Women’s Day Special 2020: 5 women and the unicorn businesses they gave flight to

females leading unicorns

Unicorns need not always and only be fictional. But they sure remain embodiments of fancy dreams, fancier realities and even fancier estimates. The world boasts of quite a few businesses that has attained a valuation of at least a billion in US dollars, a feat supposedly so surreal that has lend them to be lauded as worthy of the elusive unicorn status. The exact number puts it to 452 out of which only a mere 10% happens to have been founded by females. It indeed is notable that the female manifestation even here is rapidly increasing, what with the past year witnessing the rise of more female led unicorns in its first half itself than through entire history. Here’s chronicling 5 such females who have led enterprises into being unicorn designated biggies-

Melanie Perkins (Canva)

From designing and selling scarves to developing an online system that aloowed schools to design their yearbooks to spanning a name that’s now as iconic as Canva, Melanie Perkins isn’t just a unicorn helmer- she herself is the personification of the mythical, magical creature who has been making things happen from seemingly nowhere.

At 30, Melanie is one of the youngest women in the world to be heading a valuable tech startup- at $3.2 billion valuation, Canva makes Perkins more than just one of the coolest tech people in Australia. That, after she had faced rejection from more than 100 investors and more significantly after wanting to be a professional figure skater all her life, is what makes Perkins and her billion dollar dream the rosy stuff unicorns are made of.

Like most enterprises and startups that derive from the need of their founders, Canva also was developed as a free flowing tool that would allow even the most inexperienced and novice of ‘designers’ to be one. At least digitally. And the two million plus users of Canva from 190 countries around the world owe it all to the dedication and vision of Perkins that they can now create social media graphics, presentations, posters and other visual content as per their requirements and liking.

Source: Google Play

Canva stemmed from the simple idea- morphing over from as simple but crucial a need- to make designing a simple and fuss free task. Originating with the startup Fusion Books, that very platform for schools to design their own yearbooks, Canva launched in the August of 2013 turning unicorn five years later. Social media platforms and particularly their then expanding reach into businesses and professions helped Canva grow significantly as a tool that catered to all. It only is a proof of Perkins’ foresight and her efficient solution to a very commonly encountered problem that led Canva to grow by leaps and bounds across the world- even in China where strict government regulations let few outside businesses thrive in the country.

Emily Weiss (Glossier)

No beauty buff is any stranger to the indeed glossy reputation that Glossier enjoys in the modern world. One of the first and most popular of minimalist make up brands, Glossier was started by reality TV star turned style blogger turned entrepreneur Emily Weiss in 2014. The journey began some years early though when Weiss took to beauty blogging with Into the Gloss when she was still working with Vogue as a fashion assistant. Vogue however isn’t the only big name that characterised Weiss’ early years as she also had been a ‘valuable’ intern at Ralph Lauren when she was just a teen. A decade hence after she embarked on the blogging path, Emily Weiss rules over a unicorn startup company- one that perhaps is among the most recognisable of entities, women led or otherwise, on the global beauty stage.

A net worth of $1.2 billion in just over five years of its existence firmly reinstates how effective Glossier has been in ‘selling beauty’. Offering a range of products that caters extensively to the less is more adage, Glossier embraces beauty with subtlety at its fore emphasising more on the ‘natural’ with its “skin first, makeup second” approach. Needless to say with such a catchy phrase helming it up, Glossier indeed is the fancied brand for beauty purists and effortless fashionistas who swear by the liberal version of no makeup makeup.

Perhaps it helped that Weiss went about her venture largely by being a visible presence on social media. Ever since its inception, Glossier has been the make up brand that has been taking minimalist beauty standards in fold and therefore new age beauty enthusiasts by storm. Ask any beauty buff about this instantly recognisable IG favorite brand name and you will be hearing rave reviews about its products centered on its “Skin first, Makeup second, Smile always” principles. In its aesthetic and therefore very Instagrammable beauty products, it’s understandable how the brand has managed to strike a chord with every soul of the digital generation for whom fashion and style is a way of life.

With close to 2 million Instagram followers, there’s no overlooking the mass frenzy Glossier commands. The brand is all about the intelligence that goes into making beauty a far more desirable trait, thereby digging on the direct to customer strategy and a effective play around Intothegloss.com to leverage Glossier into the glossy phenomenon it is today. In rolling out ‘Beauty products inspired by real life’, Glossier and Emily Weiss indeed is the real life icon we all aspire to idolise.

Adi Tatarko (Houzz)

From being a side business that once again put her own requirements in perspective to now growing into more than a couple billion dollars worth of business, Adi Tatarko and her Houzz venture has seen a huge overgrowth of fortune over the decade of its existence. An American website and online community that serves as a platform for home remodelling and design, Houzz was conceived by Tatarko with husband Alon Cohen as they were not satisfied with how their own home redesigning scrounges were turning out like. However, it was mere word of mouth publicity that made their venture, set up in the days when social media was far from being the preferred mode of business, the biggie that it is today.

