As we move into the year-end holidays, one of the many to-do items is to find gifts for all of the special people in your life.

Last year, I ended up with the unenviable task of finding gifts for the staff of TrustedChoice.com to celebrate both the end of the year and to recognize that we had finally gotten to profitability.

Everybody had an idea, but more importantly an opinion about any potential gift. Those conflicting opinions were definitely NOT getting us to a decision. As we sorted our options, one over-arching principal came into focus:

A gift that is unappreciated or worse, unused, doesn’t fulfill the intended purpose.

After lots of work, I finally claimed executive privilege and decided on some nice Patagonia jackets, with the TrustedChoice.com logo on the right shoulder. After all the dogging I got from Ryan, it was very gratifying when even HE said that the jackets were “gangster.”

A Tale of Two Creatures

Over the last couple of years, quite a bit of attention has been focused on Unicorns, those rare startups that rapidly reach a market capitalization of a billion dollars.

And why not?

An early stage investment in a business that becomes a Unicorn richly rewards those with the foresight and luck to support the business at formation.

Although there are few commonalities between these Unicorns, one reason that many of these businesses gain such valuation as quickly as they do is that they are disruptors of the status quo.

Companies who move into a large industry with transformational changes create value because they approach an existing problem with new tools or a better understanding of the customer need and how to deliver a better experience.

Early on, those insights aren’t obvious and may even be counter-intuitive.

When a marketplace is thrown into complete chaos by one of these new entrants, the existing players need to either respond, or their business will be dramatically changed.

Whether the company sees its market share erode, is weakened to the point of collapse, or addresses the new market conditions and recovers will depend upon the company’s response to the challenger(s).

Subscribers to Agency Nation are well aware that the insurance ecosystem is currently filled with ‘disruptors’, each hoping to reach Unicorn status.

Last week, I was listening to Marketplace Tech, and the host was interviewing Mara Zepeda, one of the founders of a new network of companies, and she presented an interesting counterpoint to the prevailing positive perception of Unicorns and disruptions.

In her telling, Unicorns’ driving force, perhaps even their guiding principle, is to make money at the expense of anything else. Consumption over creation, quick exits over sustainable growth, destruction over repair.

Unicorns are disruption.

They offer up as examples: Facebook’s chasing ad revenue at all costs an allowing itself to be played to influence a presidential election and the “dubious” business practices of Uber.

Fighting words, eh?

She and a coauthor have written a Medium post called “Zebras Fix What Unicorns Break”, and they have identified the culture of Unicorns as a problem.

They offer up a counter business model that they call the Zebra. The first point of differentiation is that unicorns are mythical, and zebras are real animals.

Zebras are black and white: they are both focused on profitability and improve societies. They don’t sacrifice one for the other.

Zebras are repair.

But one of the most interesting concepts is that zebras band together for mutual protection. Those stark stripes work to confuse predators and pests as big as the great cats and tiny as biting flies.

Broad stripes on a zebra’s flanks and the narrow stripes on their back create confusing motion signals causing bugs to abort landing and predators to miss in their attacks. The effect is only magnified when a group of zebras are together.

No coincidence then that a group of zebras is called a Dazzle.

The first meeting of Zebra companies is happened last week in Portland called DazzleCon.

Are companies who want to provide social good consigned to remain small, inconsequential entities, barely turning a profit? Not at all. Mara provided a couple of examples, one of which was the Ventura California based clothing company, Patagonia.

Giving Back Drives the Bottom Line

Patagonia is a wild and beautiful wilderness area in the southern Andes mountains on the border of Chile and Argentina. It is an area of stark beauty and sheer granite peaks. While not high by big mountain standards, they represent some of the most challenging climbing in the world.

In the late 1960’s, a Californian named Yvon Chouinard was one of the most well-known mountain climbers in the world. Although he had been selling climbing gear for a decade, a product liability suit convinced him to sell off the hardware side of the business, and rebrand the clothing side of the business after one of his favorite climbing areas.

A perfect fit for an outdoor company are causes that focus on the environment, and Patagonia has a number of initiatives in this area.

  • They track and minimize the carbon footprint of each of their products.
  • They offer repair services for their gear, so that rather than an old product turning into garbage, it can be returned to full use.
  • They return the greater of 1% of revenues or 10% of profits to environmental groups.

These efforts have far more impact than just the value returned to the recipients. These initiatives also factor into the buying decisions of their customers.

How about in the insurance business? How can we provide social good?

I am a firm believer that insurance itself is a social good. We are what stands between our customers and financial disaster.

And yet, the average customer doesn’t understand that. In their eyes, we are a necessary evil at best, downright crooks at worst.

We’ll explore cause marketing, and how insurance agencies and companies can use it to their advantage in a future post.

Long Story Short

TrustedChoice.com isn’t a Unicorn. If we were, we would be pursuing much different strategies and tactics.

We aren’t looking to displace industry incumbents in a win-lose scenario.

We’re a Zebra with an ecosystem that is designed to allow both independent agencies and carriers to thrive.

Over the past 7 years, TrustedChoice.com has ultimately achieved great success building an industry resource for the independent channel.

That resource is designed to help both  independent insurance channel compete and remain dominant in the new digital landscape. The very definition of win-win.

We don’t do this alone.

  • We’ve got investors who didn’t get in for immediate financial returns. Rather, they are investing for the growth of the channel.
  • We’ve got agency customers who bought into the concept in its earliest stages, and they have stayed with us through thick and thin.
  • New carriers continue to join the network, and existing participants are extending their footprints.
  • Finally, we’ve got millions of consumers who continue to visit the site, even as we’ve experienced our growing pains.

We welcome you to reach out, learn more, and join our Dazzle!

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