When Describing Your Startup as “Uber for X” is a Big Mistake

When Describing Your Startup as “Uber for X” is a Big Mistake

Describing what your startup does, particularly when that product is something the world has never seen before, is hard. One of the first steps in positioning an offering is to establish a frame of reference for prospects or investors. By describing your offering as being similar to something else, you can build on what prospects already know and use that to help them make the leap to understanding what you’ve got. The idea of a “High Concept Pitch” for startups has been around for a while. I fist saw this in a Venture Hacks post (from 2008) that outlined it as a way to “describe the company’s vision on the back of a business card”. Some examples given were: Friendster for Dogs (Dogster) Flickr for video (YouTube) The Firefox of media players (Songbird) While looking back at these specific example is entertaining (who would compare themselves to Friendster? Imagine YouTube positioning itself against Flickr? What does “the Firefox of” mean anyway?), this method for describing a startup continues to be super popular. A MarketWatch study recently analyzed AngelList profiles of startups and determined Airbnb, Uber and LinkedIn were the top 3 companies used to describe a new company.   As popular as this approach is, there are also some ways that this positioning could be not just ineffective, but downright harmful for your company. Here are some things to consider: Positioning for a VC pitch is not the same as positioning for a prospect Whether or not a pitch works depends a lot on the audience and what they are hoping to get out of it. The “Uber for X” pitch works best for a...

Positioning for Advantage

I gave a keynote at East Coast Startup Week this week on Startup Positioning. Think of these slides of the skimmable version of my earlier post on Startup Positioning (read that post if you want some color on what these slides are talking about) with the addition of a couple of examples using the template. Plus motorcycles, monster trucks and racing pigs because I know you secretly love all of those things. Enjoy. Positioning for Advantage from April...

A Startup Positioning Template

As a startup marketing exec that has been through a large number of product launches, I believe that how you position your startup in the market is crucial to early startup success. I’ve also seen that very few startups have a firm grasp of what exactly positioning is, why it’s important and how to do it.  A Brief History of Positioning The concept of positioning was first described by Ries and Trout in their marketing classic “Positioning – The Battle for Your Mind”. First published in 1981 this book still frequently shows up on lists of must-read books for marketers. Their idea was that there were two eras that proceeded “The era of positioning” 1/ The Product Era: First we had the product era where simply having a product was enough to ensure that it would be noticed. When there was only one toaster on the market or one vacuum cleaner or one toothpaste – simply putting the product in front of prospects and clearly explaining the features and functionality of that product was enough to make customers listen. 2/ The Image Era – According to Ries and Trout, that era ended with the “image era”. As more and more competitive “me-too” products flooded into the market, it became harder and harder for customers to tell the difference between providers where there were so many similar products with similar features. Brands discovered that image could be a powerful differentiator, convincing buyers that certain products had “more prestige” than others. This Era is represented by the glory days of TV advertising and Mad Men style agencies that could change the fortunes...

A Startup Marketing Framework (version 3)

Years ago when I was consulting for startups, I created something I called “A Startup Marketing Framework“. I used it mainly as a tool to describe the kinds of things that I could help folks with. Startups found it useful and it is still a popular piece of content on this site. Last week I had a startup pull out a printed version of the framework (from 2011 no less!) and I decided there were a couple of changes I wanted to make to it. Below is the new and improved version 3. Framework Assumptions As with previous versions, the framework does not attempt to cover things that I would consider to be more “Product Management” focused (like product roadmap for example). I’m taking a purely marketing point of view here.  The Framework also assumes that you have a product in market, you feel fairly confident that you have a good fit between your market and your offering and you are ready to invest in lead generation. If you aren’t there yet, there are things here you won’t need to (and more importantly, shouldn’t) worry about yet.   Lastly, my background is B2B marketing so like most content on this site, this has a B2B slant to it.  That said, I think most of it applies to a B2C startup. Market Knowledge Market Category and Segments – Based on your interaction with early customers, these are the segments that have the most affinity for your offering and are the target of your marketing efforts.  These need to be well-defined and very specific.  I’ve had folks ask me where buyer/influencer personas fit and I include those here as part...

Laying a Foundation for Startup Growth

I spoke at an awesome startup event this week called Startup Empire. It was a sold-out conference with a great set of speakers including John Baker from Desire2Learn, Dan Debow from Salesforce, Harley Finkelstein from Shopify and Michael Litt from Vidyard and others. You can scroll down for my slides. I decided to focus on what I think of as the “Foundational Elements” for a successful sales and marketing strategy at a startup. As startup people we’ve heard many, many stories of magic marketing tactics had a big impact on the business. We talk less about the daily grind of testing and discarding failed marketing programs that don’t deliver much of anything. As much as we love stories of specific examples of the hacks that grew successful companies, rarely are those tactics applicable to the business we are trying to run right now. In my experience, starting with tactics is the wrong way to go about it. That’s because perfectly executed tactics layered over a flawed foundation will fail. The Foundational Elements are: Deep customer knowledge – A foundation of customer knowledge is really important. This has to go way beyond “we sell to SMB’s” and should include the unique characteristics of your target customers, their big pain points, where these prospects gather and how they learn about new products and solutions. Messaging – Every campaign and sales call relies on your ability to communicate what you do in a way that gets prospects excited to hear more. That messaging needs to describe your unique value in ways that your customers can easily understand, articulates how you are different...

The Strengths of Startups versus Big Companies

I gave a talk recently on startup sales and marketing where I covered some of the ways that startups are naturally stronger than big companies. You can scroll down for the slides from but what follows is a bit of color you can’t get from the deck alone. The natural strengths of startups aren’t always obvious. Often the idea of going head to head against a company that has much deeper resources than you do, seems counterintuitive, (particularly for marketing folks who are often overly focused on budget size – more on this later). Normally the comparison seems something like this: It seems a bit grim really doesn’t it? But anyone that’s spent some time working at a big company will tell you that the things that look like strengths from the outside are often seen as weaknesses from the inside. Here are some examples: Team Size: As someone who has managed massive teams and smaller teams, I can say for a fact that smaller groups are much more productive. The first problem you get with big teams at large companies is specialization. There’s a person who does copywriting, a person who writes code for the website, a person who manages the marketing software, a person who owns campaigns, a person who focuses on PR, a person who owns product marketing, and well, you get the picture. Now imagine that you want to react to something that’s happening in the market RIGHT NOW. Small, nimble teams staffed with generalists may not produce at the same quality level or volume of output but they can do it fast. Budget Size:...
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