For someone who had not even though of taking the entrepreneurial route forward, let alone think about being a billion dollar enterprise at some point of time, it can perhaps be disputed whether we really need to laud Tatarko’s carry forward of the initiative. But in being the female founder of a multi billion dollar enterprise, Tatarko still embodies in essence the unicorn- a term that caters to Houzz’s business standing as well as to her own person. Indeed, it is not often that you come across a $4 billion worth of startup that didn’t even begin as one, and certainly even rarer when business of such stature happens to be headed by a woman. For all the valuation it remains esteemed in, Houzz owes it all to Adi Tatarko.

Jennifer Hyman (Rent the Runway)

At the essence of Rent the Runway is a theme that caters so well to women wanting to flaunt designer dresses but know full well the improbabilities stemming from enormous price tags and their dysfunctional attribute in everyday life and standing. Envisaged in 2009 by Harvard Business School batchmates Jennifer Hyman and Jennifer Fleiss, Rest the Runway came into existence as an online service providing designer dress and accessory rentals. Today however it runs also an Unlimited subscription programme that allows women to rent also everyday essentials and other casual wear including activewear, maternity clothes, vacation outfits, and even jeans and sweatshirts. This extension in itself boded well enough for this decade old enterprise that crossed over from its profitable status acquired in 2016 to become a unicorn recently in 2019.

Covering well over 600 labels that rent out wearables to some 11 million members, Rent the Runway has mostly been seen through the upsurge by cofounder Hyman. Despite its recent billion dollar valuation however, Rent the Runway has well been earning laurels and accolades for its vision that works on a highly functional mode of business, courtesy the enterprising acumen of Hyman.

Apart from earning Hyman coveted standings among TIME’s 100 Most Influential People of 2019, Forbes’ 2013 “12 Most Disruptive Names in Business”, Fortune’s “Trailblazers” list of individuals changing the face of business in 2013, Rent the Runway also made its presence felt on prestigious lists. A 5th standing on CNBC’s Disruptor 50 2019 list followed its 9th standing on the same a year ago.Rent the Runway was also named one of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies for two consecutive years in 2018 and 2019 while Fast Company recognized RTR Unlimited as a World Changing Idea in 2018, long after it had listed it as being one of the 10 most innovative fashion companies in 2011. CNBC also enlisted this female headed enterprise as one of the 50 companies disrupting the status-quo by CNBC. All these indeed are significant achievements in their own right, but what makes Hyman all the more exemplary a female entrepreneur is that Rent the Runway grew on the back of rejection made by investors who refused to believe that fashion could be coming with emotional connects to it. It indeed is the translation of finding a practical solution for as practical a problem that catapulted Jennifer Hyman from being an entrepreneur to being a unicorn who could weave fantasies into reality.

Ankiti Bose (Zilingo)

A distinctive departure from the pantheon of women behind unicorn startups that spring of the States at a rate that is still high than anywhere in the rest of the world is an Indian startup by the name Zilingo. Founded in 2015 by Indians Ankiti Bose and Dhruv Kapoor, Zilingo set about venturing into the folds of the unicorn marquee with a business profile that derives more on its acumen than its age.

Zilingo is in essence a e- commerce platform reimagining the fashion industry in southeast Asia and only recently gained unicorn status at a valuation of worth $1 billion. But what sets this Singapore headquartered platform and its founder Ankiti Bose apart from other of the clan is that at a mere 27 years of age, Bose is among the youngest of the female chief executives in Asia to lead such a size- able revenue generating startup. That makes Bose’s achievement all the more commendable, for not only being a part of the elite few but also because she had the zeal to envision the success at a tender age of 23, when she set about going Zilingo in 2015.

Start- ups are supposed to be daring ventures, specially in Southeast Asia because of the region’s reputation of being an emerging economy. However, the fashion potential of the region is unmatched. Be it the growing consumer demand or the rapidly growing and diversifying economy that led to higher incomes and more conscious preferences, Bose ensured that she made no wrong move while going about bring her dreams to life. With globalisation, people have understood the importance of fashion and are more open to procuring such style that stand in resonance with the expression of their selves. Bose saw this as an opportunity, but Zilingo wasn’t build as just another business to tap into consumer demands to yield the bucks for themselves.

In fact, Zilingo remains in essence an e- commerce platform that makes even small businesses make an impact in the fashion world with their fashion sensibilities. From helping local producers acquire their raw materials at reasonable rates to providing a larger platform for the sale of their products on the Zilingo website, Bose is ensuring that not only small scale businesses find it feasible to continue with their ventures but also enjoy the necessary exposure and gain sales on a larger scale that would otherwise have remain confined just to the local community, or within borders at best.

Yet in its pursuit of promoting locals, Zilingo does not loses its focus of being an enterprise. What’s perhaps heartening about this spunky sounding business is that it does not shy away from assisting producers even on rival platforms, while obviously intending, but not coercing, to have producers turn to their own. That itself speaks of the brilliance that Bose encompasses, not only in her acute business acumen but also in pursuing a world that is fair and free for all through a startup that has very deservedly earned a unicorn standing in its innovativeness and enterprise.