Unicorn Startups – Australia’s Most Valuable Companies

Unicorn Start Ups

It’s every ambitious entrepreneur’s dream to create a unicorn startup, currently there are only 892 companies worldwide that have unicorn statusbut what are unicorn startups and how are they achieved? 

The term unicorn was coined by venture capitalist Aileen Lee in her article Welcome to the unicorn club in 2013 and is now widely used to describe a privately held company that has a valuation of 1 billion dollars.

Air bnb, Facebook and Google were all unicorn startups that have now moved on to hectocorn status (which we will cover later)

The US and China are currently taking the monopoly of the most valuable companies in 2021 followed closely by India and the UK.  

Industry wise, technology is high on the list of unicorns in the form of software and artificial intelligence, but it’s actually the fintech sector which is booming with 42 fintech unicorns being created in the last quarter.

Unicorn Start Ups

In recent years Australia has seen some noteworthy tech unicorn startups to make the list including: 


Canva is a graphic design platform that was founded by Melanie Perkins and partner Cliff Obrecht. Canva is now valued at $40 billion US dollars making it one of the world’s most valuable startups (and now propelled to decarcorn status)

Canva has also made it in at number 3 on the Forbes “The Cloud 100 2021” list which is their definition of the best, brightest and most valuable private companies.

Since raising $2oo million in their latest funding round, Canvas new valuation means it is Australia’s most valuable unlisted company and most successful startup which is awesome!

It is reported that it took 3 years to gain the all important $3m investment they needed to launch and that the couple plan to slowly give away the majority of their wealth to charities.


Established in Melbourne, Airwallex is a fintech startup which achieved unicorn status in March 2019 after securing $141 million in funding and knocking back a takeover bid from Stripe.

Founded by Jack Zhang, Lucy Lio, Jacob Dai and Max Li, Airwallex initially focussed on allowing small businesses make transactions with offshore merchants without incurring the exchange fees but has now expanded and offers multi currency credit cards, 

Airwallex is currently valued at $4 billion since also securing $200 million in its last funding round.

Culture Amp:

Culture Amp is an employee engagement tool which is now valued at over $2 billion, the Melbourne based start up reached unicorn status in 2019 but has now grown considerably since the start of the pandemic.

Culture Amp is on trend with the current transition from remote and hybrid working models and allows organisations to survey their employees to gauge levels of engagement to gain insight into company culture, and productivity levels. Culture Amp was founded in 2011 in Melbourne, by Didier Elzinga, Douglas English, Jon Williams, and Rod Hamilton,

Unicorn Start Ups

Characteristics of a unicorn startup

There are thousands of businesses started globally every year but the unfortunate truth is – 20% of businesses fail in their first year and around 60% will go bust within their first three years. Some of the reasons being a lack of cash, no market demand for the product or simply they just didn’t have the right team.  

So what makes a unicorn?

Disruptive innovation

Often a unicorn is a company that transforms the way an industry, consumer or business does something. Uber for example has changed the way we travel, Netflix has changed the way we watch television. The most recent being Cryptocurrency which has disrupted money and changed the world of finance and the way we conduct our banking transactions and investments.  

High tech

Many unicorn companies are software companies, therefore their business models rely heavily on technology (which is the future of course) this coupled with consumer expectation for digital services is the driving force behind why a unicorn needs to be high on tech.

They solve a problem

Identifying a problem and solving it is the reason why the on demand economy is still thriving. On demand is the process where a gap is bridged between consumers and the product or service they want. 

Rapid growth

Having a vision for rapid expansion and a global mentality from the start is key as well as having a business model that is easily scalable, the model must have the ability and structure to operate at a national and international level.


There are some interesting similarities when it comes to the founders of unicorn startups which Aileen Lee discovered whilst writing her article back in 2013.

The average age of founders at founding is 34

Co-founders with years of history together have driven most success

80 percent of unicorns had at least one co-founder who had previously founded a company

Well rounded and experienced teams who have a long history together and have dipped their toes in the water before seem to be a recipe for success!  

Unicorn Start Ups

Decacorn, Hectocorn

2021 has been a record year for startups with more companies than ever reaching unicorn status and in much shorter time frames than we have ever seen. A report by crunchbase shared that there are 2 – 3 companies reaching unicorn status each day globally

There are however still just a handful of companies which have reached beyond unicorn status, these companies are defined as either a Decacorn (valued at $1o billion) or a Hectocorn (valued at $1oo billion)

Chinese e-commerce giant Shein is a decacorn company – currently valued at $15bn

Stripe is a decacorn currently headed towards hectocorn status – currently valued at $95bn

Now, we are familiar with giants Google, Facebook, Apple & Microsoft (All Hectocorns) but what about our Aussie businesses?


Aussie fintech company Afterpay was founded in 2014 by Sydney based Nick Molnar and Anthony Eisen. Afterpay was recently acquired by Square in a $39bn deal making it the biggest takeover deal in Australia’s history.

Afterpay works with thousands of businesses worldwide to allow the customer to split their transactions into 4 installments instead of 1. Afterpay has always been somewhat controversial however it has 100,000 retailers signed up and over 16.2 million customers. 


Australia’s biggest tech success story to date is Atlassian, now worth more than $100 billion USD. Atlassian is a Sydney based tech giant that was founded by Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar who met whilst at University. 

The pair put $10,000.00 on a credit card to fund the project initially and the company is currently valued at AU$136.7 billion. 

“It’s just exciting to see an Australian business do this. A Sydney-founded business to be $100 billion on the NASDAQ is really demonstrating the success Australian entrepreneurs can have on the global stage.” – Gavin Appel, Atlassian investor and founder of Ignition

Who to watch out for in 2022

Rumoured to be the next Atlassian, Brisbane software company Octopus Deploy recently secured $172.5 million in funding. Until then the company had been bootstrapped all the way by founder and couple Sonia and Paul Stovell. 

Octopus Deploy is a deployment tool and a single place where a team can manage releases and automate complex application deployments 

Final Thoughts

Australia is home to 6 companies that have made it to the unicorn list with the majority in the fintech industry. The pandemic has changed the way we conduct business and our overall outlook on enterprise. Some Australian businesses are thriving post pandemic and it’s an incredibly exciting time. If ever there was a time to get started – it’s now!