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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.

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Trump impeachment trial to start week of Feb. 8, Schumer says

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Photo: The Washington Post via Getty

The Senate will begin former President Trump's impeachment trial the week of Feb. 8, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced Friday on the Senate floor.

The state of play: Schumer announced the schedule after reaching an agreement with Republicans. The House will transmit the article of impeachment against the former president late Monday.

4 hours ago - Health

CDC extends interval between COVID vaccine doses for exceptional cases

Photo: Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty

Patients can space out the two doses of the coronavirus vaccine by up to six weeks if it’s "not feasible" to follow the shorter recommended window, according to updated guidance from the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention.

Driving the news: With the prospect of vaccine shortages and a low likelihood that supply will expand before April, the latest changes could provide a path to vaccinate more Americans — a top priority for President Biden.