I won’t lie: it’s flattering and vindicating for the low-burn, efficient-growth strategies we’ve been championing for years to come into vogue. For years we’ve watched quietly on the sidelines as low-interest rates and market doldrums have fueled massive investments into “Unicorn” startups, operating unsustainable business models at a massive loss. And I can’t deny we’ve envied their shocking valuations. So I’ll admit satisfaction that the mythical creature’s shine is wearing off, and that there’s enough appreciation of our sustainable, profitable models that startups of our class have finally earned a name of our own.
But “cockroach”? Seriously?!
I believe the blame rests first with Paul Graham, who (possibly inadvertently) coined the term in a 2007 essay, saying “Apparently the most likely animals to be left alive after a nuclear war are cockroaches, because they’re so hard to kill. That’s what you want to be as a startup, initially. Instead of a beautiful but fragile flower that needs to have its stem in a plastic tube to support itself, better to be small, ugly, and indestructible.”
After that — like a cockroach itself — the term went into a dark corner to brood for a while, with Dave McClure bringing it some mainstream attention in a 2013 Wired article, where he advised founders to build “a lean little fucking cockroach startup” — which was summarized into the headline: “Dave McClure: You need to build lean ‘cockroach’ startups”
I think that might have been a turning point, because after that it seems to have come up more and more — almost like the term itself is multiplying quietly in the shadows, clicking away in the periphery while everybody else was chasing unicorns through rainbow infested glades.
But the first time I actually heard somebody call Expensify a cockroach (and only ironically) was earlier this week, in response to a recent First Round profile:
And so now that the cockroach is actually at my doorstep, I need to speak up: enough is enough. Those of us committed to growth AND profit need to band together to come up with a stronger brand than the one that’s creeping into the mainstream consciousness. I don’t want our legacy to be that of a Thai delicacy I recently saw on the streets of Bangkok; we deserve a name at least as cool as “Unicorn”.
What could that be? After a brief internal brainstorming session, the best we came up with was:
- Volcano: They build entire islands by themselves out of the swirling waters. Regardless of the way the VC tides are going, the Volcano keeps growing.
- Hobbit: Impervious to the power of the one ring, unphased by the war for middle earth.
- Redwood: Tall and majestic, growing through all weather. And an homage to Silicon Valley!
- Kudzu vine: A terrifying invasive species that disrupts classic ecosystems worldwide.
- Tardigrade: Immune to heat, cold, radiation, even outer space. And so cute!
- Honey Badger: Just doesn’t give a shit.
But really, none of those are good. So maybe — and this is crazy, so stay with me here — maybe we don’t need a name? Maybe what we’re doing is just building a real business, the way it’s always been done? Well always, except when the Unicorns are in town.