Stop counting Unicorns. Start using better KPIs to measure the impact of tech.

Julien Oudart
3 min readOct 29, 2020

I was recently reading an article that questioned why some of the top 20 countries by GDP lagged behind when it came to tech investments. The article specifically looked at the number of Unicorns in each and every country with a focus on Japan.

List of Unicorns by CBInsights

While this article listed 500 Unicorns globally, it also mentioned Japan only has 4. And that only $4bn was invested by VCs into Japanese startups last year — vs. $137bn in the US and $53bn in China.

Those figures can be explained by a number of factors such as the lack of VCs in the country and also the fact that innovation in Japan has always been developed by and for long-established corporations.

What I find questionable though is that the number of Unicorns has now become the main criteria against which one measures how successful a country is when it comes to innovation. It should really make us all wonder what the ultimate goal of innovation is.

Article from Alex Lazarow at Cathay Capital about Camels — as opposed to Unicorns.

From a consumer perspective, Innovation is obviously here to help the greater number enjoy a better life. Business-wise, the question we should all be asking is to what extent this entire tech ecosystem is and is going to contribute to the mid and long term economy. Some speak about the value it creates. I talk about the number of jobs it generates.

You can see where I am going.

Obviously not all types of businesses are people intensive and will generate thousands of jobs in the long run. We all know Facebook generated around $70bn last year with “only” 50,000 employees — a very revenue per capita. You can argue it is bound to the nature of their business. We have never seen a media group in the history of this business generate as many jobs as other, more people-intensive, businesses.

Coming back to Unicorns, we see most of them have become so through capital raises of between $100m and $500m while their revenues was between $50m and $250m with a number of employees often not higher than a couple of hundreds — in other words nothing when compared to most SMB and Corporations in more traditional businesses.

To that purpose it is interesting to notice that when a startup raises that type of money these days, the message carried across is often “X raises $Xm, becomes a Unicorn and is planning to recruit X hundreds more people in the next 24 months”. As an attempt to demonstrate that this business will also create jobs.

On this list of 500 Unicorns, how many will keep growing and become a large scale employer? In reality, very few. A large majority will get acquired (which in some cases means they will keep growing and hire though) or even die for some of them.

According to Comptia, 307,000 tech jobs were created in the US last year.

Increase in tech jobs in the US in 2019 by Comptia

I would love to see the evolution of global (and per country) employment by tech companies. I have not seen that type of data anywhere. Its share of global employment is probably still on the single digit but definitely growing. At what pace is the question.

That would be a far more interesting way to measure how successful we are in tech.

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Julien Oudart

A tech guy in LA. I write every couple of weeks mostly about what i like: tech, media and sport marketing.