Tech Transformers

5 tips for making a $1B company

The "unicorn" – or a company with a valuation of $1 billion – used to be a mythical being in Europe, but now the region has more of them than ever before.

Europe has 40 unicorns, up from 30 this time last year -- 13 new names were added to the exclusive list but three had dropped off.

But how do start-ups go from zero to unicorn status?

Venture capitalists (VCs) and the team at technology-focused investment bank GP Bullhound have some tips…

1. Be in one of these sectors

The e-commerce, software and marketplace sectors each represent 20 percent of the total number of unicorns in Europe, according to GP Bullhound.

But fintech – software and systems that help businesses with their finances -- is the rising star with the fastest rise in share. Seven of Europe's 40 billion-dollar companies are in that category.

Mariano Belinky, managing partner at Santander InnoVentures, said that there is a big opportunity in what he dubbed "fintech 2.0" – chances to disrupt the core businesses in the financial services industry.

"There are trillion-dollar opportunities that are ripe for disruption…and are ready for entrepreneurs to take a shot at," Belinky said on Thursday at Innovate Finance's "Money Talks" event during London technology week, hosted by CNBC.

2. Start in your 30s

Over 58 percent of Europe's unicorns have been founded by entrepreneurs in their 30s, GP Bullhound found.

Just less than one quarter (23 percent) were founded by someone under 30.

3. Keep the founding team intact

Over three quarters (87 percent) of Europe's $1 billion companies are still managed by at least one member of the original founding team, GP Bullhound's report showed.

Only 13 percent of unicorns exist where all founders have left the management of the company.

"A lot of our judgment (around a deal) is based on…the co-founders (that entrepreneurs) choose to take on the journey with them," Nicolas Sharp, associate at early stage VC fund Passion Capital, said on Thursday during Innovate Finance's "Money Talks" event during London technology week, hosted by CNBC

"We look at the credibility of the founders on things they've done in the past, any successful companies that they have found."

4. Raise serious cash

The median amount of investment needed to build a unicorn is $140 million, GP Bullhound found.

One in five $1 billion European businesses have raised less than $50 million. Only 10 percent of companies have raised over $300 million.

The average age of a European unicorn is 9 years old.

5. Get the big guns to invest, big syndicate key

Thirty-seven percent of unicorns received investment from five to eight investors, showing a big syndicate is key, according to GP Bullhound.

But the range is wide, with Spotify having 17 investors and Candy Crush maker King Digital only having two.

Also, it's worth trying to get investment from the big global venture capitalist – such as Index Ventures or Accel Partners. Index has invested in 10 out of Europe's 40 unicorns while Accel has poured money into seven.

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