If 2012 gave us Facebook and 2013 gave us Twitter, what will 2014 bring? While the remaining privately-held Internet companies lack the name recognition of a Facebook or Twitter, there are still intriguing prospects. Nine of these ten consumer-facing Internet companies have billion-dollar valuations and all of them have helped to pioneer a major change in how we use the Web.
If you’ve ever faced the quandary of how to share huge multimedia files without using e-mail, chances are that you’ve considered Dropbox (or one of its many clones). It’s all part of a shift to cloud-based storage. Or, as Dropbox explains in its tagline, “Your stuff, anywhere.” While you’re probably tired of hearing about “the cloud” once again, the world is still waiting for the first big cloud IPO. (Valuation: $4 billion)
In many ways, Pinterest should remind you of early Twitter – a company with a rapidly-growing user base that single-handedly invented a new type of content on the Internet – the “pin” (versus the “tweet”). And, like Twitter, you either get the point of Pinterest, or you don’t. (Women seem to get it, men not so much.) Pinterest has been searching for a way to monetize its user base, with the latest attempt being a very Twitter-esque “promoted pins” advertising option. (Valuation: $3.8 billion)
Car-hailing service Uber faces a number of difficult challenges as it expands into different markets around the world. The company sits at the intersection of mobile technology and transportation logistics, and it’s easy to see how the company’s business model can be leveraged on nearly a global basis. (That is, if the regulators will let them) As an added bonus, Google is now a major investor in the company. (Valuation: $3.5 billion)
Okay, okay, this is a company that probably won’t make it to the IPO market in 2014, but seems to be the type of social media company that’s capable of generating the same excitement as a Facebook. In fact, many see it as a sort of “anti-Facebook” in that it has shown the ability to attract the segment of the young demographic that has ignored services such as Facebook or Twitter. (Valuation: $3.5 billion)
Does lightning strike twice? Like Twitter, this is a company co-founded by Jack Dorsey, this time in an effort to disrupt the peer-to-peer payments space. It may be hard to get excited about a white dongle (a dongle!), but it’s becoming an increasingly ubiquitous sight to see the Square payment reader attached to mobile devices instead of traditional point-of-sale devices. (Valuation: $3.25 billion)
The company pioneered the couchsurfing trend, and now books tens of thousands of rooms a night in 34,000 cities and 192 countries, making it the equivalent of a global hospitality chain. It has revolutionized the way we think about travel, as well as what we want from the travel experience. While there are still a number of legal issues to resolve in markets such as New York, the whole “sharing economy” trend appears here to stay. (Valuation: $2.5 billion)
While officially a productivity app for mobile and the Web, Evernote is all about storing your information in the cloud and letting you record all the information around you, whether it’s images, text, audio, video or snippets from Web sites.There’s even been talking of a mashup of Evernote and Google Glass. Evernote now has 25 million users, of which 1 million are paying customers. That’s something that even Twitter couldn’t boast. (Valuation: $1 billion)
This members-only online luxury retailer pioneered the concept of the online flash sale, and has created an enormously loyal fan base of online shoppers who are used to snapping up high-end fashion goods at designer sample sales. While the site has always been popular with women since it launched in 2007, it’s had a harder time appealing to men. (Valuation: $1 billion)
The company is riding a wave of consumer enthusiasm for a new type of e-commerce category that prizes design, style and fashion as much as low everyday pricing. The company has experienced a much-publicized pivot and plenty of commentary about “growing pains” and the company’s aspirations in the e-commerce space. That being said, there are still some who see the company as the next Amazon. (Valuation: $1 billion)
If the race to go public were a horse race, Foursquare would be the darkhorse favorite to win it all. Remember when Foursquare was one of the hottest companies in the tech world, everybody was talking about “badges” and founder Dennis Crowley was the king of the SXSW-fueled hipster tech scene? Almost everybody was predicting greatness for the mobile location company, but then something strange happened: nobody could quite figure out how to monetize the smartphone check-in. (Valuation: $600 million)
Which is not to say that it will be easy for any of these companies to become “the next Facebook” or “the next Twitter.” A piece that’s been making the rounds in Silicon Valley (“Welcome to the Unicorn Club: Learning from Billion-Dollar Startups”) suggests that a type of opportunity like Facebook only comes around once a decade. Facebook was a “super-unicorn” – a company worth more than $100 billion. While some of the recent valuations for Internet companies are a bit head-scratching, none of them are even close to those of Facebook, Twitter or even LinkedIn. That may be the big takeaway — that Facebook and Twitter were the last great Internet IPOs, and that the next wave of investor enthusiasm will appear in a completely different market, like 3D printing or wearable technology.