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Zebra companies, not unicorns, will rebuild Latin America's economy in 2021

February 18, 2021 6 min read

This article was translated from our Spanish edition using AI technologies. Errors may exist due to this process.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
One of the most important lessons from my time as an entrepreneurial ecosystem weaver is just because the landscape looks more fertile elsewhere, that doesn’t mean it’s magical. There are entrepreneurship ecosystems that look more lush because they are artificial, they receive fertilizers and pesticides, because they are retouched with Photoshop or because the comparison game simply does not allow us to see things clearly.
When I think of how Latin American entrepreneurs traditionally view Silicon Valley , I think of how much we are missing by looking there as if it is somehow better than what we have here. Silicon Valley and the biggest companies that are built on its foundations are often considered unicorns – mythical entities with stratospheric missions and the venture capital to prove it.
It may seem that, as Latin American entrepreneurs, our goal should be to aspire to any combination of qualities that will lead those companies to success and notoriety, but what if I told them that the real job shouldn’t be to try to emulate their process, but instead to honor our local processes?
For a couple of years, the metaphor of “zebra companies” was born in startup circles, which in contrast to unicorns, are real, grow collectively and firmly anchored in their communities. The business history of Latin America is full of examples of endurance, innovation and resilience that cannot be learned or taught in webinars – it has to be lived fully. We have a story that not only encourages us to be the zebras of the corporate world, but reminds us that we are already those zebras, we just have to choose to adopt this narrative with great honor.
Our countries have seen political revolutions, natural disasters, and currency instabilities, and yet our goods and services do not collapse. While Silicon Valley has built a foundation for its businesses that is often backed by its government, our infrastructure is different, but not worse for that.
Latin American companies and entrepreneurs who choose to innovate within our countries may not always have the support of our governments or have rescue methods, but they do have a community and a center of values that remains faithful no matter the circumstances.
One of my favorite quotes is that of Humberto Maturana, a Chilean philosopher, who said the phrase: “The most important thing about innovation is what you want to conserve …” The COVID-19 pandemic has been an excellent example of how to adapt to new Circumstances focused on what does not change have benefited a company like mine and our community.

“The most important thing about innovation is what you want to preserve …” / Image: David Tomaseti via Unsplash
At IMPAQTO , our spirit is based on community. When the global pandemic started, as a Company B , our coworking network had funded our efforts to incubate, accelerate, and fund entrepreneurs building businesses that have a positive impact on our communities and on the planet. In the midst of the health emergency, we had to learn to satisfy the market demand, which was now looking less for a physical space and more for what was happening in an intangible way between the walls of that space: our community needed its community.
Through virtual hackathons , we find ways to mobilize our community of startup founders and change agents to create solutions that support UN agencies, NGOs and WHO in the challenges related to the pandemic around the gender violence, homelessness and migration.
Our own pivoting showed me that there is tremendous power when we focus on the long term of being a zebra in a world of unicorns and appetites for quick rewards. It’s not always the sexiest way to grow a business, but I see longevity in this narrative because it’s built on people and communities who are willing to help sustain it.
My belief in the zebra mindset is confirmed when I observed, for example, how three founders of the telemedicine platform Goctors serving senior private physicians spent six weeks working double shifts to switch their services to serve the clients of the bottom of the pyramid after realizing that populations at risk had even more limited access to health care.
Or, a food delivery company, Tipti , whose founders may have been solely focused on growing their user base during the pandemic, decided to continue the human aspect of their business and built a special platform for elderly customers to receive phone orders for those who They do not use smartphones or applications.
As a zebra company, the pressure stops focusing on scaling and acquiring users at any cost; Instead, it focuses on the possibility of protecting and growing seeds in our communities that will help rebuild and conserve our region time and time again.
I am not against companies that follow the unicorn model, I just hope that Latin American entrepreneurs know that a unicorn model is not the only way to build a company. Most importantly, instead of trying to build an entirely new foundation to make unicorns viable in our Latin American countries, perhaps we should use the foundation we already have and see zebras thrive as engines of economic reconstruction, this time. focused on our communities.

