*Startup Culture Update* :: Unicorns Are Out. Zebras are in. Here’s Why.

 Articulating the passion, purpose and vision behind your business idea can take time. Months, years, or even a lifetime. So when someone else hits the nail on the head with perfect eloquence it can be frustrating.

The article: Zebra companies offer an alternative to the unicorn fantasy inspired such a feeling.

Then immediately: ‘Halleluyah!‘

When someone else has the resources & network to spread the message far & wide, the most challenging task is complete.

Your only job remains to join the conversation and debate with your own unique point of view. Eureka.

Thank you guys; I owe you one.

Zebras, unlike Unicorns, are real. They represent the sustainability and interconnectedness of profit and impact. These two goals are:

 

  • Critical to the health, longevity & evolution of any idea.
  • Critical for our humanity to not only survive but also t h r i v e.

 

Yet different goals seem to drive our startup culture for the most part.

Hoping for a swift exit and a life sipping martinis, many founders end up disillusioned. Often because their driving force is superficial rather than a soul-deep impulse for change. In their inner world and outer one.

Stories of the classic ‘Unicorns’ like Facebook, Uber and Airbnb lured many to the startup playground only to end up in the startup graveyard.

Seeking fame and fortune, either they themselves or their business came undone. Fast, too. Most within 18 months.

Bloomberg and Forbes have long quoted that 80-90% of startups fail. But only recently has this been a catalyst to shift the way we launch and grow our businesses in a radical way.

And now the ideas I expressed in my 2013 manifesto are gaining traction:

We want to create, build and grow our lives, businesses, products and services in a world that we care about.

 

We care about people. Community. Environment. Sustainability. And we’re taking it all on our personal quest for greater meaning and purpose behind what we do.

 

We’re placing greater emphasis on the why and the how. Suddenly, the meaning behind the products and services we offer is important to us.

Products and services are not just something we buy and use; they change the way we live.

They change the way we shop, communicate, play, entertain ourselves, do our banking and find a job.

They change our culture.

And with that comes such an enormous responsibility that if you were to really percolate on that idea for even a few minutes it  would b l o w your mind.

Just take a look at Uber and how it has driven many cab drivers and mini cab companies out of business, their livelihood gobbled up by the ‘sharing economy’ sink hole.

Just look at Airbnb and how they have affected hotel profits and introduced a new bracket of income taxes; changed the renting and subletting culture around the world, and inviting many to go ‘under the table’ with cash to avoid cleaning & service fees.

Just look at Facebook and how people are exposing themselves to global critique and giving up a very intimate layer of their privacy.

So as we’ve begun to navigate the uncertain terrain of entrepreneurship, our actions, words and offers have begun to shape, challenge, and confront our humanity.

And not always in positive ways.

We have so much power at our fingertips and — I re-iterate — this comes with a great responsibility; a responsibility to dig deep into our humanity:

As communities grow, they harness the power of the crowd to deliver sustainable change. What at first is a ‘fun’ engagement with other like-minded people becomes a way to be a better consumer, and a better human.

 

But all these companies are really doing is tapping into the fundamental human desire to do the right thing.

 

The desire to ‘do the right thing’ extends to enabling others to achieve their own goals and define their own metrics for success.

The idea of doing the right thing itself is dependent on culture, politics, economics etc al, but…

… now that startup culture is wading into this territory I hope to see more and more companies addressing the greater impact of their products in the world around them, not just for their direct customers, but in how it shapes the way be live for the better as a global community.

Already critical thinkers in our community are exploring how our products, communications and marketing affect us:

  • Listen to Krista Tippet and Anil Dash discuss this on Tech’s Moral Reckoning podcast.
  • Hear Danielle LaPorte’s view on throwing hundreds of thousands of dollars into Facebook ads just to be able to ‘play’ the algorithm game (among other things) on the Jess Lively show.
  • Download Soulful MBA’s brief podcast episode called Substance that spotlight our focus on things that don’t matter at the expense of things that do.

While I continue to explore what the Zebra paradigm means for my life and work, I hope to see many of you on the path along side me while we learn how to better combine a thriving life for ourselves with ways to leave the world a little better thank we found it.

The cherry on the icing on the cake can only be business as a platform for personal freedom and global sovereignty.

Cheers to that.

 

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Image: Jeffrey Lemond