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Billions of reasons to listen to these Unicorn startup founders

May 8, 2015

Unicorns are all the rage these days, and we’re not talking about the ones in fantasy stories or on your kids’ bedspreads. The unicorns that people at events like last week’s TIE Startup Con (formerly TIEcon East) are agog over are private companies with valuations of $1 billion or more, such as co-working office space provider WeWork and data virtualization company Actifio, whose founders talked shop during the opening panel at the Cambridge, Mass., get-together for entrepreneurs and investors.

Unicorns are clearly on the rise, with panel moderator Deepak Sindwani of Bain Capital Ventures citing CB Insights research that showed that the number of billion dollar private startups has risen from 10 in 2012 to 15 in 2013 to 38 in 2014 — and there are 15 already in 2015. Of late, the number of private company financings over $1B has exceeded the number of IPOs worth $1B, making this latest boom much different than those in 2001 and 2007.

Like the rest of the speakers at the conference, WeWork’s Miguel McKelvey and Actifio’s Ash Ashutosh preached the mantra of focusing on the customer and downplayed the riches their companies are reaping. They humbly relished sharing stories of scraping by in the early days of these or earlier startups.

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