Great entrepreneurs know how to describe their startup simply.

This week Paul Graham (co-founder of Y Combinator) tweeted “When you describe what your startup does, describe it in the most matter-of-fact way possible. Professional investors hate having to decode marketing-speak. Describing your startup in grandiose terms is the mark of a noob”.

I laughed to myself, thinking of all the over-wrought descriptions of startups I’ve received over the years. It’s a common thing — inexperienced entrepreneurs think investors will be impressed by a lot of grandiose buzzwords. In fact, the opposite is true.

Uber’s original pitch deck described the startup as A fast and efficient on-demand car service. Nice, simple, and clear. I’ve met some entrepreneurs who probably would have wanted to describe it as a “Disruptive mobile-optimized GPS-enabled cloud platform that changes the entire personal mobility paradigm”. They never would have gotten funded.

The original Airbnb pitch deck title slide says Book rooms with locals, rather than hotels”. It doesn’t say something like “Peer-to-Peer accommodations marketplace platform using an AI engine and a revolutionary new trust mechanism”.

So keep it simple and clear. Focus on a simple sentence that makes it easy for someone to understand what problem your startup solves, and how customers benefit. That’s what an investor cares about.

Here’s my favorite example of doing it right: I once met an entrepreneur and asked him what he was working on. His responded, “Well, there are a lot of grocery stores in the country and the biggest facilities expense is cold storage. We make a device that cuts that cost in half”.

Boom! I was interested!

I immediately understood that he had a compelling solution for a big market and I wanted to know more! He went on and explained to me that it’s an IoT device that goes into a store’s refrigerators and freezers, monitors a bunch of data, connects to the cloud via wifi, and sends back a bunch of data that helps to optimize the electrical use. I was fascinated and wanted to invest. But if he had initially described it to me as a “Cloud-powered IoT platform for temperature management and energy consumption optimization”, my eyes would have glazed over.

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”
-Albert Einstein

So take Paul Graham’s advice. Describe your startup in simple, matter-of-fact terms. Make is easy for someone to understand the essence of what your startup does. Because why would you want to make it hard?



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Bret Waters

Silicon Valley guy. I teach entrepreneurship at Stanford, run the 4thly Startup Accelerator, and coach startup CEO’s at Miller Center. Also, I love fish tacos.