Global unicorn exits hit multi-year high in 2018

Unicorn exits are taking flight.

With the IPO window wide open, an apparent record number of venture-backed companies privately valued over $1 billion have launched public offerings this year. Crunchbase data shows 23 unicorn IPOs globally so far in 2018, well outpacing full-year totals for 2016 and 2017.

Collectively, this year’s newly public unicorns are doing pretty well too. Most priced shares around or above expectations. We’re also seeing a lot of impressive aftermarket gains. At least six are currently valued at more than $10 billion.

Meanwhile, unicorn M&A volumes are chugging along as well, with at least 11 deals so far this year. Big transactions like Walmart’s $16 billion acquisition of Flipkart and Microsoft’s $7.5 billion purchase of GitHub have helped boost the totals.

It all adds up to some enormous numbers. We’ll delve into those in more detail below, focusing on year-over-year comparisons, geographic breakdown, biggest exits and more.

How 2018 compares to prior years

First off, a bit of context. A lot of startup-related metrics are on track to hit multi-year or record highs in 2018. These are lofty times for supergiant funding rounds, venture capital fundraising and unicorn investment, to name a few. Given that pattern, it’s not surprising to see a pickup in unicorn exits too, including some really big names like Xiaomi, Spotify and Dropbox.

That said, if one focuses on anticipated exits, as opposed to the ones that already occurred, even this year’s phenomenal IPO streak may seem comparatively humdrum. There’s mounting excitement around the potential for even bigger offerings next year from UberAirbnb, Didi Chuxing and others.

If markets don’t implode in the next few months, and at least some of these household names make it to market, it’s likely 2019 will be an even bigger year for unicorn IPOs than 2018. Unfortunately, however, we don’t have hard data on the future, so we’re left comparing this year to the prior two in the chart below:

As you can see, we’re already well ahead of last year’s totals. On the IPO front, not only are the 2018 unicorn offerings more numerous, they’re also bigger. In 2017, out of 16 unicorn IPOs, there were two at initial valuations above $10 billion (Snap and online insurer ZhongAn). So far this year, there have been five.

Geography of unicorn exits

The exiting unicorns are also a geographically diverse bunch, with the U.S. and China accounting for the lion’s share and Europe trailing a distant third.

In the chart below, we look at the geographic breakdown in more detail:

While the U.S. produced the largest number of unicorn exits, they weren’t the biggest. Notably, this year’s most valuable IPOs and M&A deal involved companies based in Europe and Asia.

Of the six 2018 debuts currently valued at $10 billion or more, detailed below, only one, Dropbox, is a U.S. company. In the chart below, we look at who topped the rankings:

Adding it up

The grand tally of 2018 exits provides a clear counterpoint to skeptics (your author included), who questioned whether fast-growing unicorn populations and valuations would hold up with acquirers and public market investors.

It appears prices are keeping up nicely. The vast majority of U.S. unicorn exits this year, for instance, were close to or above private market valuations. Among U.S. IPOs the only big fizzle was Domo. While Dropbox looked like a “down round IPO” at first, strong aftermarket performance has the company above its highest reported private valuation.

The year’s largest unicorn IPO — China’s Xiaomi — also managed to slightly top its last reported private valuation, even after pricing shares for its June IPO far below initial projections.

All these giant exits add up. The unicorns that went public this year currently have a collective market capitalization north of $200 billion. Add in roughly $45 billion from M&A deals, and we’re talking close to a quarter of a trillion (!) dollars in post-exit value.

These big exits come as investors continue to funnel record sums into high-valuation private companies. So far this year, investors have poured more than $200 billion into venture and growth-stage startups, with more than $70 billion going into companies already valued at $1 billion or more.

In sum, we’re seeing big numbers all around — going in as investments and coming out as exits. Eventually, all parties wind down. But for now, this one rages on.

Twitter puts Infowars’ Alex Jones in the ‘read-only’ sin bin for 7 days

Twitter has finally taken action against Infowars creator Alex Jones, but it isn’t what you might think.

While Apple, Facebook, Google/YouTube, Spotify and many others have removed Jones and his conspiracy-peddling organization Infowars from their platforms, Twitter has remained unmoved with its claim that Jones hasn’t violated rules on its platform.

That was helped in no small way by the mysterious removal of some tweets last week, but now Jones has been found to have violated Twitter’s rules, as CNET first noted.

