In the business world, unicorn startups have nothing to do with mythical ponies — the term represents accomplished private companies that are worth over a billion US dollars.
According to reports, it doesn’t look like there will be a shortage of unicorn startups anytime soon. The US, for instance, is home to most unicorn startups operating within the cloud, fintech, health tech, big data and cybersecurity.
While the success of a unicorn startup could include various factors from the idea to timing, the education of its founders can play a huge role too.
Professor Ilya Strebulaev from Stanford Graduate School of Business has made extensive research on 1,263 founders from 521 unicorn startups, on what level of academic qualifications they hold.
Research shows that 236 founders have an MBA, including DoorDash CEO Tony Xu. A total of 217 founders have master’s, other than MBAs. Alphabet Inc’s Larry Page, for instance, has a Master’s in Computer Science and Juul Labs’ Adam Bowen has a Master’s in Product Design. A total of 39 people have a dual master’s, including an MBA, such as Christian Chabot of Tableau.
A total of 286 founders earned doctoral degrees, such as PhD and MD, while 15 have an MBA and a doctoral degree. On the other end of the spectrum, the majority of founders only hold a bachelor’s degree while the rest are dropouts.
This research suggests that academic qualifications, even a bachelor’s, can play an important role in one’s career.
Unicorn startup founders and co-founders who were former international students
John Collison — an Irish billionaire entrepreneur — is the co-founder and President of Stripe. The Irish-American financial service and software as a service (SaaS) company is dual-headquartered in San Francisco and Dublin.
The company chiefly offers payment processing software and application programming interfaces (APIs) for e-commerce websites and mobile applications.
Collison co-founded the company in 2010 with his brother Patrick, and was known as the youngest self-made billionaire in 2016. According to reports, he got his degree at Castletroy College and also studied at Harvard.
Shing Chow is a billionaire from Hong Kong, and is the founder and CEO of Lalamove which he founded in 2013. Before Chow created his unicorn startup, he studied abroad in the US at the University of California, Los Angeles and Stanford University, studying a BS Physics and BA Economics respectively (he graduated with distinction for the latter).
Lalamove is an Asia-based technology company that provides delivery services by connecting users with delivery drivers on its mobile and web apps.
The company operates in cities across Asia and Latin America, connecting over seven million users with more than 700,000 delivery drivers.
Ferry Unardi is an Indonesian co-founder and CEO of Traveloka, an Indonesian technology company that provides airline ticketing and hotel booking services online expanding rapidly into Southeast Asia and Australia.
Unardi co-founded Traveloka with Albert Zhang and Derianto Kusuma in 2012. He is responsible for the company’s overall direction and strategy. Previously, he spent several years working on real-time media performance and reliability at Microsoft Lync.
Unardi studied abroad in the US at Purdue University and Harvard Business School. He pursued a BS in Mathematics and Computer Sciences and a Master’s in Business Administration respectively.
Traveloka recently expanded to provide lifestyle products and services, such as attraction tickets, activities, car rental, and restaurant vouchers.