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

Proptech For Good | June 2020

Zebra - Forget Unicorns. Zebras are (more sustainable) and the future!Business-as-usual is no longer adequate for the challenges of the 21st century. Capitalism is beginning to lose its 'licence to operate' and the Unicorn mindset of 'Move fast and break things' is about to break. Purpose-driven companies today will play a key role in achieving ambitious sustainable development goals. That is why it is time to welcome a new animal to the PropTech zoo, the Zebra.

Taking responsibility for the future

Over-ambitious tech start-ups that paint convincing images of growth do not always translate into business success. The most powerful illustration of this was Wework's planned IPO in September 2019. The $47 billion valuation had already been widely questioned and by the time the IPO was officially withdrawn, the value had fallen by more than $30 billion in just a few days. Since the collapse of WeWork, investors have become more cautious about investing in 'hyped' Proptech startups and scale-ups. The era of 'Move fast and break things' is over.

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More and more entrepreneurs and (their) employees find the current way of doing business (focused on hyper growth and move fast and break things) not future-proof. They don't want to continue on the track of individualism, competition and the extraction of value. Customers, employees and even investors are increasingly urging companies to reconsider their view of the world and take a closer look at their place in it. Changing societal values, climate change, depletion of natural resources, and economic and political instability are beginning to call into question long-held beliefs - including the idea that growth is acceptable at any cost.

Capitalism and animal extinction

Capitalism is in the middle of the autumn of its existence. And by capitalism I mean a group of legal entities with the aim of competing for resources and 'profit maximization' for the shareholders. Capitalism is based on financial capital. However, there is also social and ecological capital. Changing social values and people's pressure force companies to reconsider their focus on a narrow definition of growth.

"It's time for a new capitalism - a more fair, equal and sustainable capitalism that actually works for everyone and where businesses, including tech companies, don't just take from society but truly give back and have a positive impact" - Marc Benioff, CEO Salesforce. Source: NYTimes, 14 October 2019.

The Business Roundtable, (an influential association of nearly 200 CEOs of North America's leading companies), redefined a company's mission (from shareholders to stakeholders focus) in 2019, marking an important turning point. Blackrock, the world's largest hedge fund, has also recently made a number of additional strides into the sustainable pouch. In the future, they will only invest in purpose-driven organisations and will put sustainability at the heart of how they invest.

These developments also include new words and storylines. Shouldn't we also look for an alternative to the Unicorn? Because if we carry on like this, all the animals will die out.

Zebras are welcome at PropTech zoo

Today I am planning the seed for a solution and I want to encourage PropTech founders, investors, real estate companies and their stakeholders to organise themselves. This movement requires a new symbol, so we claim a new animal for the PropTech zoo: the zebra. The zebra company is not really new, but it is new to the PropTech storylines we are going to develop. In 2019, others started communicating about zebra companies in the New York Times, Harvard Business Review, PC Magazine, The New Yorker and others.

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What is a zebra company? A zebra company is a company whose business model is aimed at realizing a social goal with as a result the creation of profit. Zebra companies are characterized by sustainable progress and development, not aimed at disrupting current markets, exponential growth and striving for its rapid exit. Zebra companies work together to create shared value and are not in the position of winners and losers and more, more, more. Unlike inflated unicorns, zebras are real animals.

Zebras versus unicorns - Forget Unicorns. Zebras are (more sustainable) and the future!

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