dache is China's Uber . Dafiti Leading E-Commerce in Latin America . ServiceNow Expands Addressable Market . Flipboard Focuses on Monetization . Hootsuite Eyes an IPO . GoodData Riding High on Big Data Analytics Market Growth . Cheetah Mobile Part Of Chinese Contingent . Hortonworks Needs To Deliver Results . Clarabridge Wins by Analyzing Customer Sentiment . Tableau Continues its Precise Execution . Will Cloudera Sustain $5 Billion Valuation Post IPO? . Freshdesk is a Prospect . InMobi Wants to IPO in India . Zendesk Targets the Live Chat Market . New Relic Getting Ready to Battle with Microsoft . Twilio is Revolutionizing Telecommunications . Funding Circle is UK's Latest Entry to the Club . Luxury Retailer Moda Operandi on the Club's Runway . Splunk is Now Targeting the SMB Segment . Capital-Efficient StartApp Is A Prospect . AppNexus In The IPO 2015 Pipeline . Druva Poised to Produce an Indian Unicorn . MapR Readies IPO . Lookout Getting Ready for an IPO . Anaplan Gets Ready to Enter the Club . Blue Apron Simplifies DIY Gourmet Cooking . GoFundMe Bootstraps till the Half-Way Point . Containers Gives Docker Entry into the Club . Can Kaltura Be A Public Unicorn? . The Ride-Sharing Industry Continues to Deliver Unjustifiable Valuations . MarkLogic Making Waves in Enterprise NoSQL . CloudFlare Offers Website Security over the Cloud . Mixpanel Provides Advanced Analytics for SMBs . Spotify Gearing up to Face Apple Music . Auction.com in Expansion Mode . Nutanix Gives VMWare Tough Competition . Houzz Bootstraps in a Niche Space to Join the Club . Rapid7 Delivers a Successful IPO . Coinbase Tries To Capitalize on BitCoins . Expect Acquisitions From ServiceNow . Zendesk and Freshdesk in Expansion Mode . Zulily Attempts to Make a Turnaround . Etsy Continues to Fumble . Lufax May be Risky, But Valuations Remain Lofty . Will IBM Acquire FireEye? . Mode Media Takes on Video Streaming . New Relic Moves Deeper into Enterprise . Delivery Hero Gets Multi-Billion Dollar Valuation for Food Delivery . Splunk Beefs Up Cyber Security . Garena Secures Singapore's Entry to the Club . Dianping is Thriving in China with its Local Reviews Business . Box Struggles in its Public Avatar . Coupang Raises the Banner for South Korea . InsideSales.com Bootstraps First, Raises Money Later . Pinterest Eyes E-Commerce . Klarna Takes the Risk out of E-Commerce . VNG Grows While Remaining Focused on Vietnam . Good, Bad and Ugly . Sprinklr Rolls up Social Media Management Software Before IPO . ContextLogic Marries Wish Lists to Vendors . Beepi Disintermediates Used Car Dealerships . Snapchat Experiments With Revenues . Tanium Simplifies Cyber Security . Avant is Revolutionizing Consumer Credit . Adyen is on a Roll . Apttus Ready for IPO . ZScaler Takes Security to the Cloud . Bullhorn is in the Making . Sogou a Unicorn, But Yet to Find its Mojo . Evernote Trying to Recover Lost Ground . Modernizing Medicine Is A Prospect . Instacart Looks Shaky . Mogujie's E-Commerce Pivot Pays Off . Zalando Takes the Lead in European Etail . BlaBlaCar Expands Internationally with Acquisitions . Square Files for IPO Below Last Round of Financing . Secretive Infinidat Makes its Way to the Club . FanDuel Creates a Billion Dollar Company out of Fantasy Sports . Kabbage Latest Unicorn in Slowing Online Lending Sector . Atlassian Now Prepping for a US Listing . Match.com Looking to Court the Stock Market Now . Ele.Me Shows Online-2-Offline Works . Alteryx is a Prospect . Machine Zone Translates Multi-Player Games to Multi-Billion Valuation . ZocDoc Should Be Able To Withstand Public Market Scrutiny . Thumbtack Joins the Ranks . Beibei the Baby of the Club . Online Lender SoFi Puts Off IPO Plans . Warby Parker Joins the Club . DraftKings Looks Worried as Fantasy Sports Come Under Scrutiny . Tujia Offers Vacation