We all know that hugely successful, billion dollar tech start-ups are as rare as hen's teeth. That's why they're referred to as super unicorns. A 'unicorn' company is defined as a tech company started in the last ten years and most recently valued at $1 billion by private or public markets. According to recent research, there are around 39 unicorn companies currently in existence.
These 'unicorns' are rare enough, but industry defining behemoths like Facebook, Google and Amazon are rarer still. These so called super unicorns are all worth over $100 billion, with only about three being born every decade. So, the big question is... when will the next Super Unicorn be born, and what will it look like?
Looking at the list of unicorn (and super unicorn) companies, it seems that each major wave of technology innovation has given rise to at least one super unicorn. Simply put, these are companies that change people's lives. So, what is the fundamental technology change of the next decade?
Most people would agree that we're in the process of a mobile revolution. 3G was clunky, slow and frequently dropped coverage, a lot like the bad old days of dial up internet. Now, with the rise of 4G more and more people are using their phones to carry out tasks that they would have needed a broadband connection to complete in the past. Online banking, buying clothes, accessing deals and offers... even paying for premium content such as new release movies.
Research shows that by 2020, smartphones and tablets will account for more than 75 percent of global online commercial transactions and more than 50 percent of spend, meaning that it seems highly likely that the world's first mobile super unicorn won't be an audience company like Facebook or Google, but a commerce company like Amazon. However, our fictional mobile commerce unicorn won't look like much like Amazon as the m-commerce world is already too diverse to fit into existing models.
Mobile commerce falls into four primary categories. The first is retail enablement: the process of helping customers to discover items they might want to buy either online or on the high street using a combination of location tracking, offer tracking, favourite stores and push notifications to present the customer with the right offer in the right place at the right time.
Mobile payments are another crucial factor in mobile commerce, and it's not an area that has been successfully colonized by any one company, although there are a lot of start ups attempting to merge bank accounts with phones to create an easy, straightforward mobile payment system. It's also important to note that as more people are using their phones to access banking services, payment systems and retail companies, making internet security paramount, meaning that a company that provides smartphone virus protection could potentially rise to the top.
After that comes mobile retail: the act of shopping, choosing, buying and checking out using your phone. Again, there are a lot of retailers who have created apps to extend the web shopping experience to smartphones and still more start ups who have built apps from scratch in order to access these customers and present them with a range of products and retail options, but that area still needs to evolve. It seems likely that the next unicorn in this area will successfully manage to combine other smartphone elements with the retail experience, for example the ability to take a picture of an outfit worn by someone you see on the street, which would then translate into a list of options to buy those items- or similar clothing and accessories- online.
Then there are mobile marketplaces such as HotelTonight, a mobile only app that uses location services to track unsold hotel rooms in your current area. It's perfect for people who rock up to a city or holiday location without booking a hotel first, or if you find you need to find a place to stay overnight unexpectedly. It's currently the only hotel booking platform that has been made exclusively for mobile from the ground up. It seems that the the best mobile marketplaces are just that: marketplaces that work seamlessly with your smartphone rather than in spite of it.
At the end of the day, no one can predict exactly where the next set of 'unicorns' will come from, but it seems that mobile commerce is a good contender as it is still - in many ways - in its infancy. More could be done to improve and streamline mobile transactions, retail and marketplaces... or ideally link all of these four mobile commerce categories together into one, streamlined, seamless industry changing behemoth. With that in mind, it's reasonable to assume that smartphones will be the technology that unlocks the next $100 billion super unicorn outcome.