Twitter is punishing Jones for a tweet that violates its community standards but it isn’t locking him out forever. Instead, a spokesperson for the company confirmed that Jones’ account is in “read-only mode” for up to seven days.

That means he will still be able to use the service and look up content via his account, but he’ll be unable to engage with it. That means no tweets, likes, retweets, comments, etc. He’s also been ordered to delete the offending tweet — more on that below — in order to qualify for a fully functioning account again.

That restoration doesn’t happen immediately, though. Twitter policy states that the read-only sin bin can last for up to seven days “depending on the nature of the violation.” We’re imagining Jones got the full one-week penalty, but we’re waiting on Twitter to confirm that.

The offending tweet in question is a link to a story claiming President “Trump must take action against web censorship.” It looks like the tweet has already been deleted, but not before Twitter judged that it violates its policy on abuse:

Abuse: You may not engage in the targeted harassment of someone, or incite other people to do so. We consider abusive behavior an attempt to harass, intimidate, or silence someone else’s voice.

When you consider the things Infowars and Jones have said or written — 9/11 conspiracies, harassment of Sandy Hook victim families and more — the content in question seems fairly innocuous. Indeed, you could look at President Trump’s tweets and find seemingly more punishable content without much difficulty.

But here we are.

The weirdest part of this Twitter caning is one of the reference points that the company gave to media. These days, it is common for the company to point reporters to specific tweets that it believes encapsulate its position on an issue, or provide additional color in certain situations.

In this case, Twitter pointed us — and presumably other reporters — to this tweet from Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson:

WTF, Twitter…

Spotify Continues Strong Push Into Podcasts With Addition of BBC’s Podcast Library

Spotify today announced that listeners across the globe can now tune into the BBC’s podcast catalog directly within the Spotify app, including “hundreds of programs across thousands of episodes.” In the announcement, the company focuses on podcast listeners in the United Kingdom, but it appears that BBC podcasts on Spotify are also appearing for users in the United States and elsewhere outside of the U.K.

The BBC podcasts on Spotify include shows from iPlayer Radio and BBC Sounds, covering numerous genres, which listeners can find in the Browse tab on Spotify. Podcast categories include Comedy, News and Politics, Educational, Sport and Recreation, Lifestyle and Health, Business and Technology, and Kids and Family.



The company also recommended a few podcasts for users, including “Short Cuts,” which centers on themes like “fear” and “magical realism” through the presentation of poetry, short stories, documentaries, and more. There’s also “Desert Island Discs,” in which host Kirsty Young asks guests to list the items they would take if they were stranded on an island.

Prior to BBC, Spotify in May added NPR’s catalog of podcasts to its app. The streaming company has been making a stronger push into podcasts since July 2017, when a report from Bloomberg claimed that Spotify was “coming after” Apple Podcasts. The company started by commissioning original podcasts about music in early 2017, and has now shifted to partnering with existing podcast creators to bolster its catalog of shows.

With the addition of these content creators, Spotify’s head of podcast partnerships for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, James Cator, says that users “can now be assured of finding the perfect podcast for every moment and mood on Spotify.”

“The BBC is one of the largest content creators in the UK, and have worked with the biggest and best audio talent in the world,” explains James Cator, Spotify’s Head of Podcast Partnerships, EMEA. “To have a comprehensive audio catalogue in the UK, the BBC are essential, so adding the BBC to our rapidly-expanding catalogue of podcasts was a natural partnership.” To that end, Spotify has added podcasts from iPlayer Radio and BBC Sounds to the platform, making hundreds of BBC podcasts available to Spotify users in the UK from today.

Apple rebranded iTunes Podcasts to “Apple Podcasts” in April 2017, and then at WWDC 2017 announced an overhauled podcasts app for iOS 11 that introduced changes for both listeners and podcasters. In iOS 12 this year, Apple Podcasts isn’t expected to see much of a change, with beta discoveries so far limited to the introduction of custom durations for the Forward and Back options in the app.

At the time of Bloomberg‘s article revealing Spotify’s new podcast initiative, weekly podcast newsletter author Nick Quah wrote that Apple had the majority share of the podcast market at about 55 percent. Quah then pointed out that Spotify’s large user base of free and paid users (now 180 million globally) presents it with “an opportunity to steal share from Apple.”

