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To be sure, the word platform has become de rigueur in the business lexicon. I’m actually surprised when I hear startup founders describe their companies and not use the term.
While fashionable, for a long time now being a “platform” has ceased to become a differentiator. Want proof?
28.2% of the applications for the upcoming YC batch call what they’re building a “platform.”
— Paul Graham (@paulg) October 31, 2013
In fact, it often invites more indifference and confusion than real understanding—precisely the opposite effect that founders desire.
I see this at every conference I attend. For instance, a few weeks ago, I met a woman and our conversation went like this:
Me: Hi. I’m Phil. Nice to meet you. What do you do?
Woman: I started [Company X]. We are a gift-experience platform.
Me: What does that mean?
I’d hazard to guess that no one wants to hear those four words after explaining his or her company, job, book, movie, etc.
Was this an isolated event? Nope. Later that evening, another person confused me for five minutes with a convoluted description of her company. Something about apps, platforms, and the elderly. I wasn’t really sure.
To be fair, startups aren’t alone here. Qualtrics bills itself as an experience management platform and has even trademarked that horrible term.1
Need a “Revenue Strategy Platform in the cloud”? You’re in luck, I suppose, with Duetto. This is buzzword bingo at its finest.
And then there’s dating site—er, platform—Bumble.
And the NFL? Evidently that’s a platform too.
That’s enough griping about poorly chosen company names.
The Solution: Plain. Simple. Language.
Simplicity and questions are beautiful things.
The founder of the “gift-experience platform” and I wound up having a nice conversation. She was receptive to my honest feedback. I suggested that she should try to ask questions upon meeting people, not drop ostensibly sophisticated terms like platform. Conversations would then go like this:
Person: Hi. I’m [insert name]. Nice to meet you. What do you do?
Woman: Have you ever wanted to give a friend a cool experience such as having dinner with his favorite rock star or athlete?
Person: Yes, I have.
Woman: That’s what [Company X] does.
Person: Cool. Tell me more.
— Phil Simon (@philsimon) October 21, 2015
Simon Says: Not everything is a platform.
Fight the urge to use jargon. Please. I’m begging you.
I share this post with my post with my CIS236 students every semester as they think about startup ideas for the class projects. I advise them to create a product or service that people understand and avoid the dreaded p-word. Thankfully, most of them listen.
Simplicity and questions are beautiful things, especially when you’re trying to get people to, you know, understand you.
What say you?
Cross-posted on Medium.