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?
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
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.