Advice to Startups: Stop Using the Word ‘Platform.’ Please.

Why simplicity and questions are far better stratagems.

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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?

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.

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.

Simon Says: Not everything is a platform.

Fight the urge to use jargon. Please. I’m begging you.

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.


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1 hopefully intriguing thought:

  1. Mike West

    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”…


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