The Silicon Valley unicorn club—or companies worth at least $1 billion—tends to be filled with four types of companies.

  • Bros braking laws, yelling “DUDE!”, and improbably getting so much cash having proven so little that failure is almost a challenge for them.
  • Women who have busted their ass for years, finally painstakingly proven their businesses, and are belatedly getting a pile-on of cash.
  • Asian companies with jaw-dropping numbers, markets, and local cash.
  • Boring old SAAS companies that have the metrics to actually support the valuation.

Zipline, which just announced a $190 million round of funding at a $1.2 billion valuation, fits in none of those categories.

Zipline isn’t an overnight success, for one thing. And Zipline is a rare Silicon Valley tech company whose primary market isn’t the US. It delivers life-saving medical supplies to African nations via drones. Despite all the talk about tech “changing the world,” it’s increasingly looking like it’s given powerful folks tools to exploit a lot of the world.

“We’ve helped save thousands of lives,” says CEO Keller Rinaudo, who also announced his company has expanded from Rwanda to include Ghana. “And our hope is to help save millions more as we scale across the globe. You don’t have to exploit people’s personal information or hijack their attention to build a successful company. The right technology company with the right mission and the best team can help improve the lives of every person on the planet. We think the smartest engineers in the world should have the option to work on advanced technology in service of humanity. To solve global problems, we have to look outside our own experience and ask what kind of world do we want to live in?”

Strong words, but compassion doesn’t usually get a $1 billion price tag in libertarian “How do I get more people to do my bidding at the push of a button?” Silicon Valley.

But far more stunning than all of that are the roots of Zipline and the astounding left-for-dead pivot it survived to even get to this point. Zipline started life as Romotive, a cutesy app store robot for kids. And then it went through sheer hell. A full five years after raising its A round, left for dead by many of its investors, it finally raised a B. “There was a rough patch where people were questioning my sanity,” admitted Rinaudo in an interview I did with him back in 2016. I was certainly one of them.

I’ve covered tech companies for more than twenty years, including through two savage downturns. Zipline is one of the most improbable comebacks I’ve ever seen. I wrote more about this story on Pando today, if you want a dose of “it’s not all bros here” inspiration. A lot of what this technology is used for is saving mothers’ lives, and there are few other things to root for in my view.

Today’s new questions on Chairman Mom:

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