In turbulent times, such as the current one, investors of startups look for the suitable decision criteria.


“May he live in interesting times” – this well-known Chinese saying may well apply also to today’s situation for startup investors. No doubt, we live in turbulent times with AI technology revolutionizing industries, war raging on European soil, and climate change threatening mankind’s very existence. To navigate this framework successfully as a private investor in the startup scene is by far no easy task. To help find the suitable pathway VCs and private investors got used to associating startups with various examples of the animal kingdom, such as camels, zebras, and the like or with mythical figures, such as unicorns or phoenixes. [1] It may now be the time to introduce the symbol of the albatross as an appropriate metaphor for the quest for the most promising startup.

In the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the albatross is defined as a “continuing problem that makes it difficult or impossible to do or achieve something”. In literature, it repeatedly connotes the meaning of bad luck and hindrance to success. [2] Additionally, as a matter of fact, in wildlife, this bird also has a rather hard time accomplishing a successful take-off or landing. Undoubtedly, these characteristics would make an investor hesitate to pick a startup with such dubious prospects.

The access to and the interpretation of the available data are the key to success.

But on the other hand, also the opposite meaning can be found: First, traditionally the albatross is a symbol of good fortune to sailors as its appearance announces the closeness of land. Certainly, investors putting their money in a startup wish for the good fortune to see it succeed. Second, the bird’s enormous wingspan of up to three and a half meters enables it to cruise the sky for several kilometres in just a single flap. It is exactly this ability an investor is looking for in a startup – the aptitude to make the most out of the money endowed in any given investment round and to cover with it as much distance as possible. And third, an albatross can reach an age of over 60 years. This corresponds to the investors’ desired goal to see the startup of their choice have a long and prosperous life ahead.

Now this sort of dilemma between the interpretation of data as bad or good omens seems characteristic of the current situation of an investor or startup. The macroeconomic situation provides many serious threats but the opportunities arising out of the emerging trends, such as digital transformation in all sectors of the economy, generative artificial intelligence, social entrepreneurship, and sustainability, just to name a few, open a wide window for growth and development. [3]

The access to and the interpretation of the available data are the key to success.

While nowadays the tools available for investors may be different, the necessary mindset to face the challenges remains the same: an open attitude, curiosity, risk assessment, due diligence, and an overall appetite to get involved. The access to and the interpretation of the available data are the key to success.

As the albatross needs a very long run-up to gather enough air under its wings to lift it into the sky the investor should be prepared to give a big endorsement to an exceptional startup to enable it to go up high in the sky and go a long distance with the most efficient use of its resources. What remains characteristic of albatross startups is the high ambivalence of their entrepreneurial success – welcome to 2024!

[1] Unicorn-Camel, what Type of Startup Animal is Your Startup Company?; Avy-Loren Cohen; Medium; Jul 10, 2023
[2] Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (Modern Critical Interpretations); Harold Bloom; New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1986
[3] The Economic Outlook for Startups in 2024, Kate Adams; Burkland, The Smarter Startup, Jan 17, 2024

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