(Expansion) – Today every entrepreneur wants to become the next unicorn, which can put a lot of pressure by setting expectations too high. Ultimately, people are setting themselves up for failure due to the fact that there are so many factors and variables out of their control.
Depending on its focus and results, each undertaking may receive a denomination identified with an animal name, whether real or mythological. Depending on the circumstances, today we can find from “cockroach” companies, to “dragon”, “donkey” or “dinosaur” companies, passing through a wide fauna.
But what is most talked about in the aspirational world is unicorns, that level that most entrepreneurs dream of achieving. The problem is that such a category can remain, precisely, in a dream. That is why today there is more and more talk of zebras, which are companies that are founded on values that allow them to create long-term solutions that are sustainable and financially sound. Its reason for being is to solve problems detected in communities or ecosystems, in addition to having profits.
The birth of the unicorn category, in 2013, created a new paradigm and a model to be followed by entrepreneurs around the world. Its name is due to the fact that, according to Aileen Lee, creator of the concept, it was practically impossible for a company to reach a value of 1,000 million dollars, in addition to surviving the first two years of life. The thing is, startups that try to become unicorn companies often die quickly, and only a small number make it.
Four years after the popularization of this trend, Aniyia Williams, entrepreneur and investor, and a group of entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley, started a new paradigm: that of the zebras; companies that arise by observing market trends and adapting to consumer demands. Why zebras? Because being neither totally black nor totally white, they have high growth potential.
What does this translate to? In that they do not focus only on being profitable or on setting unrealistic goals that no one will be able to support financially. They are for-profit, but also have a cause: they seek to improve the world by working because their goals make things better than they found them. That is why it is necessary to do things differently, think and feel differently.
While the gig economy grew rapidly throughout the pandemic (and the trend continues), the pace of venture capital investment has slowed from 2020 onwards and has failed to reach previous levels. This may imply that we begin to see the disappearance of the mythical unicorn to give way to a real being: the zebras.
Why? Because this type of company is characterized by doing real business, without trying to disrupt current markets, achieving profitability and demonstrating it for a while, and helping to solve a problem in society. They focus on alleviating social, environmental or medical problems, while taking care of their own profitability.
Some of the reasons why entrepreneurs should stop aspiring to be unicorns and start nurturing their zebra potential include the following:
Social or environmental purpose at their core that gives them more value than the price attached to it and they are best placed to ride the wave of green startup opportunity that is emerging this decade.
Another reason is that a zebra cares not only about its environment, but also about its employees, suppliers, and all of its stakeholders, including its funding sources.
On the other hand, while unicorns are subject to the whims of the investor, zebra company structures take on a cooperative profile and become a vehicle for creating happy, fulfilling and dynamic workplaces where employees thrive and in which complex decisions are made at lightning speed, since their system is alien to the hierarchies of the control machines of twentieth-century companies.
But what is most interesting is that zebras resist economic crises (which are likely to increase in frequency and intensity in the 21st century, as we face global challenges). A herd of zebras in an ecosystem share resources and have both competition and collaboration etched into their DNA, which means that as a group they are highly resilient to economic shocks and able to quickly adapt to changing and chaotic business circumstances.
The zebras are the beginning of a new business world that places financial wealth on the same level as natural, human and social wealth; they care for all stakeholders, including nature, and come closest to the wealth generated through holistic human well-being.
Editor’s note: Pedro López Sela is Team Principal of ExO Builder, the most diverse global ecosystem of technological entrepreneurship in the world. He has co-founded 10+ companies and trained 5,000+ people in almost all sectors in Africa, America, Asia, Europe and Oceania. He is a globally recognized innovation, business, and entrepreneurship author. As an international speaker, he has shared stages with Peter Diamandis, Bob Dorf, Salim Ismail, Jeff Hoffman, to name a few. Follow him on and on . The opinions in this column belong exclusively to the author.