Unicorns and You

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Last month we asked our Twitter followers what they’d like to see more of on our blog. We offered four topic choices: social listening, sentiment analysis, and analytics tutorials all received strong support from our followers. But the landslide winner, with a full 50% of the vote, is…

Unicorn Mythology

And so, without further ado, Lexalytics is proud to present:

Unicorns and You (Pliny to Palo Alto―Unicorns Through Time)

While modern zoologists generally agree that the unicorn as it appears in popular culture is a myth, ancient peoples believed the unicorn to be a very real creature (albeit very rare). Numerous sightings appear throughout ancient history: Roman scholar and naturalist Pliny recorded in his Natural History, “a very ferocious beast, similar in the rest of its body to a horse, with the head of a deer, the feet of an elephant, the tail of a boar, a deep bellowing voice, and a single black horn, two cubits [about 36 inches] in length, standing out in the middle of its forehead.”

It’s important to note here that Pliny did not fact-check his encyclopedic Natural History and apparently included any and all creatures he received reports of. Many contemporary scholars believe the image of the unicorn to be based on widely exaggerated sightings of rhinoceroses or goats.

The unicorn is also mentioned numerous times in the bible, often as a reference point for great strength. For example, Numbers 24:8 includes the passage, “God brought him forth out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of a unicorn.”

Throughout much of ancient and medieval history, the horn of the unicorn was believed to contain magical medicinal properties: a potion brewed from the shavings of an alicorn, for example, protected imbibers from disease, while drinking from the horn guarded against poison.

If you’d like to read more about the unicorn in history and culture, we’ve included a few links to further reading at the bottom of this page. But for now, let’s turn our attention to an entirely different type of unicorn:

The Startup Unicorn
A “unicorn” in technology refers to a startup company that is valued at $1 billion or more. The term first appeared in a 2013 TechCrunch blog post, at which time there were only 39 such companies registered in the United States: a rare creature to describe a rare breed of company.

Today, though, unicorns are everywhere. This database of Unicorns, curated by CB Insights and updated in real time, lists 149 such companies as of writing. 14 of these unicorns represent ventures in Big Data, including: Palantir Technologies (#4, valued at $20 billion), Cloudera ($4.1 billion), and MongoDB ($1.6 billion). This asks the question: can big data predict future unicorns?

CB Insights certainly thinks so. In 2015, they partnered with The New York Times to predict 50 future unicorns. So far, six of those companies have already earned their horns. CB Insights developed this list using their Mosaic algorithm, built on machine learning and data science.

But not everyone is thrilled with this proliferation of a once-rare breed of startup. The rapid inflow of venture capital investment into the tech sector has many fearing a new market bubble. Only time will tell if the tech unicorn is to go the way of its fantastical mammal counterpart, but in the meantime VC firms aren’t slowing down. The newest VC target is the “decacorn”: a startup with the potential to value $10 billion or more (the CB Insights list includes 14 decacorns).
We can only wonder: how would Pliny describe a decacorn?

For more reading on unicorns in history and culture:

Categories: Lexalytics, Social Media, Technology