Why glory belongs to sinners (at least in entrepreneurship)

This article was translated from our Spanish edition using AI technologies. Errors may exist due to this process.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
What makes a sinner of an entrepreneur? Are they your decisions, your environment, your place of origin or is it something more than that?
In different parts of the world, including the countries of Latin America, sin is interpreted as a handful of thoughts, words and actions that violate what is regularly considered correct. But is sin really that pitiful and fatal event that most assume?
Let’s go back to the origin; The Greek root of the term “sin” dates back to target practice in military training camps, when archers missed, their companions shouted “Sin! Sin!” The meaning of the word was associated with “failure to hit the target” or “miscalculation”, this did not carry with it any pejorative connotation that justified self-flagellation or regret for the action taken, given that at that time it was understood that virtue was forged as a function of attempts. Attempts that bring successes and failures, failures that, if identified, are corrected.
The philosophy of sin as an ingredient in the recipe for success has not been alien to the business world. This is the case of the prolific English businessman and magnate Richard Branson, who has constituted throughout his life more than 360 companies that are part of the Virgin Group conglomerate, of which more than 200 have been misguided, companies that never took off, being the most remembered: Virgin Cola and Virgin Express.
The accumulation of sins of Branson has not been a reason for bankruptcy, on the contrary, they have served to strengthen and leverage its business model, through the capitalization of the learning put at the service of the companies in which it was successful. Consequently, his fortune has not stopped growing, according to Forbes , it is estimated that Branson has an estimated net worth of 4.9 billion dollars, which places him in 2018 in position 388 on the list of the richest men on the planet and in the position number 23 of the United Kingdom, according to the portal Business Insider .
But of course Branson is not the only one, throughout history, referents in diverse sectors have managed to catapult to the top of the podium, boasting with their actions the use of the same principles.
This is the case of one of the most important North American inventors of all time, also remembered for the phrase: “There were not a thousand failed attempts, it was an invention with a thousand steps” , I mean Thomas Alva Edison , who gave life to more than 1,000 inventions ( 1,093 to be exact). Faithful believer that mistakes are never a failure, because he claimed they carry with them the demonstration of certainties, therefore, they are worth it.
Among his most outstanding creations we have; the phonograph (a device that made it possible to record and reproduce sounds), the kinetoscope (the forerunner of the film projector), as well as perfecting the operation of the long-lasting electric light bulb. 87 years after his death, his famous phrase continues to enjoy surprising vitality, although the purpose of his message is still far from the majority.
The multifaceted Oprah Winfrey has not been the exception either, in an interview offered to CNN she recounted the uphill road she went through developing her own television network: “If I were writing a book it could be called ‘The 101 Errors'”. She added, “I believe that I am here to fulfill my vocation, because I am a black woman who has had so many blessings in this world, that there will never be a time to abandon a project. I will die in the middle of what I love to do and that is to use my voice and my life to inspire people to live the best of their lives ”. Finally, Oprah allows us to understand her philosophy in the face of error, in the following lines: “Because when something seems to be wrong, because you failed at something, that does not make you a failure .”
Despite the innumerable benefits that sin produces in the health of enterprises, there is a segment – not a small one – of entrepreneurs who see in it a vertiginous bottomless abyss, an impassable path that paralyzes them, without being aware that the error is present not only by acting, but also by standing still.
It is necessary to reconcile ourselves to our sins, to remove the feeling of guilt and repentance, which are nothing more than a burden disguised as penance. For this, it is not necessary to be in the presence of a confessor, it is enough to stand in front of the mirror, do an examination of conscience and get down to work. Yes indeed! With the firm commitment of amendment.
It is of little use to sin again and again, if in each attempt what is being done is not adjusted in an inappropriate way. Stumbling over the same stone is the best way to waste life.
What makes a sinner of an entrepreneur? I’ve asked myself a thousand times. Are they your decisions, your environment or your place of origin? I have no doubt that sinners are those who do not lower their arms, those who do not stop trying, those warriors who while they have air in their lungs, get back on their feet.
I challenge you to determine an objective, take aim, shoot the arrows that are necessary and do not stop until you have hit the target.

Tony Hawk's viral video that shows that entrepreneurship is like jumping into the void on a skateboard

