Unicorn Founder Pathways – A Case Study by Endeavor

We’ve all heard the legendary origin stories where founders drop out of college and bootstrap tech revolutions from their garages, but what are the real stories? To find out, Endeavor’s global research team compared the pathways between 100 of the top unicorn founders in the United States and 100 more in key emerging markets, including the Middle East, Latin America, Africa, and Southeast Asia.

Our co-founders, Mudassir Sheikha, Magnus Olsson, and Abdulla Elyas were among the founders studied worldwide to debunk the myths surrounding where unicorns come from. 

Some of the key findings of Endeavor’s research included:

  • Elite institutions are not as common among unicorn founders as you might think. Only one third of founders in the study attended a top-ranked university for their undergraduate degree. Working at a Big Three consulting firm, MAMAA tech company, or bulge bracket bank were also very rare (20% of founders).
  • There are no shortcuts on the pathway to building a unicorn company. The founders included in this study gained 10 years of work experience, on average, before launching their unicorn company. The most common professional experiences were working at a startup or scaleup, and founding another company.
  • Founders in emerging markets have different skill sets than their US counterparts, and reach unicorn status faster. Emerging market founders were 10x more likely than US founders to have previously worked in finance, consulting, business development, or marketing, while US founders were more likely to have worked in product and engineering roles. Founders in emerging markets achieved unicorn status for their companies in an average of five and a half years, while US founders took more than six years.
  • Emerging market unicorns are more often solving real problems at scale, compared to US unicorns that tend to follow VC fads. There were high concentrations of fintech, e-commerce, and logistics/transportation companies among the emerging market unicorns. In contrast, US unicorn founders tend to operate companies in various high-tech sectors, including those arising from recent VC-driven fads such as blockchain and cryptocurrency. 

Additional Key Data

  • 97% of the top unicorn founders obtained a diploma, but only 32% studied at an elite university.
  • 80% of the founders previously worked for or founded an entrepreneurial company.
  • 60% of the founders studied or worked abroad at some point.
  • 61% of founders majored in a science or engineering field in undergrad. 
  • 55% of US founders were immigrants or second-generation immigrants compared to 32% of emerging market founders.
  • 78 variables on founders were tested (See Data Explainer for more info)

See Careem’s founders Unicorn Pathways below and read the findings of the study here