The UK’s billion-dollar start-ups

Who are the UK’s 16 unicorn businesses and where can you find them? takes a look...

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An influx of British start-ups are becoming unicorns – tech start-ups with billion-dollar valuations – and there are now more unicorns in Britain than anywhere else in Europe.

With 16 start-ups in the ‘unicorn club’, we’ve compiled an index of the UK’s current unicorn businesses and hope to shed some light as to why they have attained billion-dollar valuations… (formerly Appliances Online) announced its $1bn valuation following its 2014 IPO on the London Stock Exchange. Based in Bolton and founded in 2000 by CEO John Roberts, AO is an online retailer which specialises in household appliances and also offers a same day delivery service. Its revenue figures for 2014 exceeded £384m.


Global online fashion retailer ASOS has been a member of the unicorn club for many years having traded on the London Stock Exchange at valuations at well over $1bn. Founded in 2000 by Nick Robertson and Quentin Griffiths, ASOS now stocks almost 1,000 brands alongside its own range of clothing and accessories, has millions of annual users and a team of over 4,000 employees.


One of Britain’s most recent unicorns, Blippar joined the club in March 2015 following a $45m equity investment from Qualcomm Ventures and Lansdowne Partners. The app, founded by Ambarish Mitra, Omar Tayeb and Steve Spencer, allows users to point their smartphone cameras at everyday objects and instantly receive an array of search results. More recently, the start-up secured £1.5m from Barclays.


In July of this year, Edinburgh and New York-based fantasy sports league site FanDuel scored a $1bn valuation when it raised $275m from KKR, Time Warner and Google Capital. Launched in 2009 as a re-branding of web prediction market Hubdub, FanDuel now has a huge follower base with over 600,000 line-up entries each week.


Luxury fashion retailer Farfetch joined the club in March this year having bagged $86m in a Series E round led by DST Global, Conde Nast and Vitruvian Partners, taking its total funding to $195m. Launched in 2008 by Jose Neves, Farfetch enables shoppers to make purchases from “more than 300” independent luxury boutiques in different regions around the world from New York and Paris to Milan and Bucharest.

Funding Circle

Now valued at over $1bn, Funding Circle has raised an impressive $273m in equity funding from Accel Partners, Index Ventures, Union Square Ventures and Ribbit Capital to date. Founded in 2010 by Young Guns Samir Desai, James Meekings and Andrew Mullinger, Funding Circle was one of the first alternative finance platforms in the UK and allows members of the public to lend to small businesses.


In April 2014, JUST EAT made its debut on the London Stock Exchange with a valuation of over $2.44bn – at the time it was said to be the biggest UK tech IPO in eight years. Founded in 2001 and chaired by 2015 Startups Awards judge David Buttress, London-based JUST EAT has grown to become the market leader in online food ordering with over 36,000 restaurants and almost six million users across 13 countries.


Valued at over $1.5bn with an IPO listing on the NASDAQ Global Select Market, London-based Markit specialises in financial information and has scaled to 21 offices globally. Founded in 2003 by Lance Uggla, Markit handles data about derivatives, currencies, and loans and offers a range of services from software to trading links for banks and other financial institutions. It has made a number of acquisitions, most recently the purchase of foreign exchange trading service DealHub.


Said to be the largest online poker cardroom in the world, Isle of Man-based PokerStars was acquired for $4.9bn in 2014 by rival Amaya Gaming Group. Founded by Isai Scheinberg and Mark Scheinberg, averages over 25,000 players playing real money cash games every day and boasts celebrity players such as Boris Becker and Rafael Nadal.



First listed on the London Stock Exchange in 2006 with a value of £425m ($655m), Rightmove is now valued at over $4.1bn and claims to be the UK’s largest property portal. Launched in 2000 as a joint venture between Royal & Sun Alliance, Connells, Countrywide plc. and Halifax, Rightmove aims to be the place for all UK home hunters to find details of all properties available to buy or rent. It also produces a monthly House Price Index.


In January 2015, Shazam joined the unicorn club following $30m investment from DN Capital – its eight round of funding totalling $187m. Launched in 2002, London-based Shazam is a music recognition app which has now been downloaded over 500 million times with 100 million active monthly users.


London-based Skrill joined the unicorn club this month following a reverse takeover by Optimal Payments for $1.1bn. Founded in 2001 by Daniel Klein and Benjamin Kullerman, Skrill allows customers to send and receive payments worldwide in 200 countries and 40 currencies. The company has racked up over 36 million customers and has over 560 staff.


Skyscanner was hailed as Scotland’s first $1bn internet company in 2014 following investment from Scottish Equity Partners and US investor Sequoia. Founded in 2001 by Gareth Williams, Barry Smith and Bonamy Grimes, Skyscanner has become a household name thanks to its search engine tool which enables users to find comparisons for flights, hotel and car hire.


Currency transfer start-up TransferWise joined the unicorn club in January of this year following a $58m Series C round led by VC firm Andreessen Horowitz. Founded in 2011 by Young Guns Taavet Hinrikus and Kristo Käärmann looks to cut the costs of international money transfers by removing hidden fees traditionally imposed by the foreign exchange industry. Alongside Andreessen, the start-up has also secured backing from Sir Richard Branson, Valar Ventures, Index Venture, IA Ventures and Seedcamp.


Valued at over $1.4bn, Wonga has secured funding rounds from a range of private equity firms including Balderton Capital. Launched in 2007 by Errol Damelin, Wonga has become the UK’s top payday lender but has navigated a series of controversies in recent years. In 2014, its chairman Andy Haste announced an overhaul of the company’s advertising, including removal of its ‘puppet ads’ and said it would review its products.

Zoopla Property Group

In June 2014, property platform Zoopla witnessed a valuation of over $1.56bn after investors backed its initial IPO on the London Stock Exchange. Founded in 2008 by Simon Kain and serial investor and LOVEFiLM co-founder Alex Chesterman, Zoopla claims to be the most comprehensive source of residential property information in the UK, offering free instant value estimates on every UK home. As of 2014, the business had 40 million visitors a month, had achieved revenues of over £64m and acquired all but one of its direct competitors (Rightmove).

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