OnStartups

Mediocre Marketing: How NOT To Describe Your Startup

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on January 28, 2008 in marketing 22 Comments

I'm subscribed to a Yahoo! group that occasionally gets a post from recruiters looking for candidates for startups. Though I don't enjoy these posts (they're not relevant for me), I understand that recruiters have a place in the market too and they're just trying to do their jobs.

But, I was really disappointed today from a post I saw from a recruiter that was trying to hire sales candidates for a startup. It was strikingly ineffective to the degree that if I had not received the message myself (and didn't know that it was serious), I'd have thought it was a joke. Trust me, it's not.

Here it is (unmodified) for your amusement and education:

"Hot Start Up – Focused on delivering an innovative architecture that enables unique and disruptive technologies to address the severe inefficiencies in current online marketplaces. Several patents filed for innovative processes – Lead & financed by a team of well known successful entrepreneurs who have done it before and are now doing it again. A Great Company with lots of upside. Very serious about creating and maintaining the type of culture that creates success – Team Centric – Collaborative – A+ Players with Low Ego. Get in on the ground floor and join a winning team."

Here are my issues with this particular description (apologies for the sarcasm and snarkiness). It's not usually my style, but in this instance, something had to be said, and I think there are good lessons to be learned:

1. Opens with "Hot Start Up". It's good to know this, because I get so many notices from cold startups or lukewarm startups that I appreciate when someone helps me immediately recognize a "hot" startup.

2. "Focused on delivering an innovative architecture that enables unique and disruptive technologies...". This is compared to a scattered approach to delivering a pedestrian architecture that enables common technologies that help maintain the status quo.

3. "...to address the severe inefficiencies in current online marketplaces". Which, of course, is much better than addressing extremely efficient online markets.

4. "A Great Company with lots of upside." I can't tell you how many startups I come across that describe themselves as being mediocre and having little upside.

5. "Very serious about creating and maintaining the type of culture that creates success." Really beats all those startups that are frivolously maintaining a culture that prohibits success".

6. "Team Centric - Collaborative - A+ Players with Low Ego". We want to filter out the candidates that are loners and overly-confident B- players.

7. "Get in on the ground floor and join a winning team". Who would want to join a startup on the third floor for a team that's clearly going to come out in fourth place?

All humor and sarcasm aside, here's why I took time on a lazy Sunday afternoon to write this article: Whatever startup it is that this recruiter is trying to find candidates for is probably not going to get much value. The lesson here can be boiled down to one sentence:

When describing your startup, avoid being platitudinal. Be different. Communicate something meaningful.

Here's my litmus test: When making a claim about your startup, ask yourself if anyone would ever claim anything different -- or even better, claim the opposite. If the answer is a clear "no", your description is probably empty. Examples: Which startups are not innovative? Who's not looking to disrupt? Who's not creating a culture of success? Who's looking for B- players? Who's looking to build a third-place team?

Here's my (hypothetical) rewrite of the original description:

Our founders made a bunch of money on their prior startups, which were hugely successful. We've got enough money to file for patents, have an admin answer the phone and pay great salaries and commissions to those that join the team. We're building a financial services product that isn't disruptive, but helps the CTOs of banks not change their existing systems, and feel better about it. Turns out, people are willing to pay to not be "disrupted". It doesn't last for ever, but there's a bunch of money to be made in the meantime. If you're looking to work in the basement, answer your own phone and change the world, there are lots of other startups out there. If you want to make real money now but still tell your friends and family that you're a high-flying risk taker that just joined a startup, call us. Johnathan, our administrative assistant will answer the phone.

---

My version is not as flattering as the original, but at least it says something.

What do you think? Am I being overly harsh here? Do you think the original would actually work? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.