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Spotify runs test in Australia, allowing users to skip ads at any time, potentially boosting targeting and revenues

If you want to test out a feature on a large, well-known, global, platform, there’s a very simple solution: Test it in Australia. At a population of 24 million and with a predominantly Western culture, it’s a large enough test bed and small enough market, so ideal for testing new features before (maybe) rolling them out globally. And that’s exactly what Spotify appears to be doing in testing out how it can tweak its advertising platform to take the fight to the likes of Pandora and other competitors.

Advertising Age reports today that it’s running a test in Australia which will let listeners skip audio and video adverts at any time while the ad is playing. This is instead of having a preset time limit to listen to or watch the advert which can’t be skipped. They’ll be able to do this any time they want, as often as they want, and the new feature will also let them jump straight back into the music.

The feature (well, it’s still a test feature after all) is called “Active Media.” In it, advertisers won’t have to pay for any ads that are skipped. It’s a high risk strategy because clearly Spotify may get less ad revenue in the short-term, while the algorithm is trained to serve ads that consumers will in fact listen to. But Australia’s smaller market means any lost revenue will be relatively small.

AdAge quote Danielle Lee, global head of partner solutions at Spotify, saying the move is about tailoring the ads to users’ tastes, so similar to Spotify’s “Discover Weekly” feature, which does the same for music.

It’s a smart move, since, by allowing users to spend longer on the ads they actually do like, Spotify will get better data on the ads which work best for that particular user, and thus sell better-targeted ads which, in turn, will have a higher premium.

“Our hypothesis is if we can use this to fuel our streaming intelligence, and deliver a more personalized experience and a more engaging audience to our advertisers, it will improve the outcomes that we can deliver for brands,” Lee said.

Plus, a user listening to a better-targeted advert in full is worth more than blasting adverts to consumers who may ultimately be put off the platform for being forced to listen to adverts. They’d also listen to fewer ads overall, thus keeping the platform ‘sticky’.

Spotify says advertisers won’t have to pay for any ads that are skipped. If things go well, it’s likely the feature will expand globally.

Spotify previously reported in July that it closed the second quarter of the year with 180 million monthly active users. This is up 30 percent year-over-year. It now have over 101 million ad-supported users in 65 markets globally. Total ad revenue has reached $158 million, up 20 percent. Automated ad sales are growing quickly and accounted for more than 20 percent of ad revenue, the company reported.

Spotify may let free users skip as many ads as they want

Since last month, Australian Spotify users have been using the Active Media feature, which lets them skip as many ads as they wish, whenever they like, even without a paid subscription or illicit apps that offer pirated versions of Premium. But every…

Spotify Testing Way for Free Tier Users to Skip Ads ‘Any Time They Want’

Spotify has begun a test for select users in Australia, allowing free tier listeners to skip “any” audio and video ads that they come across “as often as they want,” according to a new report by Ad Age. Currently, users who don’t pay for a Spotify Premium subscription ($9.99/month) have to listen to ads and can’t skip them.



Spotify’s head of partner solutions, Danielle Lee, explained that unlimited ad skipping is something the company is interested in because it will allow users to hear or watch only the ads they are interested in. As such, Spotify will know which ads each user lets play to the end, “informing Spotify about their preferences in the process” and tailoring the ads to their liking.

The company calls this “Active Media,” and ensures advertisers won’t have to pay for any ads that are skipped, suggesting Spotify is confident it will learn and create enough compelling ads that free tier users won’t want to skip. According to Lee, Spotify’s hope is to debut Active Media on a global scale, but at this time the Australia-based testing is only one month old.

“Our hypothesis is if we can use this to fuel our streaming intelligence, and deliver a more personalized experience and a more engaging audience to our advertisers, it will improve the outcomes that we can deliver for brands,” Lee says. “Just as we create these personalized experiences like Discover Weekly, and the magic that brings to our consumers, we want to inject that concept into the advertising experience.”

In comparison, Apple Music doesn’t offer a free tier for its service, instead gifting new subscribers a three month free trial of the streaming service. In an interview from May 2017, former Apple Music executive Jimmy Iovine stated that if Apple Music did have a free tier it “would have 400 million people on it” and easily eclipse Spotify, but that’s not what the company wanted for the service.

Instead, Apple built Apple Music as a “special experience” for “people who are paying,” with no ads anywhere on the service. Apple Music and Spotify have been rivals since the former service debuted in 2015, and in a more recent interview Apple CEO Tim Cook said that he “worries about the humanity being drained out of music,” alluding to Spotify’s more algorithmic approach to suggesting new music to its users.

