What’s more exciting than an IPO led by the youngest woman ever? Another kind of offering altogether.
Why should the IPO be the ideal most entrepreneurs strive for? Meet the new model challenging the dominant Silicon Valley narrative.
ICYMI Whitney Wolfe Herd led Bumble to its IPO on NASDAQ late last week. The internet went pretty bananas for it (at least in my bubble). People (including me) are delighted to see a new record broken by a 31 year old female founder & CEO, and with a baby on her hip no less! Of course, many note that her achievement is still too rare. And for Black founders, rarer still. There were echoing calls across the interwebs: “We need more VCs focused on people-of-colour!” And “we need more accelerators for women only!” But rather than galvanized, I was left feeling a bit skeptical. Like, is this category of success even what most entrepreneurs should striving for? Maybe those of us who don’t fit the mold just build an entirely new model?
As it so happens, the Bumble IPO coincides with another new offering to the public this week: the soft-launch of the Zebras Unite Cooperative. Since their first piece went viral in 2016, the women-led team has been stewarding a quickly growing ecosystem of for-profit companies and solopreneurs around the world who are striving to create “long-term (financially and socially) sustainable solutions …by navigating local and distal stakeholder groups with integrity to achieve an optimal scale…” In other words, a thriving alternative to the Silicon Valley ‘hero-preneurship’ model that Western society seems to have become obsessed with.
Underestimation is only one of the limitations of the existing SV model. Yes, Bumble has and will continue to make billions for its investors and executives (hopefully for a while). But for too long, there’s really been no alternative narrative for entrepreneurs than the typical start-up success path, which almost always necessitates an end-game of “big exit” or IPO, in order to reward their investors. In the case of an IPO, the all-mighty law of shareholder primacy means most CEOs are prevented from making decisions in the best interest of the environment, their communities, their employees, or even their own internal aims for innovation when these decisions conflict with growing their quarterly returns.
So, what about the millions of founders who don’t fit the typical mold and whose aims are to benefit their communities and the public, to grow regeneratively, and to ensure long term profitability? Arguably, these Zebras create much more value for society on the whole, but because of their size, they won’t receive the splashy attention they deserve, nor a parity of power with the existing system. In the words of Mariana Mazzucato: our ‘modern’ society has “confused price for value.”
The ZU Cooperative is the beginning of an alternative model that seeks to change this: it unites entrepreneurs, and their stakeholders, in solidarity. Dues will entitle members to annual dividends (just like any other cooperative), but they will also help to provide a wellspring of capital, access to perks and a community of support. As a Dazzle, the voice of the Zebras becomes louder, stronger and more noticeable.
So, “yes!”, we need more publicly traded companies led by people-of-colour and women. But we also need an entirely different alternative that is intrinsically inclusive and collaborative, focused on true value-creation, independent of a financial cycle that is necessarily extractive, and has undeniable momentum. To me, this feels like something really worth celebrating!
For the past few years, Zebras have been asking: “What if we stopped asking for permission? What if all founders had the power to create, control, and collectively own the tools they need to succeed?” Join me as a new Zebras Unite shareholder and together we will catalyze these ‘what if’s’ into a system we’ve only ever imagined. Until now.
I am a community and collaboration designer based in Amsterdam. If you’d like, please, get in touch. BTW, I haven’t been paid to write this piece for Zebras Unite—I’m just a really excited community member!