[SIGCIS-Members] So, about these "unicorns"...

Henry Lowood lowood at stanford.edu
Wed Apr 8 09:39:40 PDT 2015

Quick response from the Valley: From what I have read and heard, the 
"unicorn company" concept is mostly attributed to TechCrunch.  I believe 
the article you cited was the unveiling of the term, but TechCrunch has 
put out a series of posts and articles since then.
And there are dragons, too:
This one ends, "All things being equal, I would rather back a dragon 
than a unicorn."

On 4/7/2015 9:23 PM, Thomas Haigh wrote:
> Dear SIGCIS,
> To raise a question that may or may not turn out to have an 
> explanation within our domain of expertise, I’ve been struck recently 
> by frequent references to “unicorns” in the business press. This 
> crystalized over breakfast last week when I noticed an article 
> “Stockholm: The Unicorn Factory” in my usually reserved Financial Times.
> Apparently the consensus definition of a “unicorn” in this context is 
> a newish company worth more than $1 billion. Stockholm has more per 
> capita than anywhere but Silicon Valley. A total output of five sounds 
> more like an atelier than a factory, and unicorns probably come from 
> unicorn farms rather than assembly lines, but that’s not really the point.
> The point is: unicorns are not just vanishingly rare. They’re 
> mythical. Until recently, if someone told me I was pursuing a unicorn 
> I’d have assumed they meant I was wasting my time. So where does the 
> metaphor come from? Something that’s very rare but very valuable might 
> be worth pursuing. Something that is flat-out imaginary seems a bad 
> goal for investment dollars or public policy.
> Is this something to do with the popularity of fantasy literature in 
> the tech field? Did it start as some kind of joke and get out of hand? 
> A quick Google search suggests that it was popularized with 
> http://techcrunch.com/2013/11/02/welcome-to-the-unicorn-club/, which 
> offers no particular justification for the term beyond “to us, it 
> means something extremely rare, and magical.”
> Tom
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Henry Lowood
Curator for History of Science & Technology Collections;
   Film & Media Collections
HSSG, Green Library, 557 Escondido Mall
Stanford University Libraries, Stanford CA 94305-6004
650-723-4602; lowood at stanford.edu; http://www.stanford.edu/~lowood

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