Why Centaur status is better than Unicorn status for startups?
Bessemer Venture Partners hands down has the best content and benchmarking on scaling SaaS businesses. I have not been able to stop soaking in tons of content from them. This is a summary of what Bessemer Venture believes is a more meaningful alternatives to chasing Unicorn status — the Centaur status.
Valuations have historically been a primary measure of success in the private cloud. But the stampede trying to earn a unicorn valuation is getting out of hand. Almost a decade ago when Aileen Lee coined the term, unicorns were an elite group of billion dollar companies with meaningful revenue leaving an undeniable imprint on the global economy.
Today, that’s not quite the case, as there are more than a thousand unicorns in the world — many of them with less than a million dollars of revenue. From 2020 to 2021 we saw a 120% increase in unicorns. One and a half new unicorns are minted every day.
The abundance of capital has created an environment where valuations have somewhat lost their meaning. The only thing we can truly conclude about a unicorn today is their ability to attract investor interest. In addition, we’ve seen how the unicorn birth rate has correlated to the rise and fall of public valuations.
The unicorn-or-bust mentality has unfortunately driven many startups and investors to focus on valuation as their primary goal, instead of building a great business. Given these conditions, and the market correction, the VC and founder community are in need of a new milestone to strive for — one rooted in evidence, cloud fundamentals, and a milestone based on…revenue.
2022 will be the year of the Centaur
The Centaur is a business that reaches $100 million of annual recurring revenue (ARR) — a rare breed of cloud business, part of an elite subset of the growing unicorn herd. At $100 million ARR, Centaur businesses have product-market fit, scalable go-to-market strategy, and a growing customer base.
At $100 million ARR, Centaur businesses have product-market fit, scalable go-to-market strategy, and a growing customer base.
While 520 unicorns were born in 2021, ~60 private cloud businesses reached Centaurs status in that same year, including names such as Pendo, Salesloft, Cloudinary, Iterable, InVision, 6Sense, Yotpo, and Dataiku.
Tracking Centaur growth offers a more accurate pulse on the overall health of the cloud ecosystem. This elite cohort measures what matters — tangible growth in businesses hitting recurring revenue milestones vs. companies reaching valuations based on magical thinking.
So how does a business become a centaur exactly? The good news is that there isn’t one way to do it (and we do have benchmarks to help you along your company’s growth trajectory).
We’ve seen enduring companies take a variety of paths to Centaur status over the years ranging from a few years to over ten to scale from $1 million to $100 million ARR.