Rentals in China . Hortonworks Struggles to Stay in the Club . Atlassian, A Legitimate One, Delivers A Great IPO . Reconsider Your Aspirations . Will Docker Sustain? . Veeva Delivers Strong Fundamentals . OfferUp Still Needs to Figure out Revenue Model . Mozido Delivers Mobile Payment to Non-Banking Customers . SimpliVity a Prospect . WePiao Succeeds in Online Ticketing in China . Uptake Joins the Club . For Magic Leap, Unicorn Status No Longer Virtual . Udacity Leans on Industry Giants for Monetization . ForeScout Does Not Want To Go Public Yet . ShopClues Joins the Club . Age of Learning Monetizing in Educational Apps . Square Post Its IPO . Decolar is the Latin American Entry to the Club . Japan's Mercari Joins the Club . Yello Mobile Acquires its Way into the Club . TutorGroup Enters the Club . Souq.com the Middle East Entry to the Club . WeWork Riding the Sharing Economy Wave . Moderna Therapeutics A Promising, Unproven Bet . GitHub Faces Growing Pains . Africa Internet Group the First African Entry to the Club . Paytm Plans Rapid Expansion . Oscar Plans to Expand Its Network . Razer Leads the Gaming Accessory Market . GuaHao Targets China's Healthcare . AUTO1 Group Plans International Expansion . TransferWise Makes Money Transfer Simpler and Cheaper . Ping An Good Doctor Is Largest Chinese Healthcare Unicorn . MindMaze Channels Virtual Reality into Healing . Driverless Car Startup Zoox Joins The Club . Cylance Uses Machine Learning as Cyber Security Tool . SMS Assist Brings a Lackluster Industry to the Club . Unity Technologies a Strong VR Gaming Bet . Square Eyeing Large Sellers . Airbnb Continues to Soar . Xiaohongshu Leverages Social Commerce to Join the Club . iCarbonX Wants to Create a Digital You . Liepin, China's Homegrown Recruitment Platform . Hike is the Latest Entrant from India . Go-Jek Hails its Way into the Club . Quanergy Rides Into the Club . Aiwujiwu Rides High on Chinese Real Estate Sector . Zeta Interactive Counts on Inorganic Growth . Line Delivers a Successful IPO . Grab from Singapore is the Next Big One . Didi Chuxing Monopolizing Chinese Ride-Sharing Market? . Blippar Bets on Its Visual Browser . Two Years Post the IPO, Globant Continues to Soar . Nutanix Delivers a Strong Performance in the First Week of Listing . Coupa Has a Successful IPO . Online-to-Offline Focus Helps Huimin Enter the Club . Real Estate Platform Compass Joins the Club . LeSports Cashes in on Niche Video Streaming . Flipkart's Valuation Bodes Unsteady Future . Russian Avito Gearing up to go Public . Guazi Leading the Chinese Online Used Car Market . Slack Delays IPO to Next Year . Sprinklr Acquiring to take on Big Brands . Infor Accumulates ERP Providers to Build an Empire . Royole Corporation Flexes its Way into the Club . Rong360.com Joins the Club . Stripe’s Skyrocketing Valuation . Hulu Gears up to Stream Cable . Nutanix Delivers Upbeat Performance, Stock Still Down . Procore Joins the Club . JetSmarter Flies Into the Club . Opendoor Labs Opens the Door to the Club . Neo Technology Takes Databases to the Next Level . Kabam Struggles to Stay Alive . Careem is the Latest Middle East Unicorn . Huochebang is the Uber of Trucks in China . SimpliVity Exits in HPE's Arms . Kendra Scott Shows that Women CAN Build Unicorns . Zhihu Imitates Quora to Build a Valuation Without Revenue Company . Putting Flipkart's Struggles in Perspective . BlackLine Continues to Grow Post IPO . Global Switch Wants to be Leader in Data Centers . AppDynamics Sold Before IPO . MuleSoft Delivers Successful IPO . Alteryx has a Successful IPO . Airbnb is in no Rush to IPO . Actifio Focuses on Profitability, not IPO . In Uptake, Groupon Founder Shows He Has Learnt His Lesson . Will Cisco buy Nutanix? . Zoom Video Communications Enters the Club . C3 IoT Joins the Club . Robinhood Joins the Club