Growth 101: Unicorn vs. Zebra…or can you be both?

 According to Fortune, only 1 in 10 startups will make it through their first two years. Why is that?

Because the “unicorn” model of business focuses on wild success and “magical thinking.” Some of the luckiest founders may get rich and their offerings may create entirely new frames of reference for how we do business. But why do most startups fail to mature?

Beforing moving, let’s dig deeper.

I’ve sat through enough startup strategy sessions to know that the problem isn’t only a question of sustainability…but culture. The “unicorn” mindset fosters competition and innovation, but recent high-profile cases like Uber and Google have shown that if you peel back the layers of startup culture, you’ll often find a toxic world underneath. Why? Because Entrprenuers or Enterprise Executives leading the disruption, are so focused on the “task at hand” that they inadvertently forget about effectively communicating their vision, goal and team member roles & key objectives to their people.

So what’s the solution? According to Brandel & Zepeda, it’s the “Zebra” culture. To quote them:

“Why zebras?

  • To state the obvious: unlike unicorns, zebras are real.
  • Zebra companies are both black and white: they are profitable and improve society. They won’t sacrifice one for the other.
  • Zebras are also mutualistic: by banding together in groups, they protect and preserve one another. Their individual input results in stronger collective output.
  • Zebra companies are built with peerless stamina and capital efficiency, as long as conditions allow them to survive.

zebra or unicorn

While they bring up great points, my Millennial Mindset begs to ask the question: Why does a company have to be one or the other? Is it possible to be a blend of both?

What if a zebra were to hire a Unicorn? Would the Unicorn ultimately conform, leave the tribe or successfully inspire transformation through his/her “magical thinking” ultimately leaving the company with higher rates of growth thus increasing the startup survival rates?

If you have some insights, we’d love to hear them. Start a conversation by posting a comment below!

Joy & Coffee,


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