A chance conversation at SOCAP sparked an idea that has grown into a revolutionary, founder-driven grassroots movement. Jennifer Brandel and Mara Zepeda had a discussion at SOCAP15 about their mutual frustrations over the lack of resources for non-unicorn founders. This eventually led Brandel and Zepeda, along with Astrid Scholz and Aniyia Williams, to co-found Zebras Unite. With the publication of their manifesto, Zebras Fix What Unicorns Break, the co-founders called for “a more ethical and inclusive movement to counter existing startup and venture capital culture.” Thousands of like-minded entrepreneurs, investors, service providers, and others heard their call and Zebras Unite was launched. Earlier this year, Zebras Unite announced a partnership with Institute for the Future to work with leading investors, foundations, policymakers, and legal experts to identify the barriers to these types of models, work directly with entrepreneurs to understand their funding needs and challenges, and design and promote mechanisms and policies to promote their growth.
This year, for the first time, the Zebra Movement is coming to SOCAP18. We recently talked to Astrid Scholz, a long time member of the SOCAP community and chief “everything” officer of Sphaera, to learn more about Zebras, their methods and goals, and how members of the community can connect with them at SOCAP18 and elsewhere.
SOCAP: For members of the SOCAP community that are not yet familiar with the movement, what is Zebras Unite?
Astrid Scholz: Zebras Unite is an entrepreneur-led movement to create an alternative narrative around startups and the kinds of companies we build to make positive change in the world.
We started out of our own experience as entrepreneurs who are using business approaches to impact some major industries with ambitious technologies and service offerings. We reflected on the difficulties we were having finding the right kind of legal advice, the right kind of capital, the right kinds of resources, and even a community of like-minded entrepreneurs.
We wrote up a manifesto describing the principles that guide us in the creation of our own companies-published that on Medium, and thousands of people came out of the woodwork saying “That’s exactly how I feel! Where do I sign up?” We then created our own conference, DazzleCon, held in 2017 in Portland, to bring together founders, funders, and others who were interested in building companies differently.
SOCAP: One of the foundational beliefs of Zebras Unite is that creating an alternative to startup and venture capital culture is a “moral imperative.” Why?
Astrid Scholz: When you look at some of the tech platforms that have emerged over the last ten years or more, the venture funding model has led to those kinds of platforms being developed in a way that has had a toxic effect on democracy. The poster child for this phenomenon is Facebook. When you look at what drives venture-funded companies, the metrics that they have to go for in terms of growth, the aggressive pursuit of profit–it’s indicative of the mindset behind it.
Even the way we talk about how a venture-funded company is supposed to grow–you see that on a collision course with some of the very things that need protection, care, and attention in our society. Facebook has completely commercialized and commodified interactions between friends–with detrimental effects on our democracy. The moral imperative comes out of the fact that there is better way, and a right way, to build these businesses. Businesses that end up undermining institutions like education, or journalism, or democracy itself will ultimately have catastrophic effects on our society.
Who within the SOCAP community are you hoping to connect with at SOCAP18?
Astrid Scholz: Part of what motivates Zebras Unite is that all of us have had experiences at SOCAP that have left us wanting an engaged, year-round community including aligned investors, and aligned lawyers and other technical service providers. That is how we set about creating the Zebras Unite movement–to become a resource and create a community.
Coming back to SOCAP as Zebras, we are looking for more founders and funders that are interested in helping to create an ongoing body of work around how we can create a better environment and alternative capital tools to create these better businesses.
SOCAP: What is your call to action for the SOCAP community?
Astrid Scholz: Social entrepreneurs may recognize themselves in the slightly broader definition of entrepreneurs that we use and they might be interested in joining our online community or a local chapter. Very quickly, Zebras Unite has grown to 20 chapters and three continents. There are pockets of entrepreneurs and investors getting together on a somewhat regular rhythm in many of these places.
On that note, we are doing a Happy Hour for San Francisco Zebras at Dada on Tuesday, October 23rd at 5:30 pm.
To investors and lawyers and others who are supporting the creation of alternative businesses–my call to action for you is to get involved in some of the practical and very necessary work that we are doing. For example, there is work to be done around standardizing term sheets and making those available to investors and entrepreneurs and around creating a body of knowledge for lawyers to use when they encounter purpose-driven entrepreneurs who are interested in creating hybrid structures or co-ops. Join this group of people who are actively innovating on these issues and who are co-creating a living library of resources for this community.
SOCAP: What is inspiring you in your work right now?
Astrid Scholz: The increasing number of people we run into that are like-minded. The company that I am creating–it is really tough work, but I take comfort and encouragement from the fact that we are running into more fellow travellers that are ready to roll up their sleeves and get real.
Astrid Scholz will be speaking on the SOCAP18 panel, Social Capital Markets: So Fragmented! From 9:00 AM – 10:00 AM on Thu, Oct 25, 2018.
Join the Zebras Unite Meet Up at SOCAP18
Learn more about the movement or meet some of your fellow Zebras at SOCAP18. Join the Zebras Unite! Meet Up 11:00 am to 12:00 pm on Wed, Oct 24 in the Big Top Tent. Anybody who is at SOCAP that identifies as a Zebra, or is Zebra curious, is invited and encouraged to come along and find out more.
Use the Zebra Tag in Pathable to discover SOCAP18 sessions that will be relevant to members of the movement.
To help you find sessions that are relevant to the Zebras Unite movement at SOCAP18, there is now a Zebra tag that will help you locate Zebra mission aligned sessions in Pathable (SOCAP’s official online networking and scheduling platform).
If using the desktop version of Pathable, look at the Full Schedule tab in Pathable, click on Keywords (under the search bar) and then click on Zebra to discover all of the sessions that leaders of Zebra Movement have tagged.