Edinburgh, Scotland. Systemic thinker and community builder. Behind-the-scenes-operator and spreadsheet aficionado. Zebras Unite chapter lead Edinburgh, Scotland.
A Zebra is
… someone who does the work. Whether they’re founders or funders or advisors, Zebras are the ones who roll up their sleeves and actually do the work to build better systems and do things the right way. And to me, the “right way” means being aware of the effect we have on people and the planet.
To me, being a Zebra means intentionally creating value in a way that has the best interest of people and planet at heart.
The business ecosystem is not working as effectively as it could. My biggest frustration with the system is its narrowness of options and outcomes that we see – particularly for people who are trying to start something. Whether that’s a charity or a business or a community group – you can either choose option A or option B, and usually those are both flawed.
When we talk about startups, we talk about new ideas and visions for the future. But for some reason, we assume that these grand visions will fit into the current structures. And that’s a bizarre assumption, isn’t it?
In the startup world, typically, you either bootstrap or you take venture capital. Those are the narratives you choose from. It’s an incredibly reductive way of getting good ideas out into the world. Because those two options do not cover everyone, and all the amazing things that we can possibly do. When we’re talking about startups we’re talking about new ideas; we’re looking to new visions of the world and of what the future could look like. But for some reason we assume that these grand visions will fit into the current structures – funding, organizational forms etc. – and that’s a bizarre assumption, isn’t it? Why would it always look the same?
My particular wish is that we have more innovation in how we do business, not just what we do. The how informs the outcomes that we see. For example, if you take venture capital, an exit is in your future. That is the assumption and that’s going to drive where you’re going, how fast you’re going, and who’s coming along with you. Maybe that is the right path for you – but we need more options for when it’s not the right choice.
We need more options that reflect all the founders and businesses out there that want to make an impact.
If we’re looking at different ways of funding startups, for example, we could expand the variety of outcomes that then define the speed and scale and the people who want to, or have the options to, be part of that. Instead of just A or B, we need a range of options: we can build smaller ventures, and bigger ones, we can take more or less time, we can build in different ways of making returns. But we need more options that reflect all the founders and businesses out there that want to make an impact.
The future: Proximity and engagement
Ideally, customers and shareholders are one and the same.
In my ideal future, we would have a greater variety of options, not just for funding but all the companies and services that we already use every day. We would feel a lot closer to the products and services we use, either through shared ownership or through genuine engagement with the companies who make them. Instead of impact-washing and marketing, I’d love to see actual responsiveness of businesses to the people who use their products rather than just to shareholders. Ideally, those two groups should be one and the same.
We tend to use the term “community” in two different ways: 1) local, geographic communities and 2) online communities. My hope is that people feel more engagement with both of those in the future. I think a lot of the dramatic changes we have seen over the last year have caused people to think about their community in different ways, and the importance of it in their lives. I hope that online communities of the future will begin to feel more local, to create a real sense of belonging.
Brand community to community ownership
I would like for communities to become more relevant in the startup world in terms of founders connecting more deeply with the communities they’re trying to serve. There’s a lot of talk right now in the VC world about how ‘community is the new moat’ and that funders are looking to invest in brands with a strong community around them.
People don’t just invest financially, they invest emotionally, they want to be part of something.
I think the leap from ‘brand community’ to ‘community ownership’ is inevitable. Over the last ten years the evolution of crowdfunding has shown that people don’t just invest financially – they invest emotionally, they want to be part of something. And technology enables not only community ownership and a wider distribution of returns, but increasing community-led governance and corporate democracy.
Risk, return and impact: Widening the spectrum of funding opportunities
I hope that in the future, we’ll see a spectrum of funding options rather than just two different buckets. And I hope that we’ll fully embrace the scope we have to innovate in three dimensions – risk, return and impact.
We need to ensure investors are aligned with the impact, the sustainability and the growth of the business.
We’ll reconsider debt, equity and grants, and how they work together. We’ve already started with blended finance. We need investment tools that are more patient and flexible. And we need to ensure investors are aligned with the impact, the sustainability and the growth of the business – whatever that may look like – and I’m not sure we’ve really cracked the communication that needs to happen there quite yet.
Founders think of an exit comes as something that happens at the end but in reality, it informs so much of what we do from the start.
