(Editor’s note: Megan Jones is a Director at Hadley Partners. A modified version of this story appeared on the company’s blog.)
We all have words that make us cringe. That’s especially true in the investment community.
Generally, I can tell a few lines into a business plan if a company just doesn’t “get it”. Sometimes, it’s blatant – like the lack of a clear mission statement. Other times, it’s something more gut-based, like the use of quotation marks as I did at the top of the paragraph (it’s too cute for a serious business proposal).
There are some words and phrases that are real showstoppers, though – and if you’re using them, you’ll need to rethink your pitch before approaching a possible source of financing. They not only fail to sell your story. They often end up having the exact opposite effect.
- “Next big thing”. If someone would give me a dollar for every time I’ve seen or heard that one, I could retire happily. The proof on that sort of claim is in the numbers. Show me traction in building your business and I’ll see it. I’ve known people that built the next big thing and they were always too busy working (and scared of competition) to boast along the way.
- “Bigger than Facebook”. (Or Google. Or pick your company.) Never compare yourself to or value yourself off the best winning companies. Ideas are comparatively easy; implementation requires real work.
- “Game changer”. Life (or business) isn’t a game. I don’t know what this means.
- “Guaranteed”. If its impossible for the opportunity to fail, then why are you sharing it?
- “Paradigm shift”. Again, I don’t know what this means or why it matters. Proof on this one is in the implementation.
- “Next level” (or “next generation”). A completely unnecessary phrase.
- “Unique”. Not a big offender in my book but I’m probably in the minority. Everything and nothing is unique. The word is overused.
- “Unparalleled”. Um, no. There’s always something that can match some aspect of your product or service.
- “Ad supported”. Is that the only source of financial support? I heard that pitch in the late ‘90’s and I’m still hearing it now. What changed (other than Google being the rare company to make it work well)?
- “Viral marketing”. This works wonders in the gaming world, but where else today? Define what you mean but don’t use the term unless you really understand it (at which point I’m okay with it).
- “Free”. Ouch. Explain to me how that is working right now for you, not how it will at some fuzzy future date.
- “Really”, “very” and “a lot”. No.
- “Opportunity”. No thanks. Opportunity is easy. Explanations (and monetization) matter more.
- “Leader”. To where?
- “Best” and “top”. Says who? You? You’ll need backup. Prove these sorts of claims; don’t just say them. (if you were, in fact, the best, you wouldn’t need to look for money – it would find you).
- “Great”. See “best” and “top”.
- “Solution”. If you can walk me through it, I’ll follow it. Otherwise, you aren’t saying much.
Reality: when you are pitching an early-stage opportunity, you are also pitching yourself. If you are talking to quality investors, most of the above words don’t tell them anything about your business. But they do tell the investor something about you – you are prone to exaggeration, to vagueness, to hype, to lack of depth. Those words are setting you back.