Unicorn Startups in India: Definition, Trends, Features, and More


The fast-growing unicorn sphere within the Indian startup ecosystem has witnessed unprecedented growth in the landmark year 2021. We have also seen an average of three unicorns coming up every month in 2021. As per NASSCOM, the startup ecosystem has already welcomed 28 new unicorns till Q3-2021.

While there is a lot going on in the fast swelling world of unicorns in India, not everyone knows what a unicorn is and how it relates to the growth of a startup company. Let’s start with the basics to help you relate with terms like ‘the most funding deals’ or ‘adding the most number of unicorn startups in a quarter’.

What is a unicorn startup?

Unicorn is a popular term used in the venture capital industry to refer to a privately held startup company that has reached a valuation of $1 billion.

Aileen Lee, Cowboy ventures’ founder, coined the term ‘unicorn’ first in 2013 while referring to 39 startups having a valuation of over $1 billion. Aileen chose this term to highlight the statistical rarity of such startup companies.

Although the definition of a unicorn startup has not changed, the number of unicorns in India and the world has increased considerably.

Features of a unicorn startup

Running a startup has its share of challenges. It is the constant focus on the company’s vision and a fight against these challenges that makes a startup a unicorn over time. Although every unicorn startup is unique based on its idea and business model, there are some common features you can find in all of them. These include:

  • Tech-based

The core business model of many unicorn startups runs on technology. For example, Paytm started by making it easier for people to pay for limited utilities like mobile and DTH recharges. The company has grown as a comprehensive platform having payment products for both consumers and businesses.

  • Pioneers in their niche

Many startups have achieved the status of a ‘unicorn’ by venturing into a field not known or targeted before. Being the starters in a specific industry has given them an edge against the competition to ensure consistent business growth.

However, things have changed now as startups that are not pioneers are also moving towards or beyond the mark of being a unicorn.

  • Innovation at the forefront for consumers

Most of the unicorn startups in India have resulted in disruption in the industry they fall into with the power of constant innovation. Oyo rooms, for example, have changed the way people used to book accommodation while traveling. Paytm, particularly Paytm Wallet, changed the way people paid for things offline and online. They all have the vision to become a part of the daily lives of the end consumers.

  •  Privately owned

Privately owned startups in India have a greater chance of becoming a unicorn. It is because the company valuation grows when they receive funding from established investors – both Indian or global.

  • Start with growth-driven MVPs

A unicorn begins with building a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) around their vision and then tests, adjusts, and scales it repeatedly towards achieving the goals.

Traits of a Unicorn – At a Glance

  • Innovative disruption
  • Tech-savvy
  • Pioneers
  • Privately-owned
  • Growth-driven

Reasons behind the rapid growth of unicorns in India

  • Investors’ push for GBF strategy

Many investors and VC firms have adopted the GBF or Get Big Fast strategy with startups (also referred to as Blitzscaling). Under this strategy, the startups aim to grow at a fast rate with large funding rounds and price cutting to dominate the competition in the market. The returns from this strategy are mostly favorable for all – founders, investors, and even consumers.

  • Company buyouts

Many startups become unicorns through buyouts from large companies (public) that focus on acquisitions to bolster their business instead of investing in internal developments.

  • No plans for IPO

Startup companies often go through funding rounds to raise capital and their overall valuation. When in need of more capital, they follow the same route, i.e., asking investors for money instead of going through an Initial Public Offering (IPO). It can be because IPOs also run the risk of a company’s devaluation in case the public market thinks it is worth less than its value.

  • Easy access to technology

Most startups make the most of new technologies to win the race to obtain unicorn status. With easy access to tech-savvy consumers, startups gain the ability to expand the business beyond expectations. Technological innovations can thus be considered another driving force behind the growth of unicorns in India.

Can only startups become unicorns?

The truth says – Yes.

It is because the term ‘unicorn’ is given only to the startup companies that have a valuation of over $1 billion. Next in line are super unicorns or decacorns – startups that have a valuation of $10 billion. For example – SpaceX, WeWork, and Dropbox.

Strange Fact:

Startups that are based out of Canada and have a valuation of over $1 billion are called ‘narwhal’ (not unicorns). Example: Hootsuite and Wattpad.

Also Read: How to Choose an Effective Payment Gateway for Your Startup

How many startups turned unicorns in 2021?

A total of 28 startups became unicorns in the year 2021, as per Unicorn Tracker.

Complete list of unicorn startups in India

S.No.Unicorn Startup NameSector
3Ola cabsMobility
4PaytmFintech – Payments
5Mu SigmaSaaS – Analytics
8QuikrClassifieds – Marketplace
9HikeSocial media
12Paytm MallE-commerce
14Oyo RoomsProptech
15PolicyBazaarFintech – Insurance
16UdaanE-commerce – B2B
17FreshworksSaaS – CRM
18BilldeskFintech – B2B Payments
19Dream 11Gaming
22BigBasketE-commerce – Groceries
23IcertisSaaS – Contract Management
24Druva SoftwareSaaS – Data Management
25Ola ElectricMobility
26CitiusTechIT Services – Healthcare
27Pine LabsFintech – PoS Solutions
28LenskartE-commerce – Eyewear
29NykaaE-commerce – Personal Care
30PostmanSaaS – API Development
31RazorPayFintech – Payment Gateway
33PhonePeFintech – Payments
34Cars24Used car marketplace
35ZenotiSaaS – Salon Management
37DigitFintech – General Insurance
38Glance InMobiContent – Lockscreen
39Infra.MarketB2B E-commerce – Construction materials
40InnovaccerSaaS – Healthcare Data Analytics
41FirstCryE-commerce – Baby Care
42Five Star Business FinanceNBFC
43CREDFintech – Credit card payments
44MeeshoSocial Commerce
45PharmEasyE-commerce – Online Pharmacy
46ShareChatSocial Media
47GrowwFintech – Mutual Funds & Brokerage
50BrowserStackSaaS – Software Testing
51MoglixE-Commerce – B2B
52ZetaFintech – Enterprise Software
53ChargebeeSaaS – Subscription Billing
54Urban CompanyMarketplace – Handyman services
55OfBusinessNBFC – SME Loans
56BharatPeFintech – Payments
57MindTickleSaaS – HR Training
58DroomUsed Car Marketplace
60CoinDCXCryptocurrency Exchange
61GrofersE-commerce – Groceries
62ZetwerkMarketplace – Manufacturing Services
64Mobile Premier LeagueGaming
65Apna.coJobs Marketplace


The term ‘unicorn’ has become a part of daily news we hear about the Indian startup ecosystem. Unicorn startups have grown manifold to cater to the needs of their targeted consumers and generate revenues with their products/services.

If you own a startup or have plans to create one, start its unicorn journey with Paytm Startup Toolkit.


  • Unicorn refers to a privately held startup that has reached a $1 billion valuation
  • Only privately owned startups can become unicorns
  • The term ‘unicorn’ originally refers to a mythical animal and is used to emphasize the rarity of startups having a $1 billion valuation
  • High on technology, disruptive innovation, and utmost focus on consumer forms the key features of a unicorn startup
  • In India, there are 66 unicorns, 28 of which have been added to the unicorn list in 2021 only


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