Updated: Apr 13
Some will say "just" 2, some will argue that there are 3, or maybe even 4. As of today (June 2021), the more creative souls will claim that there are now 5 actual unicorns from Spain. Let's dive into why this supposedly straightforward count of Spanish tech companies, exceeding the set amount of $1 billion, needs some creativity.
The when and where of future IPO's is also worth a closer look as many timeframes for public listings have been pushed and the Spanish stock exchange is not always the first choice for these ambitious unicorns, or semi-unicorns, depending on your viewpoint.
Cabify, Madrid ($1,4 billion)
Founded in 2011, this "Latin Uber-rival" as media likes to call them because of their market leadership in LATAM, reached a valuation of $1,4 billion in the beginning of 2018, after having raised $160 million.
In April 2021, Cabify got into the very hot and competitive last-mile delivery space "to build up a new business unit beyond traditional ride-hailing". According to Forbes, "the logistics service is being expanded to take advantage of the surge in e-commerce and online shopping during the Covid-19 pandemic."
The same article reveals that Cabify has hired a new chief financial officer to finally do an IPO, something that the Spanish startup ecosystem has eagerly been waiting for since early 2019, when rumors of the company reaching this important milestone first started.
In September 2019, Cabify implied to Spanish newspaper Cinco Días that they had learnt from its American competitor Uber what not do, saying that "it would be optimal to reach profitability before doing an IPO to become a publicly traded company". Instead Management started planning for an IPO in 2020, then in March 2020, well, you know..
Glovo, Barcelona ($1.7 billion)
In late 2019, the delivery service Glovo also reached this elusive status, attracting the interest of increasingly more international investors to the maturing tech ecosystem in Barcelona, seemingly spilling over to the rest of the tech hubs in Spain as well.
With their latest Series F round of $528 million in April 2021, Glovo set a new record, as it was the largest-ever round raised by a Spanish startup. The valuation wasn't disclosed but journalist Ingrid Lunden of Techcrunch did some guessing work for us:
"Valuation is not being disclosed with this round, but when it raised its $166 million Series E in December 2019 — just ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic that truly changed the face of delivery services in many parts of the world — Glovo had a valuation of $1.18 billion, according to PitchBook data. Michaud would only confirm to me that it was “definitely an up-round,” which would put it at, at least $1.7 billion, if not more, based on that estimate.
Glovo is also planning an IPO, according to Forbes some time "in the next two years".
As was the case for Cabify's delayed timetable for their planned IPO, Glovo too seems to learn from their competitors' costly mistakes and are not in any rush (any longer) for a listing to take place. I am of course referring to the epic IPO flop by Deliveroo end of March 2021. "London needed a win. Instead it got its worst IPO in history"
Where in the world will Glovo ultimately do the IPO? That is not yet communicated (to my knowledge) but considering this failed listing by Deliveroo, and the Brexit on top of that, it might not be on the London stock exchange in any case.
Since the Series F round was led by New York-based investment managers Lugard Road Capital and the Luxor Capital Group, an aim for the prestigious Nasdaq seems more likely.
Adding 3 more unicorns, up for debate
Now that we have covered the 2 most clear-cut unicorn cases in Spain, up next is where a more flexible mind-set comes into play, especially for those whom - like myself - would like to give the country's hard-working founders credit for having produced a total of 5 tech unicorns to date. Here we go:
Idealista, Madrid/Stockholm (EUR 1.3 billion)
Idealista, a leading online real estate classifieds platform, present in Spain, Italy, and Portugal, was acquired by Swedish EQT in 2020 at a transaction price of EUR 1.3 billion, by far passing the magical one-billion dollars threshold to unicorn land.
It is said that the headquarters for Idealista will continue to remain on Spanish ground in Madrid as the buyer has an explicit "local with locals" strategy for all its acquisitions, the purchase of Freepik in Malaga in 2020 being another well-known example.
"EQT will, together with idealista’s founders and management team, support idealista’s continued growth momentum and further penetration of existing markets, by leveraging EQT’s strong digital and sector expertise, “local with locals” approach, and extensive advisory network", it states in the corresponding press release.
EQT group was actually behind both of the biggest acquisitions in Spain during 2020.
Flywire, Valencia/Boston ($3.4 billion)
Founded in Valencia in 2009 by Iker Marcaide, Fintech Flywire, initially named peerTransfer, made it to an IPO in New York before any of its "unicorn cousins" already mentioned. End of May 2021, Flywire became the first Spanish tech company to ever debut on the Nasdaq.
This is HUGE for Spains' startup ecosystem because, although Flywire's headquarters is now located in Boston since many years ago, the majority of the advanced technology behind its payment solutions for international students, is built by a large tech team in Valencia.
"Flywire Corp was valued at $3.39 billion in its Nasdaq debut, 239% higher than from its valuation after a funding round in February last year, according to data from Pitchbook", writes Nasdaq, also stating:
"The company's revenue from clients in the education sector, which rely on international enrollments, declined significantly last year due to the pandemic, but Flywire saw "significant" strength in revenue from its healthcare clients."
The core of the tech team has always been based in Valencia and some of the early employees are now being rewarded for 12 years of resilient work. Hopefully some of them will want to re-invest in the startup ecosystem in Spain's third largest city.
Wallbox, Barcelona ($1.5 billion)
Just a few days after the Flywire euphoria, in early June 2021, came the announcement that Wallbox, selling chargers for electric vehicles, is also joining the Spanish unicorn family by taking the debated SPAC route to reach a one billion valuation, also from New York.
"Startups in innovative areas like automotive technology have chosen SPACs because they can present investors with the promise of future profits forecast for when their products become mainstream, a practice restricted in IPO regulations", explains Reuters under the headline "Spanish EV charger maker Wallbox to go public in $1.5 bln New York SPAC deal".
The article further clarifies: "Spanish electric-vehicle charger maker Wallbox plans to list on the New York Stock Exchange later this year (2021) through a merger with shell company Kensington Capital Acquisition Corp (KCAC.N)."
Whether or not it's a fully-fledged unicorn as of yet, their earliest investor Seaya Ventures could certainly justify changing their logo to rainbow colors (although that would be weird) since they are also early backers of both Glovo and Cabify. Well done!
A fun fact is that, according to Spanish El Confidencial, the CEO of Wallbox, Enric Asuncion, was once an intern at Tesla and supposedly returned to Spain because of heartbreak.
"Wallbox Charges' estimated growth is to go from selling about 150,000 chargers this year (2021) to more than 4.5 million in six years", states the same article in Spanish.
Now over to you! Do you agree with this somewhat creative recount? Leave a comment!!
I decided to write this piece to highlight the deep ambition and resilience shown by the Spanish founders and the teams of these mentioned unicorns to build globally viable tech companies. All too often, many of the Spaniards whom are part of the startup ecosystem, beat themselves up over lack of ambition, lack of money and lack of political support, etc.
A respected Spanish VC, male, with thousands of followers, recently posted (translated):
"I am very surprised by the quality of the projects in Spain. While there are truly great people and well-launched projects, there are not many big startups (scaleups), what do you think is the reason? Ambition? Bureaucracy? Access to cash?"
While I was sifting through many of the negative replies in the Twitter thread, this one from Annalisa Nash Fernandez, rang true for me:
"(Because of) weak industrial policy, but also Spain suffered from years of brain drain and will now rise to the top especially quickly as value is placed on quality of work-life, and tech facilitates it."
--> I would love for you to share your thoughts or opinions in the comment section.