Unicorns Are Out, Zebras Are in Updated for 2024

Unicorns are out, zebras are in by Tony de Bree

Updated: May 26, 2024


Investments are shifting from promise-based to revenue-based, to companies that focus on customers and the environment. For a long time, ‘being big’ and ‘getting bigger’ were the norm in both corporate venturing and private investing in startups and scale-ups.

Since the WeWork debacle and the start of the Covid-19 crisis, that is definitely over in many countries. Unicorns are out, investing in ‘zebras’ is in.

But what are ‘Zebras actually?

The new world of Zebras

Zebras are people-led companies that are content to make a reasonable profit and want to make a positive impact on people and their environment

In recent years I have come across quite a few examples of such companies in different sectors. Zebras are generally founded by women and men with a high E.Q. who do not exhibit ‘Bokito-behavior’, who want to make a reasonable profit from their business, and who above all want to make a difference for a certain group of customers with a positive impact.

They don’t want to become ‘the biggest’. Moreover, they are very picky in their choice of the form of external financing and the profile of the persons involved.

There must be a match between common values ​​and norms, otherwise the external financing will not take place. The reason is simple: Zebra founders and CEOs don’t want to be forced to go for extreme growth for the benefit of shareholders and outside investors, but at the expense of customers and the environment as is the case in traditonal entrepreneurial financing and venturing practices. 

People-focused, not money focused

Ricardo Semler, the well-known, highly successful management guru, entrepreneur and business philosopher, has rightly stated already a long time ago that “to grow bigger bigger’ is not much of an effective business strategy at all’ so why do we still teach that in traditional business schools and universities and Governments and many large financial institutions see that as the ultimate measurement for succes?

Twenty years ago I already learned from a number of very experienced colleagues at ABN Amro that you have to look at the people if you want to have a clear idea about the feasability of a certain business. At the person, the team, their unique ecosystem, their solutions and fast paying customers.

I still do when assessing business plans, as offline and online Dragon and when I help students to prepare a business plan with their own hybrid revenue model and their own virtual organisation. The emphasis is always on revenue-based financing, on limiting external financing as much as possible, on zebras and above all on people that are values-based driven instead of value-based. 

Contact me today.

If you have any question or request on how you can select the best startups & scaleups,  please do not hesitate to call me on Skype on tony.de.bree, on 0031634387806 or email me here.

Kind regards,
Tony de Bree

Let’s connect on LinkedIn.

About the Author: tonydebree

Tony de Bree worked in Financial Services including in corporate venturing and e-commerce for 26 years and he made the transition from banker to entrepreneur working from home and making money online with his own "online plan b" with digital products as side-hustles in 2000 and as hybrid business owner since 2011. Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, he helps corporates, small business owners, startups & scaleups to define and implement the best digital survival strategy and he helps managers and employees to become a successful entrepreneur with a personal digital-right skilling plan.

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