Category Archives: Management

12 Startup Pitch Red Flags You Thought Sounded Great

A collection of lines that make you say “yeah”, but may make them say “yuck”. You should remove from your pitch right away.

 

“We have no competition.”

What you think you’re saying: “This is such pure innovation, that we are ahead of time.”

What they’re hearing: “This is most likely not innovation at all, because this market doesn’t seem to interest anyone else.”

What you should be saying: “Here’s how the competition/incumbents do it, and why it’s wrong…”

 

“We did all of this without a single marketing effort”

What you think you’re saying: “Imagine if we did!”

What they’re hearing: “We have no idea why it’s been working, and therefore couldn’t reproduce it, let alone grow it.”

What you should be saying: “Here are some early marketing initiatives we had that worked and we believe can be improved, and here are a few others we intend to experiment with…”

 

“We want to focus on building a great product, and we trust that we’ll grow on people’s love for the product.”

What you think you’re saying: “We believe we are focused on the right things.”

What they’re hearing: Marc Andreessen (leading startup investor) puts it better than I would: “The number one reason that we pass on entrepreneurs we’d otherwise like to back is focusing on product to the exclusion of everything else.” (source)

What you should be saying: “Product is critical, but let’s talk about our distribution strategy too. Here’s who will be interested in us, and how we’ll find them to tell them.”

 

“I’m the founder that focuses on tech, and X is the one that focuses on making money.”

What you think you’re saying: “We have clear roles, and the tech founder is a tech genius.”

What they’re hearing: “Not all of the company is focused on creating value. Some founder time will be wasted on stuff that isn’t likely to create any.”

What you should be saying: “We have various skills across the team, but are all primarily focused on results, and creating value for our users.”

 

“We have 11,229 followers on Twitter”

What you think you’re saying: “We have won people’s interest.”

What they’re hearing: “We’re focused on the wrong metrics, the ones that are not monetizable or don’t express any value we actually bring people. Also, we probably purchased Twitter Ads.”

What you should be saying: “We have a very strong social presence, which is reassuring for the future as of the interest people show us. Now, let’s talk about the important growth KPIs we chose to track (active users, revenue, pageviews, you choose it depending on your business model).”

 

“We have a clear vision, and know very precisely what users want.”

What you think you’re saying: “The founders are geniuses.”

What they’re hearing: “We are in love with our personal vision, and not with solving the problem, even if it means stepping away from the vision. When users will give us feedback, we’ll bend over backwards proving why they’re wrong and we’re right.”

What you should be saying: “We have a clear ideal vision, but we know we’ll have to constantly reconsider it based on users’ feedback, because we’re more wrong than they are about what they need. We actively seek feedback and act upon it; here’s what we’ve done based on the feedback we got…”

 

“Dogfooding”

What you think you’re saying: “We know firsthand the problems we’re solving.”

What they’re hearing: “We’re so focused on solving our own problems, that we may end up closing our ears to our users’ problems. It could even get worse, and success could even get us more agressive to anyone who doesn’t agree with us, DHH-style.” (He’s the creator of Ruby on Rails, a founder of Basecamp, and an over-user of the word “dogfooding” to describe his ventures, sometimes pushing that it’s the only way to do things and notoriously being aggressive to people who don’t agree with him on stuff.)

What you should be saying: “We’re dogfooding for sure, but our top priority is to stay in touch with our users’ needs, even if that means having to get further from our own.”

 

“Our managers/founders are great innovators that can tell the team exactly what to do to reach success”

What you think you’re saying: “We have geniuses and vision, and we do the right thing to reach success.”

What they’re hearing: “We think there’s only one way to do things right, and therefore don’t consider other more unexpected/creative ways. It’s more important to be right than to get things done that aren’t necessarily right the first time. Only a handful of people in the company are allowed to innovate, so there’s not much room for serendipity. Also, all of our staff may leave us in frustration once they figure out other startups usually respect their input more.”

What you should be saying: “Managers/founders stay out of the way of the innovation of the teams. We believe in growth by making people feel accountable and trusted.”

 

“We’re the Uber of X”

What you think you’re saying: “Our business model is well-tried, it worked before.”

What they’re hearing: “We may think recipes that work with potatoes work with carrots without having to think about it much more. Also, we’re unable to formulate an original vision, so we have to rely on someone else’s.”

What you should be saying: <insert careful worded and convincing vision that expresses both the originality and viability of your business>

 

“ We build the X of the future / of tomorrow”

What you think you’re saying: “We are first on market filling a need before anyone else, so clients will run to us once the need appears.”

What they’re hearing: “We have never heard of the uncountable stories of projects that failed because they came out too early. We don’t try to fix today’s very real problems, and since no one can reasonably guess anything about the future, we’re focused on building out of guesswork.”

What you should be saying: “Today’s solutions to this problem are outdated, we fix today’s problems, with a strong focus on adaptability to ensure we remain current as the industry unavoidably changes.”

 

“We ship features every day”

What you think you’re saying: “We move fast, we’re always ahead of the competition.”

What they’re hearing: “We’d rather make feature announcements that look good, than polish the core value prop of our product, which is what makes it actually better and better. Also, we’re clearly not aware of what the words ‘feature bloat’ means.”

What you should be saying: “We ship improvements every day. Sometimes, they’re improvements of our core product; and when it makes sense and adds to our value prop, they’re new features. Also, we’re not afraid to scrap experimental features that turned out not to make much sense for our users.”

 

“We have 2000 users, but we’ve ensured our platform can scale as far as millions of simultaneous users.”

What you think you’re saying: “Nothing will slow our growth down.”

What they’re hearing: “We’re focused on problems we don’t have, and may never have if we carry on under-prioritizing problems we have.”

What you should be saying: “The platform we’re using is known for its scaling; we’ll work on this progressively as our user base grows.”

 

Thinking of other read flags I didn’t think about? Put them in the comments!

What startup culture actually is

Many people like to think of “startups” as a culture trend before all, but it’s important to remember that technically, it is mostly an economical concept defining a certain type of businesses. However, the economical aspects of startups do imply some cultural similarities between one another, and actually probably more than in any other type of businesses. And I don’t know about you, but I happen to find those ties just fascinating.

First, let’s put a definition to the word “startup”: a startup is simply a business that is designed for growth, and needs growth to ensure its survival.

Most often, it will need it because:

  • it hasn’t yet found its business model (it doesn’t yet know how it will make money), and needs to grow to find out what kind of traction works on the business idea before monetizing it;
  • it has a business model in mind, but it requires a critical mass for it to work, which it doesn’t have yet (and therefore is not profitable yet).

I’m not saying that it is a business that seeks growth (all businesses seek growth!), but that it is designed for growth as a survival need, which changes a lot about what those kinds of workplaces usually are made of. Continue reading What startup culture actually is