For Spotify, the company is now trying to boost free tier users in a number of ways, and eventually convince those users to pay for Spotify Premium. The company expanded the free tier with on-demand playlists in the spring, letting those listeners pick and choose which music they want to listen to as long as the tracks appear in one of 15 curated discovery playlists. This is an upgrade from the previous way free tier listeners heard music, which was simply shuffling songs at random.

Secondly, in a major announcement during Samsung’s Galaxy Note 9 presentation yesterday, it was revealed that the Spotify app will now come pre-installed on all Samsung smartphones. Because of this, many Android users will now find it easier to jump into Spotify and begin streaming their music on that service, instead of searching for the Android-based Apple Music app.

As of the last count in July 2018, Spotify has 83 million paid subscribers globally and 180 million total monthly active users if you count the free tier. Apple Music was last counted to have about 40 million subscribers, although Apple’s service could have more paid users than Spotify in the United States.

Tag: Spotify

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Samsung Debuts New Galaxy Note 9, Galaxy Watch, Wireless Charger Duo, and Galaxy Home Smart Speaker

Samsung this morning debuted its latest flagship smartphone, the new Galaxy Note 9. The Galaxy Note 9 is equipped with a 6.4-inch 2960 by 1400 Super AMOLED screen, and like previous Note models, it works with the S Pen stylus. Design wise, it looks quite similar to the Note 8.

Inside, the Galaxy Note 9 features Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845 processor, 6 to 8GB RAM, dual AKG speakers, and a 4,000 mAh battery. Samsung is using the same 12-megapixel dual-aperture camera system it used in the Note 8, with the addition of an Intelligent Camera function that’s able to detect what you’re taking a photo of.



Samsung says that with the Snapdragon 845, it has included “Water Carbon Cooling System” inside the phone for improved performance with processor intensive apps such as Fortnite.



The S Pen that comes with the Galaxy Note 9 introduces new Bluetooth-enabled features that allow it to be used to control the camera of the device for taking selfies and other photos, control video playback, and more. Samsung has created an SDK that will let developers integrate the S Pen into their apps, and that will be available later this year.



The Galaxy Note 9 works with DeX, Samsung’s feature that allows a smartphone to be docked to a desktop and used with a mouse and keyboard. The Note 9 DeX implementation does not require a dedicated dock, instead using a USB-C to HDMI adapter.

The smartphone also features a USB-C port, a headphone jack, a front-facing iris scanner, and a fingerprint reader that’s centered at the back of the device. Though Google just introduced Android 9 Pie, the Note 9 will come with Android 8.1.

Samsung is pricing its Galaxy Note 9 at $1,000, the same price as the iPhone X, with the entry-level model coming with 128GB of storage and 6GB RAM. A version with 8GB RAM and 512GB of storage will be priced at $1,300. Pre-orders for the Galaxy Note 9 start tomorrow ahead of an August 24 launch.

Alongside the Galaxy Note 9, Samsung introduced the new Galaxy Watch, an LTE-enabled device that’s been designed to look like “a real watch” with a circular face and bezel that doubles as a control unit. It offers up Corning’s DX+ glass and better battery life than previous Samsung smart watches, with Samsung claiming that it will last several days on one charge.



Much like the Apple Watch, it offers a breathing guide to calm you down, heart rate monitoring, Bixby support, 39 workout types for fitness, and it’s able to detect six common exercises automatically. Unlike the Apple Watch, though, the Galaxy Watch tracks sleep quality.



To charge the Galaxy Note 9 and the Galaxy Watch, Samsung has introduced an AirPower-like Wireless Charger Duo that’s able to charge the watch and the phone at the same time.



Samsung is also getting into the smart speaker market with the Bixby-enabled Galaxy Home, which is designed to compete with Amazon Echo, Apple HomePod, Google Home, and other smart speaker options on the market. Galaxy Home works with Bixby, and Samsung says that its design is able to send sound in every direction.



For Galaxy Home and across Samsung’s other devices, Samsung has teamed up with Spotify for a “true cross-listening experience” that lets Spotify be used seamlessly across Samsung devices. Spotify will be part of the setup process on all Samsung devices, including Samsung smartphones, the Galaxy Home, and Samsung Smart TVs, with Bixby integration coming to Spotify.

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Skype chats are the latest place to listen to Spotify

Now that Spotify is on Apple's iMessage and Facebook's Messenger, the company will soon empower you to share and preview songs inside another messaging service, Skype. If you're a US-based Skype Insider with a mobile app version of 8.26 or higher, yo…