Zebras vs. Unicorns

Peter Thiel’s exhortation that, “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters,” is just one articulation of a frustration that startup culture, particularly in Silicon Valley, is too focused on the mundane. To paraphrase others, founders seem focused on starting companies that provide services their mothers no longer provide them. Think laundry, groceries or a ride to the airport.

Wouldn’t we rather the best minds of our generation solve the biggest problems in society?

This Quartz column calls for founders to strive not to become unicorns, but rather zebras. Zebra companies make profitable, sustainable products and services that benefit the social good. Why the “zebra” as a symbol for this new kind of startup? I’ll let them explain:

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.

Today, I signed up to attend Dazzlecon in October, to support a movement to create more zebras. Hopefully, I can make it; October tends to be a busy travel month. But I’d really like to get in on the ground floor and see this takeoff.

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