10 buzz phrases your start-up should never use

By Oliver Milman
Thursday, 17 November 2011

It’s natural that start-ups keen to follow in the footsteps of on-trend businesses will begin to adopt their behaviour, down to the language they use.


This is particularly evident in the tech sector, with Napster founder Sean Parker pointing out this week that many start-ups are “ridiculously overfunded.


Alongside the vast amounts of investor cash pouring into tech start-ups, a whole language has sprung up around the sector. Sadly, it seems that some ventures feel that mouthing a few key phrases will make them serious players in the marketplace.


Of course, meaningless buzzwords aren’t confined to the tech industry. Start-ups from all industries should be reminded of the need to keep language clear and simple, to avoid alienating investors and customers (and even journalists – you should see some of the dross sent by PR people to StartupSmart Towers).


With this in mind, here are the 10 phrases you should think very carefully about before uttering.


1. “Solutions provider”


You provide solutions? Really? To what, exactly? Don’t call your business a solutions provider. It’s nonsensical. Would you call someone a “horticultural and blue sky thinking plant and soil solutions provider”? Or just a gardener? Just explain what your business does and what problem it solves.


2. “Customer focused”


When the Bank of Melbourne was unveiled earlier this year – essentially a rebranding job for a string of St George branches – it proclaimed that a key strength is that it is “customer focused”.


The mind boggles as to what else a bank should be focused upon, or any business for that matter. Stationery? Carpets? Poetry? As Rip Curl co-founder Brian Singer told us last year, if you don’t focus on your customers, you “won’t be around for long”.


3. “Revolutionary”


The problem with revolutions is that they can only really be identified after the event. The market will decide if your product or service will be revolutionary. A press release, alas, will not.


Get on with the job of describing what your business actually does. What problem does it solve? Will it be cheaper or faster than your rivals? Who is it aimed at?


4. “Results-orientated”


Much like “customer focused”, this pointless piece of flim-flammery instantly raises concerns as to what else would orientate a business.


To be clear – every business should focus on its customers. If it has an inclination to make money, pay you a wage and satisfy investors and customers, it will also require decent results.


If you feel the need to spell out these goals without actually explaining how you’ll do it, maybe entrepreneurship isn’t for you.


5. “Proven track record”


We are regularly told about the people behind a new business having a “proven track record”.


Wonderful. This is rarely, however, followed up by an explanation of what this track record is, nor how it will in any way benefit a cash-strapped start-up.


Being a senior marketing suit at Unilever for 10 years, for example, is all very well and good. But how does this “prove” that this person has the gumption to run, say, a cloud-based software venture?

6. “Disruptive”


Pretty much every new player in Silicon Valley is “disruptive.” The mushrooming incubator scene in Australia is also spawning plenty of “disruptive” start-ups.


With all this disruption going on, it’s a wonder that anyone gets any time, or peace, to actually run a business. Does any business really “disrupt” the market? Or does it merely fulfil a customer need that previously wasn’t been met sufficiently? If so, what does it actually provide that’s new and different?


7. “Exciting”


Telling someone in a pitch situation that your business idea is “exciting” is the equivalent of those people who say “that’s funny” after hearing a joke, without laughing.


Entrepreneurship is very exciting. Starting a business is a high-octane process that can allow you to follow a passion and create jobs for other people. But other people will decide if your product or service is exciting or not. Leave the excitement to them.


8. “Pivot”


An increasingly common term, to “pivot” a business means to revamp its business model and strategy in response to a failing that you only recognise once your start-up is up and running.


It’s vital to continually assess whether your business is hitting the mark in terms of pricing, marketing and product delivery. So you should be “pivoting” your business, in tiny ways, on a weekly, if not daily basis. You shouldn’t need a buzzword to help you do this.


9. “Collaborative partnership”


Your customers are not your partners. They have no invested loyalty to your business, especially as you have little track record. Provide a good service at an appropriate price point and they will come back.


If your “collaborative partnership” is with another business, explain exactly what each does for the other. Throwing around vague terms like “synergy” doesn’t make a partnership.


10. “Paradigm shift”


A banal term that has, thankfully, fallen from grace among the business community in recent years. Please don’t ever, ever use this phrase. Ever. It’s been flogged to death.


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Umm, I use most of those expressions. But if I ever use paradigm shift you can take me out and shoot me. And how about my pet hate: learnings - these are the learnings we got from that situation.
amandagome , November 18, 2011
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Of course this management speak is a load of old cobblers.....but the problem is it works. Over the past 25 years in the workforce I have consistently seen windbags blowing smoke up people's **** and consistently being rewarded for it. It's like Call Centres cold calling customers, everyone hates it and complains bitterly about it but if it didn't work nobody would do it.
davidcronk , November 18, 2011
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