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 (NB: from that post, XXcelerate Fund, a debt fund for Oregon women entrepreneurs, was born). We heard from hundreds of supporters (some of their responses below). We spent a year socializing an alternative to unicorns: the zebra. The Zebra Manifesto, published in March 2017, lays the groundwork for bringing together similar companies and developing financing alternatives so they can thrive and succeed.
In addition to leading companies that embody zebra values, we also speak and facilitate workshops on the topic. Interested in inviting us to your conference or company? Reach out!
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.