I spent four years conducting one of the largest data-driven studies on startups, and here’s what it reveals about the difference between billion-dollar startups and startups that raised VC funding but failed to become one.

Some of you may remember a medium article I published two years ago which included dozens of colorful charts that showed data-driven facts about unicorns.

That article went viral with hundreds of thousands of readers. One key feedback I received was that I needed to compare the results from the unicorns with a control group of companies that failed to become a unicorn to put the numbers in context.

So I spent another two years and thousands of hours expanding my data and gathering the same data elements on non-unicorn startups as well.

“This is perhaps one of the most…


Founders with a small exit in their first company were much more likely to build a unicorn in their next, a new study of startups shows

Screenshot of “The Million Dollar Homepage”

Alex Tew isn’t your stereotypical Ivy League college dropout or software engineer at Google who founded a billion-dollar startup. Tew was a student at Nottingham University when he started his first project. His itch for building something and making some money had led him to create “The Million Dollar Homepage” in 2005. The website consisted of a million pixels arranged in a 1000 × 1000 pixel grid. The pixels were sold for $1 per pixel and the purchasers of these pixel blocks were advertisers. This is before “Display Ads” were a big thing. In four months’ time, word of the…


This is now the fifth year I’m writing this post, hopefully, it has not become boring and you find a couple of books from this list that are new and you get to read over the holidays or next year. You can also find the lists for the last three years here: 2019, 2018, 2017.

Many of you know that I Mostly Listen to Books on Audible while I commute. So this year, given I was mostly working from home, I commuted a lot less, and as a result, I ended up reading about 5 fewer books than I did…


This title is boring, but these books are not!

As I have done in the past couple of years (2018 list, 2017 list), I’m sharing the list of books I finished this year.

As always, I have been using Audible and listening to books on 2.5x speed (I’ve slowly trained myself over the past 4 years and now perfectly comfortable in 2-2.5x speed range). I recommend you to train your brain to listen faster too. It helps you stay focused on the book and not to be distracted with your own thoughts and is an interesting mental exercise.

This year I started listening to 23 books, but I stopped…


It’s that time of the year again and as we are heading to start a new year, here is a recap of the books I listened to in the past year. I have been doing this exercise for the past three years (Here’s the list of the books I listened to in 2017) and find it beneficial to internally reflect on what I’ve learned and what types of books made me keep on reading to finish, as well as to give suggestions to friends and connections.

As always, I have been using Audible and listening to books on 2.5x speed…


I Spent 300 Hours Gathering Data On Billion-Dollar Startups and Here’s 100 Charts You Shouldn’t Miss

Update: I wrote a book. “Super Founders”

I spent another two years after the publication of this article gathering the same data on non-unicorn startups, so I could accurately compare what differentiates billion-dollar startups from those that failed to become one. This is the first such study that has been done with over 30,000 data points. I also interviewed founders of 15 billion dollar startups including Zoom, Nest, GitHub, Cloudflare, PayPal, Affirm, Brex, Kite Pharma, Instacart, as well as VCs like Peter Thiel, Elad Gil, and Alfred Lin (Sequoia Capital), Keith Rabois (Founders Fund). You can pre-order the book now!


$600Bn+ is the total market cap of public companies with Iranian-Americans on the Board of Directors (Source: IA-CP)

Today, Dropbox had its long-anticipated initial public offering and was offered on NASDAQ under the ticker DBX. The total value at the offering was around $9Bn. This exit will return billions of dollars to venture capital investors including over $2Bn to Sequoia, over $450m to Accel Partners, and astronomical returns for early stage Iranian investors like Pejman Nozad.

Arash Ferdowsi, Dropbox’s co-founder and CTO, is an Iranian-American who was a student at MIT with Drew Houston, the other founder and CEO of Dropbox. …


Is it the experience of a team, the severity of the problem, the quality of the product, the correct timing, or the large market that makes a unicorn?

Well, it is all of them, plus a lot of chance. Many things can go right or wrong for a startup that cannot be controlled, such as market decline, regulation change, trend shifts, team problems, partnerships conflicts, unforeseen costs, etc. While these factors are out of control, the best an investor can do to select the best startups to invest in, is to determine the statistical expected return on the investment and try to maximize for the statistical expected return on investment.

In my previous article, I provided a Template for executive summary for startups or investment memo for VCs. In this article, I will introduce a model to calculate the statistical expected return.

The model is based on this basic rule:

A 1% chance of becoming a $10Bn exit, is better…


Useful for Founders and Investors

Update: I wrote a book. “Super Founders”

I spent another two years after the publication of this article gathering the same data on non-unicorn startups, so I could accurately compare what differentiates billion-dollar startups from those that failed to become one. This is the first such study that has been done with over 30,000 data points. I also interviewed founders of 15 billion dollar startups including Zoom, Nest, GitHub, Cloudflare, PayPal, Affirm, Brex, Kite Pharma, Instacart, as well as VCs like Peter Thiel, Elad Gil, and Alfred Lin (Sequoia Capital), Keith Rabois (Founders Fund). You can pre-order the book now!


Startup Grind is an amazing global community of people who live and breathe startup. Powered by Google for Entrepreneurs, Startup Grind gathers their community, their chapter directors from all over the globe, and startup enthusiasts in their annual global conference, here in Silicon Valley.

Every year, the Startup Grind Global Conference brings together an extraordinary lineup of speakers. Some of this year’s speakers include:

  • Reid Hoffman, Linkedin founder and partner at Greylock Partners
  • Steve Huffman, Reddit’s CEO
  • Gillian Tans, Booking.com’s CEO
  • James Park, Fitbit’s Co-founder/CEO; and
  • Pete Flint, Trulia’s Founder

As well as well-known VC investors such as:

  • Jeff Jordan

Ali Tamaseb

Partner at DCVC ($2Bn VC firm) and author of “Super Founders”. #1 bestseller new release VC book on Amazon. https://getbook.at/superfounders

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store