10 Overused Startup Buzzwords
If your company "pivots" to "disrupt" an industry, you need a new strategy.
Oh sure, you might have heard that Company X made a billion dollars by doing that. But when the lingo of a few billionaires becomes the lingo of thousands of entrepreneurs, the overused words begin to lose their meaning.
"Nobody really loves any buzzwords," Michael Browning, director of MOBI and Bluefish Wireless, told Benzinga. "In my opinion, commonly used terms graduate into buzzwords because they're used so often in business that they lose all meaning. Instead, I love it when people speak clearly and showcase their own personality."
"I don't pay too much attention to these buzzwords," adds 63 Squares founder Felipe Coimbra. "And usually when I hear people using [them] my BS alert goes off and I stop listening to what they're saying."
Coimbra said that he wonders "if everybody knows people are full of it when they use these words."
But it's not just buzzwords that are annoying the startup community. "All due respect to Steve Jobs, who made a huge difference in the world, but I don't know that he needs to be quoted as often as he is," said Ian Small, General Manager of Audiobooks.com.
Small also takes issue with the word "leverage," to which he asked, "Imagine how happy Archimedes would be to hear how much we're all talking about leverage these days?"
"Bandwidth" is another word on Small's list. "This isn't limited to just startups, but it drives me crazy," he said. "Bandwidth should only be used to talk about Internet usage, not about resource allocation."
And that's not all. Small also dislikes the word "synergy."
"[It] never fails to make me think of my wife's childhood obsession with Jem and the Holograms," he said.
Meanwhile, to prevent himself from playing "buzzword bingo," Jim Kanir, SVP of Sales and Marketing at Billtrust, avoids a wide variety of words and terms:
- social media
- think outside the box
- six sigma
- at the end of the day
- cutting edge
- mission critical
- change agent
That's not to say that all buzzwords are bad. Jesse Marrus, the founder and president of StreetID, knows a few that are actually worth using, such as "user-friendly."
"I find it very important to focus on the end users regardless of what type of startup business you are in," said Marrus. "Make sure they are easily able to navigate the platform and respond to any questions they have in a timely manner."
Marrus also likes the words "lean" and "productivity."
"By [lean] I mean [keeping] all of your costs at the lowest possible levels (rent, employees, marketing, furniture, supplies, etc.)," Marrus explained. "For example, work out of your house if necessary. And if you need an office space, find one that is all inclusive."
Marrus added that while it is "imperative that you are maximizing your level of productivity on a daily basis," it doesn't mean that you "have to work 14-hour days."
"But make sure every member knows their responsibilities and are working efficiently," he said.
This week, Benzinga reached out to several entrepreneurs and business professionals to find out which startup buzzwords annoy them the most.
10. Minimal Viable Product
"I think M.V.P. (Minimal Viable Product) is a good lean startup philosophy," said Patrick Ambron, co-founder and CEO of BrandYourself. "[But it is] often abused and misinterpreted to mean 'launch something half-assed or half-baked because the market will tell us how to make it better.' Yes, you should launch something simple, but it still needs to be the very best at what it does. If it isn't absolutely the best at accomplishing something, all you have on your hands is a minimal product no one will ever care about."
"If you didn't like the game, why did you even start playing?" Audiobooks.com's Ian Small asks.
"Game-changer" also appeared on the overused startup buzzword lists from Billtrust's Jim Kanir and Shadora's Shoshanah Posner, who co-founded the site.
"A now-famous tweet from Josh Kopelman (of First Round Capital) states, 'Too many Freemium models have too much 'free' and not enough 'mium,'" said Chris Cope, founder of SlimWare Utilities. "This can apply to both your product attributes and your revenue model. For us, generating revenues and valuable data from our free users, as well as our paying users, was a great approach to this very common problem."
Those who take this route, however, will learn that paying customers are a "much different breed than free users," Cope explained. "Meeting paying customers' needs is paramount and providing an amazing product or service to your free users can make them devoted advocates for your brand. Not knowing this is where I think a lot of 'Freemium' models fail. But balancing the two, and deriving value from both, is the hardest part."
"I think it goes with saying that if you are involved with a startup (particularly the founder), you should be 'passionate,'" said StreetID's Jesse Marrus. "It is a very cliché word and if you aren't "passionate," you have no business working for a startup."
6. Stealth Mode
"Stealth Mode: Generally used when describing a company or product without any useful public information about it," said SlimWare Utilities' Chris Cope. "If it is in 'stealth mode,' why am I reading about it on TechCrunch?"
"This word is way too arbitrary but you hear it in the business world all the time," said StreetID's Jesse Marrus. "I think it is a bit arrogant to characterize yourself as the 'industry leader' or [as a company that's] 'leading.' The consumer decides the leader."
4. We're the "X for X"
It may not be just one word, but BrandYourself's Patrick Ambron hates it when he hears an entrepreneur say that he or she has built the "X for X."
"For example, 'We're the mint.com of online reputation' or 'we're LinkedIn (NASDAQ: LNKD) for entrepreneurs,'" said Ambron. "It's an example of people thinking small. You need to be 100% dedicated to your idea or mission, not jumping on a bandwagon."
"[One of the] words I see that drives me nuts is democratize," said Scott Bell, CEO MyGDP. "Democratize is just such a mindless word when it comes to 'productizing' something. The marketplace is democratizing everyday when it votes for your product or not. I know the definition also means putting something in everyone's hands, but if the product is poison, I'm not sure that's such a great thing."
"Unfortunately, I think a lot of entrepreneurs in finance think mostly of the dollar signs of the marketplace rather than the end result of the solutions [they're] providing," Bell continued. "A perfect example would be leveraged Exchanged Traded Funds. Now anyone [can] lever up their portfolio by 3x, buying and selling a simple index fund. It used to be only options traders and people trading on margin could blow themselves up so efficiently and democratically."
"I personally hate the word 'pivot,'" said BrandYourself's Patrick Ambron. "While obviously being able to 'pivot' or adjust your business model/product is essential to surviving -- Instagram was a pivot, and even our own product underwent some heavy evolution -- I think it is completely misused and abused as both a word and a concept."
Ambron said that he sees many startups use it as an excuse not to pursue a business model or product in-depth enough. "Even if you have the right general idea, finding the product to market fit is going to be HARD and take a few tries. It's going to take some perseverance."
At the moment, Ambron sees a lot of startups that "hit their first hiccup -- nobody signed up at launch, they didn't execute a feature properly -- and immediately say, 'time to pivot.'"
SlimWare Utilities' Chris Cope looks at it another way. "This word can sometimes be synonymous with 'desperate' or 'not working,'" he said. "While it's quite common to try new ideas or test new monetization models, the word 'pivot' evokes emotions of desperation."
"Disruptive -- really?" asks SlimWare Utilities' Chris Cope. "[It's] probably the most overused word in the startup dictionary. Everyone wants to be 'disruptive.' However, if you insist you are disrupting a multi-billion dollar industry, you may very well be 'acquisition bait.'"
"Disruption is something that's happening as an evolution," said MyGDP's Scott Bell. "I'm not sure any one company is ever disrupting on their own, especially within wealth management."
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