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Call Them Castrated Horses, Not Unicorns, Says Martha Stewart Living CEO

How about "geldings?"

Greg Westfall / Flickr

When a startup reaches a billion-dollar valuation in Silicon Valley, it is called a unicorn — a marketing-friendly term that connotes something magical and rare, a kind of twee flightiness counterbalanced by the fact that startups (mostly) exist for the sole purpose of making money.

Daniel Dienst, CEO of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (MSLO, for short), emailed Re/code with his own upgraded term for such companies. He says they should be called “geldings.” But what is a gelding? Great question! It’s a castrated horse or other equine such as a donkey or a mule.

In some ways, this designation is a lot better than unicorn. By definition, castrated livestock can’t reproduce, so geldings tend to be more passive, which makes them better “everyday working animals.” Some lower-key unicorn startups — like cloud services provider Okta, credit-checker CreditKarma, technical training-focused Pluralsight — definitely qualify as geldings; they’re not nearly as flashy, but still worth a billion or two all the same.

Dienst, who was brought in to right the ship at Martha Stewart’s flailing media company in late 2013, is himself an unconventional figure. A Bloomberg profile from January 2014 observed that he had been a “rising star in scrap metal recycling” before taking the helm at MSLO, best known for turning crappy companies into profitable ones.

Or as he puts it, “I’m no Bill Gurley or Fred Wilson, but have castrated a few bubbly animals in my day.” Maybe he’s on to something — MSLO’s stock has risen by over 50 percent since the start of 2015.

Here’s the note he sent:

I know there is a lot of debate as to who coined the term “unicorn,” but as valuations roll over in your world and the venture market becomes “more selective” (ominous words), please be aware I have coined a new term: “Geldings” instead of “unicorns.”

You have heard this here first, and please give credit when you blog/write/post — I don’t want to read about it on Re/code without proper credit — lol! A variant on this might also be “Proud Cut Gelding” – a castrated animal (unicorn) that retains some of its hormonal, growth breeding properties, although like a unicorn, there is really no such thing in the world of science.

Definition For Those Who May Be Agriculturally Challenged: A gelding is a castrated horse or other equine such as a donkey or a mule (or unicorn). Castration, and the elimination of hormonally driven behavior associated with a stallion, allows a horse to be calmer and better-behaved, making the animal less aggressive, more passive in the herd and potentially more suitable as an everyday working animal but not for breeding or growing a herd and thus, less valuable.

I’m no Bill Gurley or Fred Wilson but have castrated a few bubbly animals in my day …

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