With the addition of two newcomers (Cato Networks and Forter) last week, it seems as if the COVID-19 crisis hasn’t prevented the Israeli Unicorn club from opening its gates, and accepting new members. Along with the global trend of company valuations spiking up, the Israeli startup ecosystem follows suit, as companies that are valued at over a billion dollars, which once used to be a rare occasion, hence the Unicorn term, are now somewhat of a more common event.
37 companies valued at over $1B
Currently, the Unicorn club, meaning companies valued at over $1 billion, include 37 Israeli startups that have raised a combined $32.9 billion in funding. The combined valuation of the Israeli Unicorn members stands at $59.3 billion, according to their recent funding rounds. The Israeli startup sporting the highest value is Houzz, which developed a platform and marketplace for home improvement and design, is currently worth around $4 billion.
Among the treasure chest of Israeli Unicorns, the tribe elder Insightec - developer of non-invasive medical treatments for essential tremor - was founded back in 1999. On the younger side of the coin, the three newest members of the club are Next Insurance, Rapyd, and VAST Data - all three were founded in 2016.
Out of the Unicorn club’s Israeli members, there is one startup that has punched their billion dollar ticket, while raising less than $100 million in funding, OrCam, which develops artificial vision devices for the visually impaired.
In contrast, the Unicorn that has raised the most capital is WeWork (formerly The We Company), which was founded a decade ago by Adam Neumann and Miguel McKelve. The company’s valuation experienced a significant spike in 2018, when SoftBank entered as a backer - from $20 billion to $47 billion before the planned IPO. However, a canceled IPO and a string of scandals, along with a nasty legal battle between the startup and investors has had its impact, bringing the valuation down to $7.3 million a year ago, and even further dropping this year to $2.9 billion, according to SoftBank. WeWork has raised $20.6 billion with B’ to date.
Who is Israeli?
We estimate that currently there are 37 active Israeli Unicorns, though according to sources that we consulted with in preparation for this article reported even more. The reason for these differences is in the loose definition of what is an Israeli startup. We define Israeli startups by if at least one of the founders is an Israeli citizen and the company has operations in Israel - like an R&D center. Nevertheless, some would count serial entrepreneur Ori Allon’s company Compass on the Israeli team, despite not operating at all in Israel. Another factor that impacts the number is companies that have gone public or have been acquired by multinational corporations. This is why we didn’t include companies like Lemonade or JFrog which hit the New York stock market, or other examples like Moovit, which was acquired by Intel and ceased to exist as a private entity. In addition, we left out pharmaceutical and Biomed companies.
This past year has been one of the most complex that the world has ever experienced, and the crisis hit the Israeli high-tech market hard as well. Unsurprisingly, there were a lot of whisperings prophesizing even heavier crisis effects on the VC and startup spheres, although in reality, luckily many of the rumors never really came true.
Since the March outbreak of the Coronavirus, 6 Israeli companies have landed funding rounds that shot them over the $1 billion threshold. Just last week we saw Cato Networks and Forter announce meg funding rounds accompanied by a 10 figure valuation. These two join 4 other Unicorn members that made the leap during COVID: Tipalti, VAST Data, Gong.io, and Redis Labs.
During the first 2 months of 2020, when the Coronavirus was still considered a “mysterious China-based virus”, 4 other startups joined the exclusive club, including Snyk (which managed to embark on a second funding round, and double its valuation during COVID), SentinelOne (already tripled worth), Sisense, and AppsFlyer.
“In 2013 the glass ceiling shattered, now the billion dollar payout is not that interesting”
According to Yahal Zilka, one of the first investors in Waze via Magma VC, which he founded, and today is a managing partner at 10D, the growing trend of Israeli Unicorns is by no means a coincidence. He claims that the trend started back in 2013 with the rightfully Unicorn tagged acquisition of Waze: “Today, the capital is more available for it. Before 2013, the capital (for billion-dollar valuations) just didn’t exist.”
Zilka added that there’s an understanding between the founders and various stakeholders that there is importance in building the next major corporation. “Israel has some amazing market leaders among its ranks, and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t max out their potential. Meaning, don’t sell out too early, rather develop and establish the company the right way and prepare for the coveted IPO. Build meaningful companies.”
Zilka also mentions that some Unicorns fall under similar sectors like cyber, marketing, Fintech, mobile, and gaming, which all kind of center around very similar technology, with Israeli entrepreneurs only adapting knowledge to create very successful companies in these industries.
“In 2013, the glass ceiling shattered (with the over $1B acquisition of Waze), now the billion-dollar payout is not that interesting. What’s really interesting is the companies valued between $2-$10 billion.” He further adds that the valuation is not really the main story and it’s worth tracking companies over the long haul, with Wix being a perfect example: a company never branded with the Unicorn tag before its IPO, and today is valued at over $10 billion.
And what about the significant Unicorn growth during the COVID crisis? Zilka explains that the pandemic, despite the economic “end-of-days prophecy”, actually ended up democratizing the market, which worked in favor of Israeli companies. “It put the Israeli companies in the same category as their American counterparts. Everyone operates through Zoom, the ‘closer to the plate’ bias is but a memory - yet another thing that helped Israeli startups.”
Zilka noted that these Israeli companies are “for real”, with proven ROI and without inflated valuations, therefore deeming them true valuations, which will probably not be affected.
“The valuations are real, not just a shiny shell”
Pitango Managing Partner Aaron Mankovski, who invested in a few Unicorns himself, such as Via, Riskified, and AppsFlyer, explained that the Unicorn tag is not the goal: “It’s a milestone, but not the endgame. Israel has a long and growing list of multinational companies developing products that meet market demand. These companies create unique value for their customers, which creates hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue.”
Like Zilka, Mankovski claims that the valuations of Israeli Unicorns are true. They are determined by the market, following a lot of hard work, and products that customers are willing to throw a lot of money to have: “Not just a shiny shell”.
Eliran Rubin, Director of Strategic Business Development at TLV Partners, said that it’s not a surprising phenomenon. “It’s not that surprising and we believe that more are expected to come. The companies that we have recently witnessed fundraising based on billion-dollar valuations have been pretty successful for a while now, and if we had to guess a year ago - then it seems that we would have probably guessed the same.” Rubin adds that we entered this pandemic period with the private sector and Israeli funds flushed with relatively a lot of cash for investment: “the strong companies, which had advanced technological infrastructure in addition to talented and flexible teams - not only survived but showed superiority over competitors - and therefore we may have seen all of the mega funding rounds,” says Rubin.
Michael Eisenberg from Aleph, which invested in Unicorns such as WeWork and Lemonade, noted that rather than focusing on pinning the next Unicorn, Aleph is seeking Camels - companies that can maintain for the long haul and further expand through smart use of investments.
He says that “candidly, we prefer what Healthy.io CEO Yonatan Adiri calls Camels. First of all, it is more Israeli. Second, it is more real. Third, it is more long lasting, goes longer distances and is more dependable. Camels are also really large like we think companies should be. Camels have been around for thousands of years. Camels are biblical and not mythical. We think that companies like Checkpoint, Lemonade, Healthy.io, and Melio are the Camels of the next thousand years."
The next stage: Decacorn?
The Unicorn tag is no less than an impressive vote of confidence from investors and the market, but what was previously a unique phenomenon has turned into a more common sight even in Silicon Valley and the global stage with between 400-500 startups around the world today awarded the Unicorn tag. This data has sparked the conversation over - the Decacorn - a startup with a $10 billion and up valuation. Will we get to see the first Israeli Decacorn in the upcoming years? Which company will it be? As they say, ‘patience is a virtue’.