Home World Business Queensland needs zebras, not unicorns: Jock Fairweather

Queensland needs zebras, not unicorns: Jock Fairweather


First off, we need to deduce what exactly the word “startup” means. I like to break it down into two categories – “Unicorns” and “Zebras”.

A “Unicorn” is a term coined to describe startups valued at over $1billion – a mythical animal to represent the statistical rarity of such successful ventures.

Queensland needs more of these.... Queensland needs more of these…. 

Startup popularity has proliferated in recent years, as people are attracted to being a part of that startup community for the wrong reasons.

Not necessarily the people coming up with the ideas and innovations, but those who want to attach their name to a project in the hope of producing a “Unicorn”.

... And not so many of these. … And not so many of these. Photo: Jamila Toderas

Basing a business model on a mythological creature is risky practice in the first place because what it’s really saying is that the whole thing is highly unlikely, a myth, and it doesn’t exist (yet).

You think of famous “Unicorns” such as Snapchat and Uber – they’re not making any money.  It looks great on paper, and the long-term goal is that they hope they can turn on the tap and make a profit. It’s all about disruption and innovation rather than sustainability.

I prefer the term “Zebra”. A company that is a “Zebra” has more than one dimension (black and white), is  all about protecting the pack, and, most importantly, real. 

“Zebras” make profit and have impact. A local Australian “Zebra”, albeit a very big one – is Flight Centre. Flight Centre is completely sustainable, has had very long-term dedicated vision, staff and impactful goals attached.

Entrepreneur Jock Fairweather. Entrepreneur Jock Fairweather. 

Rather than using other people’s money based on a mythical hypothesis, they have a validated proven model that is investing in building the future, such as Artificial Intelligence companies.

What everyone needs to do is realise that we all share a common goal, which is essentially to promote the great work that’s happening in both Brisbane and South East Queensland.

By that, I mean the Queensland government, local councils, marketing authorities, investment boards, and business leaders in all sectors.

We should collaborate to promote and build the entire Queensland ecosystem, instead of competing against each other for who can produce the next Unicorn success story.

We should instead concentrate on building sustainable and impactful companies with all of our support.

This could be led by a neutral committee that drives the decision making for the SEQ ecosystem.

  • Young businessperson of the year 2016 Jock Fairweather is a man many see as the future of Brisbane’s business ecosystem as it moves to become a “New World City”. At 27, he calls himself “el capitano” of Little Tokyo Two, the company managing space at The Capital, a hub for startup businesses which opened early this year with the support of $5 million of ratepayers’ money. In this, the first of a three-part series, the city’s innovation “captain” puts his thoughts on the line to explain how he thinks Southeast Queensland can be the next centre for global startup enterprise.


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