The 48-Hour Rise — and Fall — of Tech’s Latest UniCorn

Last Friday, CB Insights’ daily newsletter broke the remarkable news of the tech industry’s latest billion-dollar startup, UniCorn AgriTech.

UniCorn AgriTech is a truly incredible story. A breakthrough Agtech technology that features revolutionary “speed growing” processes fused with “hyper-nutrition” biogenetics to create a hybrid, corn-like plant that potentially solves the world’s food supply challenges. Incubated by my fund, Jumpspeed Ventures. Collaboration with a leading university. Agreements with major governments. And to top it off a major PE firm investing $100m at a $1b pre-seed valuation for a company still shrouded in secrecy.

As the only person quoted in the piece, I received lots of inbound traffic over the weekend offering congratulations, or seeking more information, co-investment or partnership. It was just an incredible story.

As in… it was just — a — story.

I invest in software companies. I don’t know Thing One about AgTech. I have no idea if “speed growing” exists or what that could even mean. I don’t know anything about “nutrition biogenetics.”

To the best of my knowledge, I made those terms up.

There is no UniCorn AgriTech. And there never was.

CB Insights and I concocted the story, for April Fool’s.

CB Insights is one of my go-to VC newsletters and I love Anand’s writing style. I’d been in contact with him the week before April Fool’s just asking him, given his great sense of humor which often surfaces in his daily newsletter, if he’d be running an April Fool’s version.

Just as a fan, because I anticipated something good.

When he replied that they had thought about it but couldn’t think of something, I proposed the UniCorn AgriTech story and offered to “stand behind” it. We batted it back and forth a bit on Thursday night, looking for the right mix of “ridiculous but not too ridiculous” as Anand put it, and it went live on Friday.

For me this wasn’t a publicity stunt- I don’t thrive on publicity and in fact generally avoid it. I’ve done parodies from time to time when the inspiration strikes me — my friends and family know that I’m a bit of a prankster, and some of my (allegedly) humorous stuff has been published by the likes of PEHub as well as CNBC and Sports Illustrated (in all cases with their understanding that it was humor).

I just wanted to have some harmless April Fools fun — and maybe in the process, poke some fun at our collective obsession with the ridiculously arbitrary “billion dollar valuation unicorn” as an idea, or ideal. Kudos to CB Insights for jumping on board.

The April 1 newsletter went out on Friday afternoon. I didn’t anticipate too many people would take it seriously given the silliness and the date, and I figure most people who saw it immediately understood that “UniCorn AgriTech,” with its speed-growing nutrient-rich hybrid corn and freshly-minted $1B valuation, was a n April Fool’s joke. The notion of hybrid corn growing faster than bamboo, feeding the world and raising $100m at $1B out of the gate is patently preposterous (though I guess “reasonably preposterous” to some).

Hopefully it brought a smile to some peoples’ faces, which is all I wanted.

But plenty of people “bought it” hook line and sinker. I got a flurry of congratulatory messages over the weekend (I’m still getting them as I write this). A couple of investors I know wrote to me, seeking a co-investment opportunity in UniCorn, or frustrated that they hadn’t heard anything about it or that I hadn’t given them the opportunity to co-invest, as I often do with my other portfolio companies. I noticed sharp spikes in my LinkedIn and Twitter follows. UniCorn AgriTech’s hours-old “website” got a number of partnership inquires from Mexico, Spain and Africa within hours of the newsletter’s release.

I’ll send out a few emails to these folks later today. I hope everyone appreciates that it was all in good fun.

Now back to work.

@BeninJLM. Rare Medium posts, hopefully well done.

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