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Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

They were called "unicorns" for a reason: No one really knew whether Silicon Valley's fabled billion-dollar valuations were real, or whether they were a mixture of delusion and financial engineering that would evaporate upon contact with harsh public-market realities.

Flashback: An influential paper in 2017 declared that, properly valued, most so-called unicorns were actually worth less than $1 billion. The paper downgraded Zoom's valuation to $500 million from $1 billion. Other unicorns imploded either before they went public (Theranos) or afterwards.

  • Blue Apron is a prime example of what skeptics were worried about. It raised private funds at a $2.2 billion valuation, tried to go public at a $3.2 billion valuation, eventually went public at a $1.9 billion valuation, and is now worth just $0.1 billion.

The big picture: Today's public markets are much less skeptical. The IPO market is on fire: Zoom is now worth $27.3 billion, Chewy went public this week and is now valued at $15 billion, Pinterest is worth $14.6 billion, CrowdStrike is worth $13.3 billion, and Beyond Meat is worth $8.5 billion. Even Fiverr, the freelance marketplace, is worth $1.2 billion. Slack expects that this time next week it'll be worth $17 billion or so, but given the exuberance in the market, that might be conservative.

  • Other former unicorns also have enormous valuations on the public markets. Uber is worth $75.1 billion, Square is worth $30.6 billion, Twitter is worth $27.9 billion, Spotify is worth $25.7 billion, Snap is worth $18.9 billion, Lyft is worth $17.8 billion, and Dropbox is worth $9.9 billion.

The bottom line: Consider the venture capitalists vindicated. For all that it's possible to be skeptical of public markets, they're the best corporate price discovery mechanism we've got, and they're ratifying — and even vastly exceeding — private valuations that many people thought crazy. For every disappointment like Blue Apron or Lending Club, it's easy to find a high-flying stock-market darling like Beyond Meat or Zoom.

Why it matters: Given how receptive the public markets are to the current stampede of unicorns, it's going to be increasingly difficult for the holdouts to remain private. WeWork is set to be a public company soon; it's fair to assume that CEOs at companies like Palantir, SoFi, Stripe, and Airbnb are feeling more pressure than ever to go down the same road.

Go deeper

Virginia energy giant quietly boosts McAuliffe

Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe speaks during a campaign rally on Oct. 15 in Henrico, Virginia. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Virginia Democrat Terry McAuliffe has sworn off money from the Richmond company Dominion Energy. But the utility has found more subtle ways to back McAuliffe's gubernatorial bid, records show.

Driving the news: Dominion's political action committee has donated $200,000 to a murky political group called Accountability Virginia PAC, a group with ties to prominent Democrats that's been running ads attacking Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin from the right.

3 hours ago - Technology

Race and technology in America

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The technology industry is famously determined to change the world — but its efforts to diversify its workforce and remove bias from its products haven't changed nearly enough.

Biden: "Being a cop today is one hell of a lot harder than it's ever been"

President Biden speaks during the 40th Annual National Peace Officers Memorial Service at the U.S Capitolon Oct. 16. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden speaking at the U.S. Capitol on Saturday honored members of law enforcement who died in the line of duty in 2019 and 2021 and saluted those who are currently serving.

Driving the news: "We expect everything of you, and it's beyond the capacity of anyone to meet the total expectations. Being a cop today is one hell of a lot harder than it's ever been," Biden said.