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The two newest unicorn companies are women-focused and women-led

By Alexandra Ossola

This story is part of How We’ll Win in 2019, a year-long exploration of workplace gender equality. Read more stories here.

For female-led startups, this has been a pretty good week. On Tuesday, beauty brand Glossier announced that it had raised $100 million in its most recent round of funding, increasing its valuation to $1.2 billion. And today (March 21), clothing subscription service Rent the Runway made a similar announcement—a $125 million funding round, which propelled its valuation to the billion-dollar mark (paywall).

The two companies have a lot in common. They were founded within a year of each other (Rent the Runway in 2009, Glossier in 2010); they used analytics and customer feedback to fine-tune their offerings; they didn’t do much marketing but instead relied on social media and word of mouth. Oh, and they’re both led by women who were able to tailor their products for female customers.

“I think the unicorn status of Glossier and Rent the Runway may nudge investors to be more open about the market opportunity for female-led startups with majority female customers,” says Amy Chen, the director of entrepreneurship programs at NYC Media Lab.

Unicorns are no longer rare in Silicon Valley, but that doesn’t mean they’re not important indicators. “Each major wave of technology innovation has given rise to one or more super-unicorns — companies that could change your life to work at or invest in, if you’re not lucky/genius enough to be a co-founder,” wrote Aileen Lee for Tech Crunch in 2013. “This leads to more questions. What is the fundamental technology change of the next decade (mobile?); and will a new super-unicorn or two be born as a result?”

When Lee wrote that post, there were no US-based unicorns with female founders. Five years later, in May 2018, there were 14, making up a little more than 10% of all unicorns. It’s not hockey stick-type progress, but it’s progress.

Perhaps, in 2019, this “fundamental change” Lee referred to isn’t about technology at all. Maybe it’s about tapping into an underserved customer base: women. And female founders are uniquely positioned to do so.

This story is part of How We’ll Win in 2019, a year-long exploration of workplace gender equality. Read more stories here.

This story has been updated to include a comment from Amy Chen.

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