NCFAs innovation and funding ecosystem

Are you a Pig, Gazelle or Bear? Beyond Unicorns, Zoology of startups

Sifted | Maija Palmer | Aug 18, 2021

Zoology of startups pig bear gazelle - Are you a Pig, Gazelle or Bear?  Beyond Unicorns, Zoology of startups

We all know about unicorns, the term for a startup company with a valuation of more than $1bn which was first popularised by VC Aileen Lee in 2013.

But these days the ranks of unicorns are filling out — there’s now a herd of 672 of them globally — thanks to a glut of investor money. We’ve had to invent the ‘decacorn’ — a startup valued at more than $10bn — and the ‘hectocorn’ — valued at $100bn — to distinguish the standout successes.

See:  Forget Unicorns. Zebras are (more sustainable) and the future!

But there are other paths to success than VC-backed rapid growth, and not every startup even wants to be a unicorn. It’s worth taking a moment to consider some of the other animals in the startup menagerie:


Zebras, unlike unicorns, are focused more on generating profits than growth at all costs. They are also dual-purpose, both black and white, so they fuse social purpose with shareholder returns.


The rhino is a lot like the unicorn — both animals have horns after all. But rhino startups aim to be both big and profitable. In this Tech in Asia article, Nick Nash, cofounder and managing partner of Asia Partners, defines rhinos as companies that have a valuation of $1bn on a price-to-earnings multiple, not on a revenue multiple. Rhinos are actually far rarer than unicorns.


Pigs are startups that take advantage of the fact that it has become relatively cheap and easy to make a web product. You can get the development work done at a modest price and even raise some initial capital with a sexy kick-starter campaign.

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Pigs aren’t building the company for long-term world domination — they’re aiming to sell to a big corporate or a competitor at the right moment.


A bear is a solitary, awkward creature that values its independence and therefore doesn’t want to take VC money. The founders of these companies choose the bootstrapping route, which makes life harder for them. But if it pays off, they end up rich AND in control of their companies.


Recently, VCs have been talking more about camel startups. These are creatures that depend less on venture capital to survive. They may raise a few smaller rounds to get going, but can also survive for longer periods in the ‘desert’ of cash-strapped markets.


Cockroach companies aren’t glamorous, aspirational or exciting. But they are great at surviving. Dave McClure, founder of 500 Startups, is credited with coining the term in 2013 to describe resilient companies that optimise for sustainable, steady growth. Like its namesake, the term lived on to grow in the shadows, popped up here and there, and generally survived without making many headlines.

NCFA Jan 2018 resize - Are you a Pig, Gazelle or Bear?  Beyond Unicorns, Zoology of startups The National Crowdfunding & Fintech Association (NCFA Canada) is a financial innovation ecosystem that provides education, market intelligence, industry stewardship, networking and funding opportunities and services to thousands of community members and works closely with industry, government, partners and affiliates to create a vibrant and innovative fintech and funding industry in Canada. Decentralized and distributed, NCFA is engaged with global stakeholders and helps incubate projects and investment in fintech, alternative finance, crowdfunding, peer-to-peer finance, payments, digital assets and tokens, blockchain, cryptocurrency, regtech, and insurtech sectors. Join Canada's Fintech & Funding Community today FREE! Or become a contributing member and get perks. For more information, please visit:

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