Common traits of successful unicorn founders identified

Mark Johnson's picture
by Mark Johnson

Location, age and education are the key ingredients to owning a $1 billion startup according to sales training and recruitment firm Pareto Law. 

Get a degree, set up a business venture by your early 30s, focus on Fintech and move to the big smoke - London. These are just some of the characteristics of unicorn founders in the UK, according to a new study.

The research, conducted by Pareto Law, looked at a range of key facts including the age the founders were when the business launched, how long it took to make status and the location, and industry best served for rising unicorns.

Average age is 34 years old

Surprisingly the average age of a UK unicorn founder when they set up shop is just 34 years old, with many setting up much younger, including all three of the Improbable founders and Brewdog’s two founders who were under the age of 24. In fact almost half (42 per cent) of UK unicorn founders were under the age of 30 when they launched their business. 

Pareto’s research also showed that every UK Unicorn company still has at least one original founder on the board.

Fintech is the industry that leads the way for UK unicorns, making up four of the fourteen, (28 per cent) of the UK’s current market unicorns. Interestingly, none of these four existed ten years ago and yet the industry is now a front runner in UK unicorn development, thanks in part, no doubt to the development of technology.

Uni still the most trodden path

Attending university also proves to be a significant element in building a unicorn, with an astounding 90 per cent of founders being university educated. Oxbridge reigns supreme here, with over a quarter (27.2 per cent) of the founders attending. 

In fact, two of the three founders of Improbable attended Cambridge University.

London is home and founding city for most unicorn companies, with almost half (46 per cent), starting out in the capital. 

However outside of the big smoke, Manchester, the second most unicorn populated city and home to UK’s largest unicorn, The Hut Group, is leading the way for the Northern Powerhouse and has seen a surge of unicorns opening offices and hubs.

UK powerhouse

‘With the UK proving to be a powerhouse for unicorns we wanted to know exactly what it takes to become a billion-dollar business”, said Jonathan Fitchew, CEO of Pareto Law. 

“It’s interesting to look at the growth in the UK and what’s attributed to the growth of these firms. There are many similar characteristics of unicorn founders. 

“As technology continues to become more sophisticated it will be interesting to see what the future holds and if Fintech will continue to lead the way in the industry.”

According to further research from Pareto, unicorns in the UK have exploded over the last ten years. Only five of the current fourteen unicorns were in existence in 2009. 

This growth could be down to the fact that it now takes less time to become unicorn status, likely due to the increased access to brands, investment, new technology and digitisation of society.

Pareto has conducted a full study on the rise of unicorns in the UK. The study looks at the growth of unicorns over the past 10 years, their changing dynamics and how they have influenced the economy, nationally and locally.

However, we at PL think the survey missed out on a couple of other really important traits. Not looking at anyone in particular, behaviour should also be a factor. If you don't treat people - customers, colleagues, investors, whith care and respect, you could find all sorts of doors suddenly closing on your otherwise brilliant business idea. 

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