Computer Solutions
The trouble with tech unicorns

Tech’s new stars have it all—except a path to high profits

NVESTORS OFTEN describe the world of business in terms of animals, such as bears, bulls, hawks, doves and dogs. Right now, mere ponies are being presented as unicorns: privately held tech firms worth over $1bn that are supposedly strong and world-beating—miraculous almost. Next month Uber will raise some $10bn in what may turn out to be this year’s biggest initial public offering (IPO). It will be America’s third-biggest-ever tech IPO, after Alibaba and Facebook. Airbnb and WeWork could follow Lyft, which has already floated, and Pinterest, which was set to do so as The Economist went to press. In China, an IPO wave that began last year rumbles on. Thanks to fashionable products and armies of users, these firms have a total valuation in the hundreds of billions of dollars. They and their venture-capital (VC) backers are rushing to sell shares at high prices to mutual funds and pension schemes run for ordinary people. There is, however, a problem with the unicorns: their business models.



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