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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 without using that hackneyed 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?
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.
You’re probably thinking now about how much you need a new image rights management and protection platform. Fortunately, Kodak has got you covered. Yes, that Kodak.
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.
“Our startup is just a business, not a ‘platform.'” #thingsyouneverhear #jargon — 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 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.
Miller’s Crossing (1990) – Death March from Ian Chen on Vimeo.
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.
I understand that VC’s are yawning because: a.) they don’t believe and/or b.) over use. I struggle with the uncertainty that if I as an entrepreneur aspire to build an actual platform… should I come out and say this or do I just not bother? I don’t want to get corralled into a pen with idiots. Is the main complaint that these entrepreneurs don’t actually know what a platform is? (That this word is used by entrepreneurs as “vc holy water”, to which the VC responds, “Sorry”) Or is the complaint by the VC that we are tired of platforms, we don’t want to fund any more platforms for awhile? Or is the complaint that aspiring to be a platform is great, but why don’t you just start with “we do xyz pretty well”, “we can talk about platform later”…