Right now, the U.S. economy is at a critical inflection point. With inflation still four times higher than the Fed’s 2% target and stock prices plummeting, many experts warn that we could be on the verge of another recession.
Times like this highlight the critical importance of diversification. With the S&P 500 down more than 15% year-to-date, many investors who only hold publicly-traded stocks are already feeling the pain.
On the flip side, alternative assets—like startups, real estate, and more—can be some of the best investment options during market pullbacks (here’s why).
The proof is in the pudding: many of the world’s largest companies today came from previous recessions. Here are 10 ultra-famous unicorns that were born during recessions… and have grown as much as 100,000X* since their earliest investors got in.
* Refers to Microsoft, as detailed below
1 | Microsoft (1975)
This software behemoth, founded during the 1975 oil embargo recession, needs no introduction. The company was started by childhood friends Bill Gates and Paul Allen, and only took outside investment once—a $1 million investment by venture capital firm TVI. At the time, Microsoft was valued at just $20 million; today, it sits at a market cap of nearly $2 trillion, making it the third-largest company in the world (NASDAQ:MSFT).
2 | Electronic Arts (1982)
Electronic Arts (EA) is a video game developer and manufacturer famous for titles like The Sims, Madden NFL, FIFA, and Battlefield. The company was founded in 1982, during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. EA went on to raise roughly $2 million from prominent VC funds (including Sequoia Capital) later that year. It’s now worth over $38 billion (NASDAQ:EA).
3 | iRobot (1990)
iRobot is best known for the Roomba—but its catalog of contributions include everything from autonomous pool cleaners to tech used in NASA’s Mars Sojourner rover. The Massachusetts-based company was founded during the early 1990s recession, thought to be caused by restrictive monetary policies implemented to fight inflation (sound familiar?). By the time it went public in 2005, iRobot was worth $115 million; today, that number is upwards of $1.25 billion (NASDAQ:IRBT).
4 | Airbnb (2008)
Founded at the start of the Great Recession, Airbnb is one of the most famous examples on this list; after all, the idea behind the company came from founders who needed a little extra cash during a downturn. The company was ahead of its time; seven different investors turned down CEO Brian Chesky’s pitch for seed funding back in 2008. Sequoia Capital bought 585 million shares in the company for roughly a penny each in 2009; when Airbnb went public in 2020, those shares were worth $145 apiece (NASDAQ:ABNB).
5 | Slack (2009)
Slack, the enterprise messaging app used by 77% of Fortune 100 companies, was founded in 2009, right in the thick of the Great Recession. Despite challenging market conditions, it quickly became the fastest-growing startup in the world, reaching a $1 billion valuation just 8 months after it pivoted from a gaming company to a productivity software company. When Slack went public in 2019, its Series A investors (Andreessen Horowitz and Accel) were sitting on 370X gains.
6 | WhatsApp (2009)
WhatsApp, the multimedia messaging app with end-to-end encryption built in, was founded by two ex-Yahoo employees in 2009. Five of their former colleagues invested $250,000 total into the company in 2010; just four years later, WhatsApp was acquired by Facebook (now Meta) in a record-breaking $19 billion deal. Today, WhatsApp boasts roughly 2 billion active users, making it the most used mobile messaging app on the planet.
7 | Square (2009)
Square is a digital payments company that was founded in 2009, at the height of the Great Recession. The idea behind the business was simple: to allow anyone to accept credit card payments, on the spot, without having to pay excessive merchant fees. Its 2009 Series A raise valued the company at $40 million. On IPO day, it was worth $2.9 billion—representing a 40.6X return for its early investors.
8 | Uber (2009)
It’s hard to remember life before Uber... But back in its early days, the ridesharing company faced rejection after rejection from investors, including Mark Cuban—who reportedly turned down the opportunity to buy a 5% stake in the company for just $200,000 back in 2010. That 5% would have been worth $2.25 billion today—an 11,250X jump (NYSE:UBER).
9 | Instagram (2010)
The #1 photo-sharing app in the world first launched in 2010, at the tail end of the Great Recession. Three months later, the app had surpassed 1 million users—a massive benchmark that propelled Instagram to stardom virtually overnight. Andreessen Horowitz was one of the app’s first investors; when it was acquired for $1.1 billion in 2012, the firm cashed out with $78 million—a 312X multiple in just two years.
10 | Pinterest (2010)
Pinterest is a virtual pinboard that lets users share and discover everything from photos to recipes to products and more. Its seed round in December 2010 valued the company at just $5.8 million—but when it debuted on the public markets in 2019, it was already worth $10 billion (a 1,724X gain).
Each of these companies managed to demonstrate incredible growth during times of economic hardship. It sounds surprising at first—but in fact, for some companies, recessions may actually help them succeed.
We’ll dig into exactly why that is in our next piece. Until then, check out all the offerings currently live on Republic. After all, there’s no telling where the next recession-born unicorn will come from.
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