It’s rare to find crossover between the mythological world and the business one, so when it happens—you know something big is happening. Throughout ancient history, the image of the unicorn has been one of elegance, mystery, and deep spiritual importance. As a horse-like creature with one magnificent horn, the legend of the unicorn has come to symbolize the spirit of purity, innocence, and new beginnings. And when applied to the realm of modern business, its meaning takes on even more significance.
A startup company gains “unicorn” status when it has broken the mold of what is predictable and usual, introducing a new, almost magical way of thinking about any given enterprise. But to truly assume this title, a company needs more than just exciting ideas, they need be valued at over $1 billion and capable of more. First coined in 2013 by venture capitalist, Aileen Lee, this mythical term perfectly captures the goal of all new business pursuits—to become the rare and precious species amid a landscape of regular old horses. And within this definition, there is no enterprise more deserving of the accolade than the cryptocurrencies of today,despite their recent missteps.
As an entrepreneur, it’s worth understanding how the elusive title of unicorn really works. While this decade has seen an exceptionally high number of such companies—from Pinterest to Uber to Airbnb—there is no simple way to summarize how it is realized. This is part of the magic. But this recent rise of the unicorn can, in part, be attributed to a “get big fast” ethos which often lends itself to exciting expansion through large funding rounds and price cutting to gain an advantage on market share. By pushing away rival competitors as fast as possible and pulling ahead of the regular horses, a unicorn company can expect rapid exponential returns and the promise of financial success.
So far, cryptos have not only cleared this hurdle, they have set a new race record. Yes, the year 2018 has also seen various currencies stumble, but the fact remains that in today’s market, the title of unicorn barely captures their magnificence. Why? Because cryptos not only grew quicker than anyone imagined they would and outpaced any sort of competition, while reaping unbelievable rewards in the process, they have utterly changed the way civilization views money and the process of exchange. And for this reason alone, they will always be magnificent, magical assets.
As the centerpiece of our economy, money is something people have come to understand and depend on in different ways. But it has still always been just money—tangible, numeric, and green. Cryptos have changed the future of this thinking by shifting money into the technological realm, where dollar signs have been replaced with hashtags and algorithms. For entrepreneurs, business-savvy investors, and financial visionaries, this development has presented one of the most exciting opportunities in the world of enterprise—to ride a real unicorn to success. And unlike so many other pursuits, where some kind of inside connection is required, cryptos are accessible to anyone with enough currency to invest. And those who have gained the biggest spike in profitability (and loss) the market has ever seen.
Anyone who doubts the realm of cryptos as exceedingly powerful need only look at the ascent of Coinbase, a brokerage that established itself as one of the most notable brands in the market. As one of the first unicorns in their field, they have raised $100 million at a private valuation of $1.6 billion. With the resurgence of bitcoin last year, virtual currency prices exploded, giving cryptos like ether the ability to mint and sell their own digital tokens. This has not only altered the monetary landscape, it has redefined it.
Trotting forward with the elegance only a unicorn could muster, the total market value for cryptocurrencies and token combined shifted to more than $120 billion from just under $20 billion at the beginning of 2017. For entrepreneurs and interested parties, this has offered yet another vital moment of opportunity, most because it has provided a new way for crypto investors to pair their existing assets with a more volatile one, thereby cultivating diversity in their portfolio. For those who saw the inherent value in such a move, cryptos offered them the rare opportunity to put a unicorn in the stable with the horses.
Hot on the trail of this success is the emergence of more unicorns, namely in the form of Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs). Through the adoption of new cryptocurrencies, investors in various ICO enterprises have used their crypto-tokens in exchange against digital currencies like Ether. The ICO model has essentially built a stable for unicorns, as startups around the world use it to bypass the rigorous and regulated capital-raising process typically employed by venture capitalists or banks.
As such, an ICO campaign sells a percentage of the cryptocurrency to early backers of the project in exchange for legal tender or other assets, like real estate. For an entrepreneur looking to maximize their position, this is a rare and magical opportunity, to be sure. Although this approach was always expected to do well, the speed with which the first ICOs leapt into unicorn status surprised even the biggest skeptics. In mere months, cryptos like ether and bitcoin surpassed the monetary landmarks set by past enterprises, showing everyone that unicorns can canter with the best of the horses.
What could be more exhilarating than watching a unicorn run at full speed? The power, the determination, the beauty—it would be a spectacle for the ages. By utilizing blockchain technology, many cryptos essentially exhibited the same kind of movement, with asset-backed tokens driving the growth. When the blockchain began supporting smart contracts and tokenization, the world began to see just how fast a unicorn can gallop—and how disruptive it can be to the market.
Although considered too volatile to depend on by some, open-minded entrepreneurs who read the trends agreed the platform that spawned the ICO craze and gave rise to a whole new concept of money was worth betting on. And while a great deal of the thrill and euphoria around cryptos has died down in the wake of their recent falls, people in the know understand this is not because the technology was inherently bad—only that it was too darn magical to live among mere mortals, whose saw it only as a “get rich quick scheme.” Everyone knows, catching sight of a unicorn is not easy, as it is fleet of foot and hard to capture, but it can be done by those with clear minds and hearts.
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