Startup ideas – and the words we use – seem to go in cycles. The social sites: Facebook/LinkedIn. The dating sites – and the list is just too long here. The sharing economy: Airbnb/zipcar. We go into Vertical Overload, and suddenly there is a proliferation of social sites/dating sites/sharing sites.
The same holds for the words to which we gravitate. It may be fine the first few times – or where and when absolutely appropriate – but remember: unless you’re the lead dog, the scenery never changes. Here are a few words and phrases that are starting to sound like white noise:
1. Ecosystem – Not everything is an ecosystem. Try ‘community,’ where appropriate, which is true in most instances.
2. Disruptive – Twitter disrupted. Twitter changed the way news and real time information is disseminated. There’s a difference between having a novel take on a particular vertical, and truly disrupting one
3. Cultural Fit – Not all employees work out. This is nothing new. We’ve just got a new term for it, and suddenly, it’s news. Seriously?
4. Pivot – Note to self: contrary to popular misconception, pivoting is not de rigueur. It often happens that a startup starts out with one purpose in mind, then finds that the users are engaging in ways in which it wasn’t originally intended, so you change course and follow the users, and hopefully, the money. That’s part of the learning experience. As for pivoting – it’s making some of us dizzy, and as for the rest, well, others may just figure that you just screwed up and started over; knew less about your business than you thought you did; or rebranded/relaunched, in which case, just say so.
5. Guru – A guru is someone who has studied a discipline for a very long time. Social media guru? Sorry, but social media hasn’t been around long enough for anyone to be a guru.
6. Ninja/Rockstar/Visionary – See above. You may live in New York and wear a lot of black, but unless you know how to use nunchucks, you’re not a ninja. As for ‘rockstar’ and visionary: visionaries come along rarely. You may be prescient, but was it a one-off, or do you know what the industry will look like in five years? In which case, ping me, and let’s talk stock picks and shorts.
7. Friending – Friend is a noun, and hopefully refers to a person you know and like and trust. If you’re ‘friending’ someone on social media, dollars to donuts, d) none of the above applies. You may have decided to connect with that person, but don’t insult the people in your life who stick by you, when you ‘friend’ a stranger. Or rethink your priorities.
8. Collaborative Consumption – We’re sharing apartments/homes, cars, pets, taxis, tools, clothing, and even heavy equipment. What did we miss? Give it time: in a week or two, there will be a host of other companies launching a platform where something or other is being shared/borrowed.
9. Sustainable – Sustainable is the new black. It’s cool, it has heart, and it comes at a price and a premium one at that. It’ll get you press, but the price is that it’ll garner you a much more niche market that can afford to shell out for your goods. Which is fine, and although it might make you popular with your friends, just realize that the majority of them may not be repeat customers.
10. Lean – All startups, by definition, need to be lean. The concept was codified, and a movement was born that no doubt came about in no small part as a result of Web 1.0, when too much money was being thrown at too much youth and inexperience. No wonder the bubble burst.
Bonus words to avoid:
Growth Hacker – You’re looking for someone to do user/audience acquisition, so call it that. The only ones who use the term ‘growth hacker’ are the 20-somethings, most of whom who lacks the 7-10 years experience that you’re looking for.
Iterate – Iterate and reiterate have the same meaning, yet in many a presentation, ‘iterate’ somehow manages to make its way out of someone’s mouth. There are ‘iterative’ structures in programming languages but no ‘reiterative’ structures. Is that the reason why ‘iterate’ has crept into the lexicon? No matter: it’s overused. Stop it.