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...

7 Steps to Better Startup Value Propositions

Marketing messages and value propositions are notoriously difficult to create for startups. Startup founders have a tendency to focus too much on features and not enough on the value those features deliver. They also often spend too much time talking about features that don’t really differentiate them from their competitors or are simply irrelevant for their target markets. When working on marketing messaging for startups, it’s often harder to get agreement on what NOT to say than it is to decide what should get talked about. Here’s a method for getting to a simple set of value propositions that has worked for us: 1. List your target market segments. The more detail you can get around this the better – for example “Small Businesses” is not a segment, “Mid-sized law offices in North America” is. The segment should be well-defined with a clear need your solution addresses. For early-stage startups, you will generally only have 1 or at most 2 target segments. If you have more than that, you likely don’t have the resources to really go after them. 2. For each segment identify the primary buyer. For complex deals there will be multiple folks that influence a sale but for a simple value proposition exercise, it helps to start with the most important decision maker (you can come back and worry about messages for other buyers later). Again, this person should be well-defined which means you will likely have more than just general demographic data (i.e. people in their 20’s versus University students in Canada that spend more than $100 a year on games). 3. For each segment list...
A Value Proposition Worksheet

A Value Proposition Worksheet

Creating a great value proposition is a critical step in building good marketing messages but writing effective value propositions isn’t easy. Marketing schools still teach the standard for creating value propositions from Crossing the Chasm that looks like this: For (bulls-eye customer), Who (purchase motivation), Our product is a (customer language), That (benefit), Unlike (competitors), Ours (differentiators), At a price (vs. competitors). I wrote a post on this style of value proposition a while back and another on how you might craft a set of simple value statements. Lately however I’ve been thinking that there’s a step missing from the way we traditionally create these, namely the step that shows how you got to the value proposition in the first place. Why a Value Proposition Worksheet? Your value propositions will be based on a set of facts and assumptions. The assumptions will shift or become facts as you run experiments and execute on marketing programs. The facts will change too, as you evolve who your ideal target customers are, as new competitors enter the market, and as your own product changes with additional releases. I’ve been using variations on the template (I sometimes refer to this an “offering template”) for a while and I think it works:   What Do You Do? – this is the simple statement that describes what you offering does. This isn’t the value you provide (that comes later) but rather the starting point of how you would frame what you do for someone you have never pitched before. Competitive Alternatives – this is what a prospect would see as an alternative to using your offering. It could be “do nothing” or “hire someone” or...
Startup Marketing: Does the Competition Matter?

Startup Marketing: Does the Competition Matter?

I have heard people make the argument that startups shouldn’t think about their competitors. I agree that many spend too much time worrying about how their feature set stacks up against another offering’s feature set. On the other hand, prospects are evaluating your solution against alternatives (which may not be products) and communicating how you are better than those alternatives is a key part of great startup marketing. Simply put – you should care about competitive alternatives if your prospects do. Startups are not Big Companies I very rarely see useful competitive analysis done by startup marketers, mainly because they are trying to do it like big companies do it. The big companies I’ve worked for have had departments dedicated to creating large detailed check mark matrices that showed how our feature set compared to competitive offerings. These matrices almost never included any feedback from customers. Needless to say, the products and their markets were very mature. This approach completely falls apart within the context of a startup. Your competitors, from a customer point of view are almost never so easily defined. For startups, your offering is often competing with “do nothing”, “hire someone to do it”, use spreadsheets/documents/paper, or some other solution that might be completely unsuited to the task but is free/easy/what has always been used. Comparing features of one of these alternatives to your startup’s offering to makes absolutely no sense in this context. A More Customer-Centric Approach In the context of a startup the only competitive analysis that makes sense is the one that is happening in side the heads of your prospects. The more you...
Lipstick on the Enviropig: A Tale of Messaging and Manure

Lipstick on the Enviropig: A Tale of Messaging and Manure

We marketers are optimistic by nature. We’re trained to see the most desirable aspects of the products we sell and minimize the potential drawbacks. This optimism can be a problem however if we lose sight of how customers actually perceive our products and start to believe everyone sees them the way we wish they did. In my first marketing job my boss gave me some very wise advice: Don’t get caught smoking your own marketing Which brings me to this example. Here in Canada, the University of Guelph announced a research project called “The Enviropig.” From the site: The Enviropig™ is a genetically enhanced line of Yorkshire pigs with the capability of digesting plant phosphorus more efficiently than conventional Yorkshire pigs. These pigs produce the enzyme phytase in the salivary glands that is secreted in the saliva. When cereal grains are consumed, the phytase mixes with the feed as the pig chews. Once the food is swallowed, the phytase enzyme is active in the acidic environment of the stomach, degrading indigestible phytate in the feed that accounts for 50 to 75% of the grain phosphorus. Simply put – this pig can digest phosphorus from pig feed more efficiently than regular pigs. This means the pig doesn’t need to get fed expensive phosphorus supplements and also produces manure with less phosphorus. Phosphorus in pig manure is a major source of freshwater pollution. Hey, less pollution, that sounds pretty good! The site even goes so far as to helpfully point out that raising an Enviropig is just like raising a regular pig: …the technology is simple, if you know how to...
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