It's a jungle out there. Hungry predators roam the canyons of Wall Street. Lumbering herbivores graze on the meadows of electricity and commodities. Night creatures prowl the forests of venture capital. Parasites lurk in the undergrowth of patents. Which animal is the totem of your startup? And do you have what it takes to survive? What is your startup animal?
Bee the Startup Animal
We start with the nicest of them all: the busy bee that flies from flower to flower, keeping nature alive and giving us the nectar of the gods.
This is the startup with a good cause. Its founder wants to make other people's lives easier or improve society or help the world in some way. Perry "KickStarter" Chen is a good example. Such people are often more motivated than other entrepreneurs, since they know they're doing a good thing. Besides, the media are usually eager to publicize their cause. And if the startup makes some money along the way, all the better.
Pig the Startup Animal
Pig is one of the most intelligent animals. Why should it work when it can just get fed and grow? It gets slaughtered in the end, but hey, it's been a good life.
It's easy and cheap to make a web product these days. You know you can reach a huge market with a modest investment. Even getting venture capital is an unnecessary hassle. You just package a sexy idea and put it on KickStarter. You get money with no strings attached, so you can grow at your own pace. And when the time is right, your startup is slaughtered by a big corporation and you put millions in your pocket. You won't make history, but it paid off royally.
Toad the Startup Animal
Many toads bury themselves in the ground to hibernate. Why should they move and toil when it's so warm and cozy in the earth? Leave them alone and they're satisfied.
These startups might be the happiest ones. A guy who likes to play electric guitar opens an electric guitar shop. He spends money on his hobby anyway, so why not turn it into a business? So what if his only clients are his friends and guitar geeks? He gets to do what he loves.
As long as you take care not to spend more than you earn and not to neglect your other sources of income and your family, you'll have a very nice business. More often than not, it won't grow or be very profitable, but you can't have it all, can you?
Bear the Startup Animal
The bear doesn't let anyone else in the forest push it around. While strong and proud, this loner is not above rooting through garbage for food.
These startups know they're smart and think they should do everything themselves. They will take no bullshit from anyone. They're hard working, but can be annoying and totally inflexible. Venture capital is a dirty word for them, as they'd have to surrender some of their cherished freedom. Life can be very hard for them, but they never regret it as they can't imagine living any other way.
Bacteria the Startup Animal
Yuck, right? But when you consider their ability to multiply and thrive in any environment, nothing comes even close to bacteria.
I'm talking about franchises here. Yeah, I know, you have to make a major investment, you're not being original and you have to keep paying the guy who came up with the idea. Not very sexy. On the other hand, somebody else has already tested the model and it works. Your chances of failure are very low and you could make lots of money the easy way. It's a great way to get acquainted with the startup world if you have no experience and some funds.
Cat the Startup Animal
It may not be the smartest animal around, but it has the looks and style. They purr like the sweetest devils, but they can forget their owners in the blink of an eye.
The founders of these startups are people with a background. They're not doing too bad even without the startup, as they're usually insiders in a business. For them, it's not what you know but who you know. They don't have the persistence of most of the other animals. When things start to go downhill, they'll pull out without a second thought. These cool operators know that life is too varied to be wasted on a single project.
Hamster the Startup Animal
As the hamster spins its exercise wheel, who knows what's going on in the critter's head? Maybe it has big plans for the future. But one thing is certain: it won't get out of the cage.
Like it or not, most startups belong to this category. It's questionable whether they should be called startups at all. They provide small-scale services without thinking of how to make them original or more profitable. They are the people who sell you groceries, design your web page, paint your house, repair your washing machine or cut your hair.
Yes, they are nicer than big businesses. And many of them work hard. But, sadly, they don't have any ambition or vision, so they barely make ends meet. They won't invest much energy or money into growth. There's a good chance that one of your parents is like that. Don't follow in their footsteps. Spending the rest of your life spinning a wheel in a cage shouldn't be a career goal.
Ant the Startup Animal
An anthill is a perfect community. Everyone knows what they're doing and they're great at it. The ants would rule the world if they didn't concentrate on carrying breadcrumbs.
This is usually a technological startup. They are young, well-educated people who know a lot about specialized stuff and think that's enough to make it big. They have enough passion to create new and original products, but not enough common sense to realize marketing research has some value after all. They think clients come naturally if you're a great guy. In the end, they usually give up and get hired by a tech giant. Sure, one of them might turn into the next Bill Gates. But somehow we doubt it.
Whale the Startup Animal
That hulking mass frolicking in the ocean looks very impressive and even fearsome. But it's harmless and much more vulnerable than it looks. It takes only a few harpoons to take this giant down.
Are you the CEO of a big firm who thinks this startup stuff doesn't apply to you? Think again. The startup way of thinking is increasingly being adopted by large corporations. Their existence has been more and more precarious, as their very size makes them fragile. As Alan Greenspan said: "If they're too big to fail, they're too big." Cutting costs isn't cutting it any more. Innovation is the key, and you'd better get into a startup frame of mind if you don't want to become the biggest carcass on the market.
Scarab the Startup Animal
These little guys roll their ball of dung with only one goal: to make it bigger.
They are the most famous startups of them all. It's what every smart Silicon Valley kid dreams of and that's why they hoard venture capital. And they'll need lots of it. Mark "Facebook" Zuckerberg is the obvious example here, but Google and Twitter are in the same club.
These people think big. They're not into it to labor for their daily bread, but to push a company as far as it can go before making an IPO and earning billions. Along the way, these gamblers need others like them, who will invest into their wild schemes to make them grow quickly. It's all about scale.
Hey, I'm not rolling shit here, I hear you cry. But let me remind you that the scarab was the most sacred animal in ancient Egypt. His rolling ball was seen as the image of the golden sun moving across the sky. Turning dung into gold: isn't that the alchemy that all the entrepreneurs are looking for?
Obviously, the last animal is the most successful of them all in terms of money and fame. But, as you may have noticed from my descriptions, I believe character is crucial. You can change your approaches and strategies, but you can't change who you are. It's my firm conviction that nothing is more important than feeling good about what you do. In other words, it's better to be a satisfied ant than a miserable scarab.