10 buzzwords that startups should avoid

7th March, 2017

10 buzzwords startups should avoid

The problem with business buzzwords is that they mean so little to so many.

They fall in and out of vogue quickly leaving most none the wiser.

They’re also annoying. For startups in pitch meetings with venture capitalists (VCs), annoying potential backers should probably be avoided.

In his book Picking the Low-Hanging Fruit… and Other Stupid Stuff We Say in the Corporate World, US-based management consultant James Sudakow says that buzzwords have the opposite to their intended effect.

Sudakow says that far from helping entrepreneurs present as innovative, original and authentic to potential investors and customers, “Their credibility goes down because people wonder ‘Why can’t you just use normal words?’”

Want to cut through the clutter and communicate with VCs and customers?

Try something new: plain English.

For startups, this means giving the following the flick.

1. Disruptive

Probably the most overused, tired and empty word still doing the rounds.

Originally coined in the late 1990s to describe how “disruptive innovation” could unseat dominant products or service providers, it means nothing anymore.

Is your startup really going to send verticals into a spin? If not, accept that it’s too bold a statement, because that’s what every VC worth their salt will be thinking.

2. Pivot

Originally popularised by American entrepreneur Eric Ries as part of his lean startup method of business development, today it’s bandied around without context.

“Pivoting” – at least as Ries describes it – is not bad, but rather than “pivot”, maybe just explain why you’re changing course in your startup.

3. Uber

Being “the Uber of…” sounds impressive – which is why thousands of entrepreneurs lay claim to it. As a value proposition, it’s at best clichéd and at worst an undisguised attempt to ride on the coat-tails of someone else’s success.

It leaves no doubt in anyone’s mind that you’ve still got a lot of work to do on original branding.

4. Growth hacker

It’s a spin on what marketers have always done – business development – but has become a buzzword of choice among “wantrepreneurs” trying to turn something old into something new.

It also suggests you’re a “one man band”, whereas startup growth usually comes from team effort.

5. Revolutionary

You could easily interchange “game-changer”, “cutting edge” or “change agent” with “revolutionary” startup.

But if you haven’t already revolutionised something, you will likely get a better hearing if you stop getting ahead of yourself and swap “revolutionary” for speak that’s less grounded in 1917 Russia.

6. Serial entrepreneur

Great, you have had a couple of ideas for startups, but have they any runs on the board?

If not, stop calling yourself something you’re not.

7. Rockstar

You or your startup is not automatically a “rockstar” – no matter which industry it is you’re trying to impact.

Richard Branson and Elon Musk have achieved that status and deserve the accolade. But it takes talent and hard work to build a startup, so show some humility.

8. Pre-revenue

Unnecessary speak for why your startup is not making money. If you still insist on using buzzwords, focus on a strategy to become “cash flow positive”.

9. Innovative

Twenty years ago Clayton Christensen, Harvard Business School professor and author of The Innovator’s Dilemma, wrote that “most companies say they’re innovative in the hope they can somehow con investors into thinking there is growth when there isn’t”.

Today his words ring truer than ever. A once powerful word has been reduced to little more than marketing jargon and only a very few focusing on the actual skills needed to be innovative.

If you want to be considered innovative, explain how and be judged accordingly.

10. Gamify

Startups are not a game, meaning they should not be “gamified”.

“OPM” – or “other people’s money” or “Opium” – is important and not to be treated lightly. Never talk about “gamification”, even if your startup does relate to social media.