What is the spirit animal of your business?
We have heard much about the so-called unicorns since Aileen Lee first coined the term 6 years ago, that we’ve forgotten about real companies.
The term unicorn refers to private startups that have reached 1-billion dollar in valuation. These are companies that have grown beyond any reasonable expectations.
But let’s be honest, unicorns, even if more numerous than ever, are an exception, and we cannot make it a goal for every company to become one.
There’s an ecosystem of companies out there that have their own distinguishable character and features.
Success is something different for them, and its meaning changes for each type of company that we encounter. It does not mean that all companies are investable and can offer a return on investment to external shareholders, but it means that every type of company has its own unique characteristics and should have a different goal-setting strategy depending on where it belongs.
So what is the spirit animal of your company?
The gazelle is a smart and fast creature.
“The gazelle is an example of efficiency. The cheetah, its chief predator, is known as the fastest land animal. And yet the gazelle is capable of outrunning the cheetah simply because its movements are more efficient and it knows how to use the terrain and its zigzagging motion to confuse and defeat its pursuers.”
The term is actually often used for startups in Sub-Saharan Africa, where unicorns are still only a foreign phenomenon, but where local tech startups have been able to grow fast and scale in previously untapped local markets.
The gazelle is actually the typical online or tech startup, small and with little capital requirements, but going fast and with the ability to scale. However, the gazelle does not have a wide enough market to become a unicorn, but it can be acquired by one.
“These cunning hunters can follow the scent of blood from hundreds of miles away, homing in with uncanny accuracy. Their well-formed muscles make fighting off nearly impossible. In short, when a shark decides to make you its meal, there are just so many things you can do to survive.
Their cool, calculating demeanor together with a surging ferocity can tell us more about what it means to set your goals and to achieve them. Sharks are generally peaceful. The ferocious image we have of them is mostly limited to select situations, such as when they are very hungry. What does this say about them? Sharks are all about impressions.”
The shark is the spirit animal of large multinational corporations. These companies are global leaders, not just in one field, but in a variety of related or non-related fields. They often acquire or develop a technological advantage, initially internally, but as they grow, they acquire a variety of companies, and add value through synergies. They are usually ahead of the market, by acquiring the latest technology and always being on the lookout for the next big thing or the next big market. Over time, they develop an unrivalled market power, and are thought of as both contributing to innovation, as well as stifling innovation of less powerful competitors, through acquisitions or by exercising their market power.
“Sharks have a covering of dermal denticles that protects their skin from damage and parasites in addition to improving their fluid dynamics. They have numerous sets of replaceable teeth.”
Well, Shark companies are protected by a variety of factors and can undergo many downturns or have multiple companies within the group fail, without faltering. They are not immortal, as we have seen many conglomerates and global market leaders lose their top spot over the years as they failed to keep ahead of new trends, but large market shifts are usually needed for this to happen. Often, they have enough resources to change their focus and transform, and even if they lose their recognition as market leaders, they can still continue operating for many years with fair or average success.
The sharks can be thought of as past unicorns, after they get listed on the stock market and gain enough resources to become acquisitive.
“The moose are massive herbivores. They are also very easily found, with vocalizations that can be heard for several miles away. Despite this facade, moose can be very dangerous. They are fearless and tenacious, and once they have a goal they will stop at nothing until that goal is reached.
The solid stance of the moose is a symbol of personal authority. It is power, but not one that is wielded wildly. It is a type of power that is not wielded over others, but over oneself. It is a manifestation of the internal locus of control — the moose believes that only he can make decisions for himself, not any other.
The huge girth of the moose is also an apt symbol of individuality. He stands strong and proud, and he stays true to the things he stands for even when other people tell him otherwise. The moose thrives in his unique frame of mind, and draws strength from it. Despite its large size, the moose can also move with stealth and grace.”
The moose is the spirit animal of historical companies and brands, some of which are over a century old, and project stability, reliability and power. Some of these brands are so established and recognised, that it almost seems like no marketing is necessary to keep these brands alive.
However, even with a household name, these companies still need to compete for attention and keep up with new trends and channels, as well as maintain profitability over time.
“As a spirit animal, the wolf commands presence and position of power. The wolf is full of personal power, self awareness and control as well as instincts.”
The wolf will often try to avoid trouble, but if confronted it will become aggressive and come out as a winner. It often attacks large prey in cooperative hunting groups.
“The wolf is able to quickly assess the costs and benefits of attacking its potential prey. If successful, it can bring down game that will feed it for days. However, one error in judgement and it can be badly injured or killed. Additionally, Wolves move around their territory when hunting using the same trails for extended periods.”
The wolf is the spirit animal of the long-standing Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), which can be in traditional or new business sectors and attached to their country of origin, but often successful internationally. Their success is often based on competitive advantages acquired over longer period of time and on a closely knit organisation, but they are able to compete with old and new companies. Just like any other business, it needs to constantly innovate to maintain their market position and strength.
“The spider is an ancient symbol of Mystery, Power and Growth. The spider symbolism means that our choices construct our lives — just as spider weaves its web. It shows us that the past is always interwoven with future. They have a very good understanding of unravelling the most difficult patterns and converting them into most useful and positive things, “ and have become a symbol of creativity.
The spider is the spirit animal of those new businesses in traditional fields, which can be considered startups by some, but that do not really belong to the tech startup club. They are not entirely technology based (even if they might use new technologies for part of their business) and they grow more similarly to traditional companies. They grow slower but achieve profitability sooner than tech startups. These companies tend to be in traditional fields, bringing innovation by applying new business models. They might not seem cool and are rarely talked about, but these companies might well be good investments, earning mostly through profits rather than through an exit.
