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Today’s startups are in a frantic race to raise the next bigger, better round of capital. Attracting investors with millions in their pockets, these startups grow on accelerated time and spend significant sums of money to evolve into unicorns.

But is there another way to grow companies without raising enormous amounts of equity?

Enter the zebra.

A term first published by Jennifer Brandel, Mara Zepeda, Astrid Scholz and Aniyia Williams, titled “Zebras Fix What Unicorns Break”, they criticize unicorns for causing societal harm through their rapid growth strategies. To counteract the negative effects of unicorns, the authors introduced the concept of zebra startups.

We investigate the rise of the new animal at the high-tech zoo and the three guiding principles to grow your green zebra.

What Is A Zebra Startup?

A term created by Zebra Unite in 2017, zebra startups are the founder-driven alternative to growing a unicorn. Being both ‘black and white’, these companies are characterized by alleviating social, environmental or medical challenges while also tending to their own profitability; they are for profit and for a cause.

Instead of disrupting their way to market dominance, Zebras prioritize profitability, focusing on equitable ownership and building sustainable businesses. Zebra startups seek to create a positive social impact, for example by providing solutions for underserved markets or prioritizing employee happiness.

“We believe that developing alternative business models to the startup status quo has become a central moral challenge of our time. These alternative models will balance profit and purpose, champion democracy, and put a premium on sharing power and resources”, Jennifer, Mara, Astrid & Aniyia, ‘Zebras Fix What Unicorns Break’.

Fuelled by the current CleanTech boom, the next generation of Zebra startups also operate on ESG principles (environmental, social and governance). Being ethical, considerate and more sustainable, the new wave of green zebras show investors that sustainability goes hand in hand with an unmissable commercial opportunity. Electric air-taxi company Lilium and Berlin’s vertical farming veterans InFarm, have been able to demonstrate this opportunity to investors.

zebra startup

How To Get Your Green Stripes

  1. Know your why

The first step for founders aiming to build a zebra startup is to know why they want to start a company. Are you looking to seek exceptional growth and fame? Or are you looking to contribute to society and make a sustainable profit?

If your ‘whys’ mirror the latter, following green zebra principles is the right business model for you.

  1. Build your team

In an ideal world, a zebra stratup will have three leaders; a Chief Technology Officer responsible for the product, a Chief Marketing And Sales Officer to secure a loyal customer base and a Chief Executive Officer to oversee the finances and investments. These three leadership roles have complementary skillsets that allow the core business functions to be performed.

Experience of the market you want to enter by at least one leader is incredibly important to understand the pain point you’re trying to solve, as well as all being driven by the same “why” to guide business decisions as you launch and grow.

zebra startup

  1. Execute your idea

Your business idea should be built from a vision of what the world will look like in 20 years’, and your mission should be defined by how you want your company to contribute.

Executing your idea is just as important as the idea itself, as how you choose to bring your idea to life will directly impact whether your company is a success. There have been many innovative ideas that have never taken off due to poor execution into the market.

Just like zebras, your startup needs to be lean to overcome failure, a method that focuses on speed rather than cost. For example, instead of creating the perfect product before going to market, start by making a minimum viable product (MVP) as simple as a mock-up product. Use feedback via data analysis and customer experience to create the perfect solution.

The world that unicorn companies are seeking to create is not necessarily one that we want to inhabit. And with the climate crisis defining our generation today, it’s time for investors to give zebra startups the attention they deserve.

If you are founding your green zebra startup and are looking to build your C-Suite team, get in touch. Our Consultants can connect you with the very best senior talent in the market, with the skills, experience and mission to be a part of a startup that is accelerating a green future.

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