The rise of the Zebra

We didn't intend to build a Zebra, but that is happening.

Go to the profile of Charles Thiede
Mar 21, 2017
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Unicorns, cockroaches and now zebras!

Growing tech firms seem to be categorised as a new species every few months. So is Zapnito a unicorn, cockroach or zebra?

A story:

One sunny day last year (or was it the previous year?), I got grilled by a Venture Capitalist partner in EC1. He asked in his most ‘as a VC, I am so amazing’ voice: "Why are you not disrupting the media industry? We like companies that disrupt industries, not try to help them!"

"Everyone is trying to disrupt media", I suggested. "We are different." Fake News, cat videos and the giant ad servers of Facebook and Google are already attempting disruption. Why go with the grain?

He didn't get it. Because we weren’t disrupting media, we weren't a ‘tech unicorn’. Not in his eyes. And that was fine with me. I closed my laptop and went back to building a business.

Why we are not a unicorn

We never wanted to be a unicorn. By their very nature, they don't exist. Even TechCrunch, the quasi unicorn-makers, say that many such firms are way overvalued. And as a backlash to this, a new species of tech firm has emerged: the cockroach.

“A cockroach... is a business that builds slowly and steadily from the get-go, keeping a close eye on revenues and profits. Spending is kept in check so that it can weather any funding storm.”

From the outset, we were always closer to a being a cockroach than a unicorn, because we were building a business that could survive on its own, without the VC funding that is a unicorn’s lifeblood.

Why we are not a cockroach

However, the problem with this (for us), is that the cockroach can be seen to do whatever it takes just to survive. Cockroaches are thriving, but do they have a mission, a purpose besides survival?

At Zapnito, we are very clear that we do have a mission… so luckily, Jon, my cofounder, just sent me this article about zebras!

“Zebra companies [are] profitable businesses that solve real, meaningful problems and in the process repair existing [social] systems.”

While this certainly resonates more than the unicorn or cockroach analogies, this is surely just another category that doesn't need to exist. Does it really matter whether we are a unicorn, cockroach or zebra? We are just Zapnito. A new platform for the knowledge economy.

That said, there is much about the description of a zebra firm that is attractive. Profitable sustainability. Win-wins for us and our customers and our wider industry. Customer success people and not just engineers. Quality over quantity. All of this rings true for how we run Zapnito.

Figure 1: How a zebra company compares with its mythical cousin, the unicorn

Source: Zebra companies offer an alternative to the unicorn fantasy

What matters though is not whether we are a new category of business. Indeed, maybe we will see the exponential ‘hockey stick’ growth that characterises unicorns! But if we do, it will be because we created a business first and the buzz came along as a result.

Go to the profile of Charles Thiede

Charles Thiede

CEO & Co-Founder, Zapnito

My background is in technology, professional services and digital media. I co-founded Zapnito due to a number of related observations from my time in these sectors: 1) the social web is creating a huge amount of noise 2) expertise that brands have built up over decades is being drowned out and hidden from those that need it 3) these brands are therefore losing their audience to often undeserving and unhelpful sources, and 4) people are finding it harder to access the expertise that they truly value. I therefore decided to create Zapnito, a white-label platform to help trusted brands reclaim their audiences via expert-driven knowledge networks.

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