Zebra companies matter for both economy and society


We often hear about “unicorns” – companies valued at over a billion dollars. These companies, with their disruptive technologies and innovative business models, have undeniably reshaped industries and economies. However, this focus on unicorns has overshadowed another breed of companies that are equally important, if not more so, for a balanced and sustainable economy. These are the zebra companies.

Zebra companies represent a fresh vision for the business world, one that harmonizes profitability with societal impact. Unlike unicorns that chase exponential growth, zebras pursue a steady, sustainable growth trajectory. These companies strive to be profitable and improve society simultaneously, proving that these two objectives are not mutually exclusive but can coexist harmoniously.

The belief is strong that zebra companies are not just beneficial, but essential for the Estonian economy. Estonia’s robust digital infrastructure and entrepreneurial spirit create an ideal environment for such companies to flourish. Both zebra companies and unicorns play unique roles in the economy. While unicorns can spur rapid innovation and economic growth, Zebras ensure that this growth is inclusive, sustainable, and beneficial to all stakeholders in society.

In the entrepreneurial ecosystem, the term “zebra company” is becoming increasingly popular. But what exactly are zebra companies? Unlike “unicorns,” startups valued at over a billion dollars that prioritize rapid growth often at the expense of profitability or societal impact, zebras take a different approach.

Zebra companies are characterized by doing well by doing good. These are businesses that aim to be profitable and improve society simultaneously. Zebra companies are black and white: they earn money (black) while creating a positive societal impact (white). This dual focus sets them apart from many other companies in the business world.

Zebras strive for a balance between various factors. They seek to balance profit and purpose, championing the idea that companies can be both profitable and beneficial to society. They balance risk and reward, understanding that while taking risks is part of doing business, those risks should be calculated and not jeopardize the company’s ability to benefit society. Zebra companies also balance short-term gains with long-term sustainability, recognizing that true success lies in sustainable growth.

Furthermore, such companies often focus on solving meaningful problems, not just those that promise the quickest return on investment. They are willing to tackle complex issues that require time and persistence, and their success is measured not just in dollars and cents, but also in the positive impact they have on society.

Zebras come in all shapes and sizes, operating in various industries. However, they all share a common belief: that doing good and doing well can, and should, go hand in hand. These companies challenge the notion that businesses should prioritize profits above all else, and they offer a new model for success – one that benefits not just the company and its shareholders, but also the whole society.

Zebra companies play a pivotal role in the economy, contributing to its health and vitality in several ways. Their unique approach to business, which balances profitability with societal impact, has far-reaching implications for economic growth and sustainability.

Firstly, like any successful business, zebras contribute to the economy by generating profits and creating jobs. These companies provide employment opportunities, often in new and emerging sectors, contributing to economic diversification and resilience. The jobs they create are not just any jobs, but good, decent jobs that offer fair wages and benefits, contributing to improved living standards and economic stability.

Secondly, zebra companies drive innovation and economic growth. They often operate in sectors at the forefront of technology and social innovation, developing new products, services, and business models that can spur economic growth. By reinvesting their profits back into their business, they fuel further innovation and expansion, creating a virtuous cycle of growth and development.

Thirdly, zebra companies contribute to sustainable economic growth. Their commitment to balancing profit-making with societal impact means they consider the long-term implications of their business activities. They strive to minimize their negative impact on the environment and society, while maximizing their positive impact. This approach helps to ensure that economic growth is sustainable and doesn’t come at the expense of societal well-being.

Lastly, the balanced approach of zebras can contribute to economic resilience in times of crisis. The recent global events have underscored the importance of businesses that can balance profit-making with care for society and the economy. Zebra companies, with their dual focus, are often better equipped to navigate these challenges and contribute to economic recovery.

But these are not the only things that we should know about zebras. Zebra companies’ unique business approach, which harmonizes profitability with societal impact, paves the way for a more sustainable and inclusive economy.

Zebras inherently understand that profit and purpose are not mutually exclusive but can coexist harmoniously. They strive to generate profits while also creating a positive societal impact. This dual focus allows them to contribute to the economy while ensuring that their operations and products benefit society and the environment. Such companies are also often at the forefront of sustainable innovation. They develop new products, services, and business models that not only meet market needs but also address societal challenges. This focus on sustainable innovation enables them to drive economic growth while contributing to societal well-being and environmental sustainability.

As zebra companies prioritize societal impact alongside profitability, zebras create quality jobs that offer fair wages and benefits. These jobs contribute to economic stability and social equity, key components of sustainable economic growth and healthy society.

Moreover, zebras balanced approach to business also promotes economic resilience. By considering societal impact in their decision-making processes, they are often better equipped to navigate economic downturns and disruptions. Their commitment to societal well-being can help stabilize the economy during challenging times, contributing to long-term economic sustainability.

Perhaps most importantly, zebra companies set a new standard for how businesses can operate. These companies demonstrate that companies can be profitable while also having a positive impact on society. This new model of success encourages other businesses to adopt more sustainable practices, fostering an overall shift towards a more sustainable economy.

Zebras have the potential to significantly impact Estonian society. Their commitment to balancing profitability with societal impact can lead to a variety of benefits for people in Estonia.

Zebra companies often prioritize creating quality jobs that offer fair wages and benefits. This commitment to fair employment practices can help enhance social equity in Estonia. Zebras can help reduce income inequality and improve living standards for Estonians. In many cases, zebras are at the forefront of social innovation. They develop new solutions and business models that address societal challenges such as economic inequality and inequity. This focus on social innovation can lead to improved services and solutions for societal issues, enhancing the quality of life for Estonians.

Many zebras are working on developing environmentally friendly products and services. This can contribute to a cleaner, healthier environment for Estonian society, improving quality of life and protecting environmental beauty of Estonia.

But this is not the end of the impact that zebra companies could have on Estonia. Zebras are often built with community in mind and have strong commitment to their local communities. It means that zebras actively engage in community service, local life, support local initiatives and events. This sense of community and belonging can strengthen community ties and foster integration in Estonia.

Impact of zebra companies on Estonia’s reputation is also another important benefit as presence of zebras can enhance the global reputation of Estonia, positioning Estonia as a country that values both economic success and societal wellbeing. This may result in attracting more international attention and lead to increased investment and tourism.

The presence of more zebra companies in Estonia would undoubtedly be a boon for the country. Through such companies’ commitment to social equity, social innovation, environmental sustainability, community engagement, and enhancing Estonia’s global reputation, zebras can positively contribute to a better society for all Estonians and stronger position of Estonia. Therefore, fostering an environment that encourages the growth of zebra companies should be a priority.

The future of Estonia’s economy and society may very well depend on these black and white striped creatures. In the case of zebras, a saying “the more, the better” is the right one.

You can read more Dawid Wiktor’s writings on his Exec Profile.