A sweet video that circulates on social networks shows Tony Hawk, master and lord of skateboarding, helping his daughter to jump into the void for the first time on a skateboard. In the fatherly act there is a huge lesson on how to overcome fear.
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This article was translated from our Spanish edition using AI technologies. Errors may exist due to this process.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Sometimes when you wake up you feel scared.A strange anguish creeps up the bed, between the sheets to lodge somewhere in her heart. In a fraction of seconds, perhaps before he is fully conscious, he goes over the pending tasks that will threaten him during the day: the things that didn’t go well, the calls he has to make, the overwhelming reality of that project that haunts him with deadlines. delivery that seem impossible to fulfill.
Sometimes when he wakes up, he doubts. Of himself and his ability. From the decisions he has made and from the distant port to where they could take him. He doubts he can find his way back in case of getting lost, because he knows that absolutely everyone, one fine day, could get lost. Or fail.
Sometimes when he wakes up, he would rather stay still in the void full of unknowns that cloud the new day. It happens especially on Mondays, when the uncertainty of the week that begins seems unbearable.
Just one of those days a video comes to him by chance: a little girl of about ten years is standing on the edge of a skate ramp with everything and her skateboard. He wears a baggy T-shirt, blue jeans, a helmet in shades of purple and pink, and a pair of knee pads that look too large on his frail frame. She doesn’t move, just stares into the void that stretches before her eyes, fearful. In front of her, at the end of the ramp, a slim man dressed in black watches and encourages her.
“Don’t lean toward me, go straight.” That is the key.
He is not just any man. This is Tony Hawk , perhaps the greatest skateboarder who has ever stepped on the face of the Earth. The girl is her little daughter Kadence Klover Hawk who tries to jump into the void for the first time on a skateboard. And even if you have the best teacher anyone could imagine, taking the step requires courage, determination.
Kadence assumes the position to launch, but then hesitates and returns both feet to the platform. Fear dominates her. The girl makes a sign to her father to stand right in front of her, trying to hold on to something that can give her security. Tony Hawk not only obeys her, but walks over to the ramp to take her hand. Then he walks away again and for 25 long seconds, he just watches.
That is the moment when she really must overcome fear. Just like any of us. It is the moment when we are standing before the void, ready to jump into the unknown, when we can doubt ourselves the most. The voice of reason whispers to us that what we are about to do is irrational and dangerous. That our idea doesn’t make sense. That if we go on we will fall, we will break and then we will not be able to get up. Those 25 seconds of doubt in Kadence’s life are what move us once she, determined, shifts the weight to the foot that rests on the skateboard and throws herself into the void. Seeing the action, Tony Hawk takes off and lets her follow the little journey that will mark her life alone and independently.
The girl does not fall. Once the movement has started, it moves forward by itself and inertia takes care of everything else. His father yells and claps, perhaps more excited than the day he managed to do the 900 (a risky 2½-rev aerial spin) for the first time in skateboarding history at the 1999 X Games after ten unsuccessful attempts.
In that little big step from Kadence there is a lesson for each of us. Because, although we have gone through similar situations hundreds of times, every time we are faced with an unknown project, a challenge that looks capital letters or a problem that apparently has no solution, we feel fear again, we freeze and do not jump. But the feat that we observe in the video reminds us that the only way to know what is at the end of a new day, of a complex project or of that entrepreneurial idea in which no one else believes, is to arm ourselves with courage and like the little girl Kadence Klover Hawk, equipped with helmet and knee pads, just jump into the void.

Now Is The Time To Make Resilience, Not Efficiency Your Primary Business Objective

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Boat and tree in a storm
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For over a century, the primary focus in business has been on efficiency. Whether it is cost-reduction, profit-maximization, growth, shareholder value, “lean,” or “six sigma,” the mantra has been to do more with less. This has brought many businesses to great heights and has generated tremendous wealth for their owners. But it has also resulted in organizations that are fragile and vulnerable. Organizations that get into problems as soon as something out of the ordinary happens. After a year of Covid-19, we can see the results of this.
Of course, not everything can be foreseen. And of course some types of business have been hit beyond imagination and beyond what one can reasonably prepare for. However, if more of them had made resilience instead of efficiency their bottomline, they would have been stronger in the face of adversity. With crisis being one of the most important drivers of change, there is no better time to start replacing—or at least complementing—efficiency by resilience as primary bottomline.
The Efficiency Paradigm
Ever since Frederick Winslow Taylor’s engineering approach to management and his Principles of Scientific Management from 1911, business has been largely about improving efficiency. One might even argue that the entire capitalist system as inherited from Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations from 1776, is based on the idea of efficiency. Both rely on the ideas of specialization, division of labor, and scale advantages. Where Smith has laid the foundations, Taylor has given us the instruments to become true masters of efficiency.

Today, the efficiency paradigm is known by various names and it appears in many different types and variations. Cost reduction or cost-cutting is the most obvious type—even though it often goes in disguise baring names such as “corporate restructuring” or “reorganization.” Profit-maximization, together with shareholder value maximization comprise another type, placing the emphasis on enlarging the net results of a business: profit or shareholder value.
Growth is another example. With its peak in the 1970s with the Boston Consulting Group’s “Growth-Share Matrix” (or simply BCG-Matrix, the one with the cash cows, dogs, stars and question marks), strategy meant a single thing: become the biggest. The reason? Learning and scale efficiencies, leading to the best—most efficient—way of creating products and services.