“One of the squirrel’s most documented traits is its tendency to hide nuts “for future use”. In fact, we can see the squirrel at this activity most of the time, either hiding nuts or attempting to find them later. First, the squirrel symbolizes energy focused through its goals. From another point of view, the squirrel’s cheerful activities is a reminder for us to play and enjoy life. But, did you know that the squirrel only finds around 1 in 10 of the nuts that it hides? Hence, it is also a symbol and a warning against over-preparation.”
The squirrel is the spirit animal of some tech startups that build value through assets. These companies start building a product, sometimes with few or sometimes with larger resources, without a well-defined business model, or without any specific intention to develop a revenue or profit-generating company. The purpose of this company is to build a product or traction, and sell the company for the value of its assets, i.e. the technology or the users, before the company fully enters the market.
Sometimes this takes place on purpose, but in the many cases, little planning in terms of business model takes place. The motivation behind this is often a personal interest for the technology or product. This can be a very good deal for those who sell early, even if for a low sum, and develop the product with few resources, therefore generating a fairly high return on investment for themselves.
In many cases, however, the squirrel does not find its nuts.
The development and sale of these assets depends on the market environment, on whether other companies are acquisitive and whether the asset can truly have any real value for another company.
“The lion is a symbol of skill, especially one that is passed down from master to apprentice. Lions may be great hunters, but that’s only because these skills are being honed in them since they were children. A lion’s pride is a very close-knit community, supporting each other and teaching each other the skills they need for survival.”
The lion is the spirit animal of the family business. These local businesses can have a fairly good success for many years and can even expand in part to other territories. Their skills and resources are passed down to new generations, who take over the reins of the business. They develop a strong network of clients and partnerships, but these remain attached to their owner, meaning that a change in ownership can cause the loss of the core business and network.
The lion is considered a vulnerable specie in decline and threatened in some areas, where a loss of habitat and human activities may be responsible for its decline. Much in the same way, the family business is in decline, threatened by new trends in society such as the increase in individualism and the strength of new business models over traditional and less flexible family businesses.
The frog is a very interesting animal, but with some characteristics that remind me of some companies I’ve come across.
The frog is an important food source for predators. The skin is semi-permeable, making it susceptible to dehydration, so it either lives in moist places or has special adaptations to deal with dry habitats.
It represents those companies that have been fairly successful and are just making enough money to survive, and have done so for a while. But a small change in the market environment can easily mean the end for them, although few are able to adapt and continue a cycle of survival without growth. There are many of these companies, and they are important to provide just enough resources for its owners and employees to live on, but they are not growing and have few growth paths.
“During extreme conditions, some frogs enter a state of torpor and remain inactive for months. In colder regions, many species of frog hibernate in winter. Their metabolism slows down and they live on their energy reserves. Some frogs can even survive being frozen.” (Source: Wikipedia)
Frog companies are often in traditional businesses. They can survive based on the resources they have accumulated, even with periods of low sales volumes, followed by a pick-up in sales to return to their normal day-to-day business and slow growth.
They are what some people call zombie companies — but I wouldn’t call them zombie companies. The frog still has a chance to pick itself up and transform itself, albeit a small chance.
“The butterfly is a perfect example of Nature’s creativity, an ambassador of its beauty, flitting through groves with its beautiful wings. But the conscious man also knows there is more to the butterfly than the marvel it brings. To many cultures, the butterfly is a symbol of a battle won, a beautiful goal achieved through perseverance. The butterfly represents growth and progress, but it is also a symbol of moving out of our comfort zones.”
The butterfly is the spirit animal of the personal brand company, of the micro-business. It is not necessarily a lifestyle business, as it can transform from small to highly profitable business in some cases, with multiple revenue streams that complement each other, even when still attached to its initial image.
The hummingbird is the lifestyle or hobby business. It is small, flexible, can travel far and has many advantages, but will remain small.
“Hummingbirds have tough beaks and long tongues, that can get past the bitter parts of flowers when looking for the sweet nectar. The hummingbird has come to symbolise lightness of being and enjoyment of life. Hummingbirds do not spend all day flying, as the energy cost would be prohibitive; the majority of their activity consists simply of sitting or perching.”
Much in the same way, the lifestyle business allows the owner to enjoy life, sometimes having more free time and fewer responsibilities. This business structure is light and flexible, but at the same time does not provide many long-lasting resources.
“Monkeys are generally depicted as mischievous. Monkeys are all in for fun and laughter, revealing in entertainment and playfulness. The monkey is a symbol of socialisation. True to its fun-loving persona, the monkey is also a natural charmer. It tricks, but it cannot be tricked.”
The monkey is the spirit animal of some modern businesses that sell their products for being of higher value that they actually are, and only become profitable by exposing the product to a large number of people, through a well-planned funnel and digital advertising. The monkey is the spirit animal of pyramid schemes, contrapreneurs, low value digital products and quick money making schemes that can be good for the short-term, but have little substance to become a company with long-term success. They are built for quick and repeated short-term product sales, rather than through a sustainable model.
I will leave you with a thought.
The Venture Capital industry has been able to capitalise on the high-risk startup industry by creating unicorns, so how will we be able to capitalise on the investment of other early-stage companies in the future? That’s still all to be seen.
In any case, none of this is meant as a criticism to any kind of business, the animals are just a fun way to remember how varied company types are, and not all that these animals do translates into a business model! However, every business activity should be recognised for what it is and for its future potential.
All animal quotes originate from hep6.com