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What led to these unicorns facing valuation woes even in 2024

What led to these unicorn startups facing valuation woes even in 2024
Image credit: DepositPhotos/Nimur

The global startup scene, once a picture of explosive growth and seemingly limitless potential, is facing a harsh reality check since last year. Fueled by a confluence of factors – surging investor interest, a pandemic-driven shift to digital solutions, and a willingness to gamble on disruptive technologies – startup valuations skyrocketed in recent years.

However, the tide has begun to turn. Rising interest rates, a global economic slowdown, and industry-specific challenges have led to a significant correction in valuations for several high-profile international startups.

Just a while back, we wrote a feature on why Byju’s valuation down to 99%. However, this article talks about those startups whose fortunes have taken a dramatic turn in 2023-24, the reasons behind their valuation declines and the potential impact on the broader startup ecosystem.

The short story of Arrival

Arrival burst onto the scene in 2016 with a revolutionary proposition: lightweight, 3D-printed electric vehicle (EV) chassis designed to disrupt the traditional car manufacturing process. The company, founded by former Deputy CTO of Skype, Mike Abramsohn, secured early backing from prominent investors like BlackRock and Hyundai, propelling its valuation to a staggering $11 billion in 2021. However, in 2024, Arrival’s story has become a cautionary tale. 

A report from TechCrunch stated back in January that, “The company is now worth closer to $20 million, at least before Nasdaq announced the delisting.” This dramatic decline is attributed to a series of setbacks that have shaken investor confidence.

  • Production delays and missed deadlines: Arrival has struggled to translate its ambitious vision into reality. The company has repeatedly missed deadlines for the production of its first commercial vehicles. These delays are reportedly linked to technical hurdles in scaling up the complex 3D-printing technology and integrating it with traditional manufacturing processes.
  • Uncertain scalability of 3D-printing technology: While 3D-printing offers potential advantages in terms of customization and lightweight design, its scalability for high-volume EV production remains unproven. Investors have grown wary of Arrival’s ability to overcome these technical challenges and achieve its ambitious production targets.
  • Broader correction in the EV sector: The overall EV sector has undergone a correction in 2024, with investor enthusiasm dampened by rising battery material costs and a more cautious market outlook. This broader market trend has further pressured Arrival’s valuation.

Arrival’s struggles raise questions about the feasibility of its ambitious production methods and highlight the inherent risks associated with high-growth startups in a competitive market.

What is happening to BYJU’S 

BYJU’S, the Indian online education leader, rose to prominence by capitalising on the surge in demand for online learning platforms during the pandemic. The company, founded by Byju Raveendran in 2011, aggressively acquired smaller players like Meritnation and WhiteHat Jr., establishing itself as the dominant force in the Indian edtech space. Fueled by investor confidence, BYJU’S valuation reached a peak of $22 billion in 2021. However, with 2024 came a stark contrast.  An Inc42 report in January 2024 stated that BYJU’S valuation was slashed to $1. billion during a recent funding round.

  • Increased regulatory scrutiny: The Indian government has cast a wary eye on the edtech sector in recent times. Concerns about predatory pricing practices and the quality of education offered by some online platforms have intensified. This regulatory uncertainty has made investors hesitant about the long-term sustainability of the edtech business model in India.
  • Profitability concerns: While BYJU’S boasts a large user base, it reportedly struggles to convert a significant portion of its free users into paying subscribers. Furthermore, the company’s aggressive acquisition strategy has resulted in a significant debt burden, further pressuring its financial health. Investors are demanding a clearer path to profitability from BYJU’S as the initial growth euphoria subsides.
  • Shifting market landscape: The edtech sector itself is undergoing a period of maturation. The initial wave of pandemic-driven online learning adoption may be plateauing, leading to questions about BYJU’S ability to sustain its user growth and maintain its market share.

As the edtech sector matures, BYJU’S will need to take these challenges effectively to regain investors’ confidence and maintain its dominant position. Everyone knows the viral video of mass firing, the US-based online mortgage lender, serves as a cautionary tale for startups facing a shifting market landscape. In 2021, enjoyed a sky-high valuation of $7.7 billion. However, a TechCrunch report last year mentioned a quote by Phil Haslett, co-founder and chief strategy officer of EquityZen, stating, “Senior leadership at (and its investors) are not surprised the stock is ‘down’ 90%.” 

This significant drop is primarily attributed to a confluence of factors:

  • Rising interest rates: The US Federal Reserve’s decision to raise interest rates in 2023 significantly dampened the US housing market. This decline in mortgage origination volume directly impacted’s core business.
  • Internal challenges: also faced internal challenges related to rapid growth. Aggressive hiring sprees followed by large-scale layoffs in late 2021 tarnished the company’s image and led to a decline in employee morale. Additionally, questions arose regarding the company’s leadership decisions, further eroding investor confidence.’s story highlights the importance of adaptability and resilience for startups navigating an uncertain economic environment. The company needs to demonstrate its ability to adjust its business model and cost structure to survive in a rising interest rate environment.

What we think of it

The valuation woes of these international startups serve as a cautionary tale for the broader startup ecosystem.  While innovation and disruption remain vital for growth, a focus on sound business fundamentals and adaptability in a changing economic landscape is paramount. Investors are likely to become more discerning, prioritising companies with clear paths to profitability and sustainable growth models. The coming months will be crucial for these startups as they navigate the current downturn and demonstrate their ability to weather the storm and emerge stronger.

We have explored a limited selection of startups facing valuation declines. It’s important to note that the broader startup landscape remains dynamic, with new challenges and opportunities emerging constantly. As the global economic situation evolves, it will be interesting to see how these and other startups adapt and innovate to maneuver the uncertain road ahead.

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