In October 2015, Jennifer Brandel (CEO & Co-founder, Hearken) and Mara Zepeda (CEO & Co-founder, Switchboard) reunited at Social Capital Markets (SOCAP) in San Francisco. Friends for years, we shared a parallel path as former public radio reporters who went on to start technology companies not to get rich, but to solve a problem we could no longer ignore. We met up at a Fort Mason dock, took off our uncomfortable shoes, and started trading war stories about the challenge of funding our startups. Both Hearken (which works with newsrooms) and Switchboard (which works in education) exist in a financing purgatory: social impact investors don't work in our space, and venture capitalists won't fund companies that can't promise 10x returns. We'd created for profit companies with purpose and then discovered this type of company is basically unfundable.
In February 2016, we wrote "Sex & Startups," which made the case for alternative financing models for companies like ours (from those learnings, XXcelerate Fund, a debt fund for Oregon women entrepreneurs, was born). We heard from hundreds of supporters. We spent a year socializing an alternative to unicorns: the zebra.
"Zebras Fix what Unicorns Break," co-authored with Astrid Scholz (CEO & Founder, Sphaera, and a co-founder of XXcelerate Fund) and published in March 2017, lays the groundwork for bringing together similar companies and developing financing alternatives so they can thrive and succeed. We've since collaborated with Aniyia Williams of Tinsel and Black & Brown Founders to build this movement.
The message is spreading. Founders in Berlin are throwing zebra parties of their own. The zebra methodology is being taught in Melbourne and Mexico City. Employees are writing about the joy of building zebra companies. Law firms are beginning to recognize zebras as an area of law. And zebras are being referenced in pop culture. And what would a movement be without men stealing and plagiarizing our ideas!
Have a story to share? Find us here:
Jennifer Brandel: Hearken, Twitter, Medium
Mara Zepeda: Switchboard, Twitter, Medium
Astrid Scholz: Sphaera, Twitter, Medium
Aniyia Williams: Tinsel, Black & Brown Founders, Twitter
The Zebra Movement is proudly supported by the Artha Investing for Impact, Busy Beaver Button Company, Business for a Better Portland, Client Joy, Green Zebra, Knuckleheads, Nossa Familia, Portland Incubator Experiment, Scout Books, Shaula Massena Giving Fund and the following marquee sponsors:
Brad Feld &
Purpose Built Shaula Massena
Ventures Giving Fund
Ross Baird, Village Capital
Crystal Beasley, Embodied Reality
Rimma Boshernitsan, In Dialogue
Andrew Dumont, Curious Capital
Luke Kanies, Puppet
Alexander Rose, The Long Now Foundation
Tara Reed, Apps Without Code
Katherine Silveira & Loren Hadassah,
Tsilli Pines, Design Week Portland
Darius Kazemi & Courtney Stanton, FeelTrain
Special thanks to the hundreds of supporters who responded to our survey and the following readers, collaborators, and allies: Valerie Aurora, Jennifer Armbrust, Rachel Bellow, Nadia Eghbal, Corey Haines, Erin McKean, Suzanne Muchin, Bryce Roberts, Allison Schultz, Ben Werdmuller, Joanne Wilson, Holly Wood, Adam Brault, David Chen, Molly deAguiar, John Dimatos, Lennon Day-Reynolds, Corey Ford, Christie George, Seth Godin, Jason Kunesh, Jonathan Harris, Jennifer Jordan, Luke Kanies Duncan Malashock, Kanyi Maquiba, Ellen Mayer, Julie Menter, Douglas Rushkoff, Astrid Scholz, Jake Shapiro, Michael Slaby, Rick Turoczy, Stephanie Pereira, April Rinne, Tom Watson. And to Jen McDonald for editing; to David Nielsen for website and research assistance; and to Arthur Jones (Zebra Manifesto) and Michelle Leigh ("Sex & Startups") for the illustrations.
Here is an anonymized list of resources shared by survey respondents.