As I mentioned earlier, there’s a lot more work we could do when it comes to exits, obviously a significant source of financial returns for investors, but we really only think about acquisitions and IPOs which can limit the trajectories a business can follow. Founders think an exit comes at the end, that they don’t need to worry about that until later. But in reality, it informs so much of what we do from the start. I’d love to see more conversations around what happens when the founders or the investors come to the end of their journey with the startup. It’s an opportunity to once again engage with the community: employees, users, suppliers, customers, whoever values the mission most. And there’s so much room for structured exits too; and to reinvent private equity for good. So much to explore!
Entrepreneurship as a way to change the world: Daisy’s path
When I first graduated from university, I wanted to change the world and do good – as you do when you’re a young thing! So I went into politics.
I moved down to London to join a Westminster think tank which, obviously, was a terrible idea because you can never get anything done in politics! I don’t mean that it was full of bad people – there were lots of people with good and worthy ideas, but none of it was ever acted on. Nothing happened and that was what I found terribly frustrating!
So I moved back home to the North of England and accidentally joined a startup. It was what we would now call a purpose-driven startup and we were all about helping companies embrace their environmental responsibilities through biodiversity. At the time, there was quite a lot to talk of carbon offsetting, but we very much focused on biodiversity, the necessity of the natural services that we rely on and how businesses should engage with their responsibilities in that realm.
If you really want to understand how the world works, you need to understand how the money flows.
And I just completely fell in love with entrepreneurship as a way to change the world! I loved being able to actually see the impact of what I was doing. Following that, I wanted to find out everything I could about business, so I took a Master’s degree. And the greatest insight I took from that was that if you really want to understand how the world works, you need to understand how the money flows.
So I joined a Big Four accountancy firm and I saw the inside of a lot of companies, public sector organizations and charities.
Do you ever stop and ask yourself why we’re so obsessed with growth? How do we do growth? Who is it for? Growth of what? And why?
From there, I joined a Scottish economic development agency which co-invests in high-growth companies. At the same time I was volunteering as a finance manager at my local community development trust. In a sense, I was working on economic development from two completely different angles which made me ask a lot of questions about how and why we pursued growth, who that growth was for and why? From that point onward, I started to explore how people were using money for better; I got involved in social investment and learned about what was happening all over the world.
For the last three years, I was fortunate to work with a social investor in Scotland investing in social enterprises in deprived areas that are delivering community-led regeneration, as well as leading my chapter of Zebras Unite and immersing myself in alternative financing.
I’m really interested in how we use money as a tool for change. It’s incredible what can happen when you can align the right kind of capital with a good idea.
I’m now building a revenue-based fund for social entrepreneurs in Scotland, in order to provide that aligned, risk capital that ambitious enterprises need to grow their business and their impact.
As you can tell, I’m really interested in how we use money as a tool for change. It’s incredible what can happen when you can align the right kind of capital with a good idea.
Not everybody likes the boring infrastructure stuff about how financial instruments work and how legal structures work but I do.
I’m very happy to work backstage just tinkering with spreadsheets!
How can we support you?
We have to tell stories of what’s happening in our community around the world! We have to get the word out there that the way things are done doesn’t have to be the way things are always done! There are so many people out there doing amazing things in different ways and the more we shout these stories from the rooftops, the easier we can make it for entrepreneurs to choose a different path.
And, of course, have sympathy for your Zebras Unite chapter lead and help them out wherever you can 😉
One question for the community
What do you need from others to do things differently?
It’s been such a journey as a chapter lead and it’s been wonderful to learn from other people. So many people who I’ve talked to as a chapter lead have told me that when they found Zebras Unite, they found their people and a shared identity. It resonates so much with how I felt when I found the movement. But in order to facilitate that, I’d love to know what more we can do, what people actually need from us to keep the conversation and the movement going.
So if you have an idea about how we can better support you, write it down and send it to one of us, we would love to help!
I’m going to give a shout-out to a couple of our staunchest Zebras in Scotland, who really move with purpose!
Firstly, Christina of Wee Seeds. Wee Seeds is a mental health and mindfulness meditation app for preschoolers. Having a preschooler myself, there’s so much going on in the little ones’ heads! It’s so helpful to find the words to talk about meditation and mindfulness with them, and to provide them with exercises that are at their level!
Secondly, Sarah and Ailsa of Matter of Focus, which helps organisations tell the story of their impact through a combination of software and consultancy. Combining tech with human connection is so important and I feel like this is a real theme for Zebras – keeping business human.
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Systemic thinker and community builder. Behind-the-scenes-operator and spreadsheet aficionado. Zebras Unite chapter lead Edinburgh, Scotland.