When I was a junior at Regis High School, I had Mr. Murphy, who had a certain way of emphasising different phrases at a deeper pitch that made for high scores on the Unintentional Comedy Scale.
The best all-time exchange in his class that I got to witness was with my friend Gian, who was caught, like a deer in headlights on one particular question. Undaunted, as any true Regian would be in a situation where he had to speak on a topic he knew nothing about, words started to flow out of his mouth. He said that the factors that Murph had brought up in the question had all contributed to the “liberal background” at the time.
“Liberal background?” a confused Murph repeated, in his emphatic deep tone. “Liberal background?”
“Mr. Scarola… words have *meaning*… you can’t just pick any old words and throw them in a sentence hoping to make sense. Liberal background? What does that even mean? You might has well have said ‘liberal peanut butter’.”
Needless to say, I nearly fell off my chair–but the lesson stuck with me. I’m kind of obsessive about wording. My e-mails are extremely carefully and deliberately worded, and I pay careful attention to how people describe the services they’re working on and the roadmap. To me, it shows clarity of purpose when you say you’re going to be a network, a platform, or a marketplace and what you’re building actually corresponds to a reasonable definition of any of the above.
Platforms are the ones that get me. So many people want to be a platform, but they don’t actually go into the market with the objective that anyone will build another application on top of them–and moreso a marketing plan that positions that as their main business. Paypal is a platform because their goal in life is to power other people’s businesses on the payments side. You’re not a platform just because you’re planning to have an API one day. If you’re in the business of providing that API to others–platform.
Social is another overused term. “We’re the social Evite.” Evite is, by definition, social. You invite other humans to an event. It’s redundant. Social Craigslist? Yeah, Craigslist is full of people already.
Oh, and you’re not peer to peer if everyone has to show up at a centralized hub.
So the next time you’re out there shoving buzzwords into a deck or trying to get fancy with your elevator pitch, just stick to the basics, or you’ll wind up with liberal peanut butter.
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