Coming from a slightly different angle, there is also the quality management movement that started over 70 years ago with Toyota’s “total quality management,” “continuous improvement” or “just in time” production system. Via “business process re-engineering” in the early 1990s, we find it in many variations today, most notably “lean”, “six sigma,” and “lean six sigma.” All these approaches are based on the ideas of waste and variability reduction to create processes and products more efficiently. To do more with less.
Its Problems
Obviously, the principles and practices above have produced great results: high quality products and services, smart and innovative ways of production, iconic brands, jobs for many people, great wealth, and so on.
But there is a downside. And a substantial one: removing all “slack” from an organization makes it not only very efficient. It also makes it very fragile and vulnerable. The slightest delay, problem, or hick-up somewhere in the value chain has immediate and sometimes dramatic consequences for a company’s ability to create and deliver its products and services.
This is why our body has built in so many “redundancies.” We have two arms, two legs, two lungs, two kidneys, two eyes and two ears. And we have tremendous over-capacity in our brain, our muscles, our bones, our fat, our lungs, our blood, and more. Efficiency-wise this might be superflous and if we were managing our body in the same way as we are managing our organizations, all of that were long gone.
But there is a reason for all this redundancy. It makes us resilient. Or, as Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls it, it makes us antifragile. Given that our species already survives and thrives a bit longer than there are organizations, a focus on resilience seems to be the better choice in the long-run.
The Resiliency Paradigm
A resilient organization is an organization that survives and thrives in the face of adversity. Indeed, survives and thrives. Not only can resilient organizations withstand the shocks caused by internal and external crises. They even become stronger because of this.
This ability to become stronger and thrive after a crisis is exactly what Taleb means with the term antifragile. It is not just that we are unfragile, we are antifragile, meaning that our bodies and minds become stronger and stronger over time exactly because we learn and adapt based on the things we experience.
This applies to organizations as well. From a bird’s eye view, there are two main components of resiliency: robustness and responsiveness. A robust organization is one that is hardly affected by the crisis that is hitting it. The organization is so strong that there is limited impact. A responsive organization is one that bounces back after being hit be a crisis. While it may be significantly impacted, it is capable of rapidly returning to its original state—or beyond. In terms of a metaphor, if a robust organization can be seen as a bowling ball, a responsive organization is a space hopper.
Applied to organizations, resiliency can be defined as the ability of an organization to anticipate, understand, prevent, contain, recover, and learn timely and systematically from any crisis and thereby ensure stable and sustainable performance.
As this definition shows, resiliency requires a broad set of competences: anticipating, understanding, preventing, containing, recovering and learning from crisis. It also requires an organization to this in a timely and systematic way. Because only then can we expect them to achieve stable and sustainable performance.
Its Benefits
From the definition of resilience, and from the discussion of antifragility above, the main benefits for business are clear. Resilient organizations outperform non-resilient (fragile) organizations when it concerns the survival and thriving in the face of adversity. That in itself is a sufficient reason why more organizations should want to focus more on resiliency instead of efficiency.
But there are more advantages. Research by scholars such as Yossi Sheffi, Karl Weick, Kathleen Sutcliffe, Erica Seville, David Hurst, Guia Beatrice Pirotti, Markus Venzin and their many colleagues has shown that there are substantial other benefits.
As it turns out, organizations that are built around the principles of resiliency are more flexible, better functioning organizations, with better and more stable long-term performance. And they are also nicer to work for, thereby being more attractive as employer.
Why Now?
With efficiency being the core principle of our businesses for over a century, the benefits of resiliency sound almost too good to be true. We are so immersed in the efficiency paradigm that we hardly believe things could be different. But research tells us they can be different—and better.
And practice tells us they probably should be different too. Most directly because we are still in the middle of the largest global crisis in peace time. Being able to survive and thrive in response to this crisis is key for many organizations. And new crises will undoubtedly come. We can’t predict when and what they will be, but there is no doubt that there always will be a next crisis—whether internally or externally imposed.
A final reason why now is the time to start making changes is the very fact that we are still in a crisis. As referred to in an earlier article, crises are great drivers of change. They show change is possible, they create momentum and they require change anyway. Smart organizations and smart leaders use this opportunity to embrace resilience as their new paradigm for success.