Why Defining Your Product Through Someone Else’s Is a Bad Idea

iPhone Killer

A while ago, I’ve come across a piece of advice for crafting a startup elevator pitch. The author suggested that you should strive to convey your idea in the simplest way possible, and the preferred way to do so was through a product or service that the listener would already know. E.g. “My startup is an Airbnb for boats”, or “a Facebook for VCs”.

There may be other situations you may find yourself defining your product through another, a more well-known and established one. Right after the iPhone came out, the competition furiously tried to catch up with Apple, and every month, a new “iPhone killer” was announced in the media.

I think that you should never try to define your product or service through someone else’s. Moreover, if you can define it like this, it probably means that it can’t be as disruptive as the original. Here’s why.

“Product X Killer”

Claiming that your product is a killer of Product X is too limiting. Facebook was a MySpace killer, and iPhone was a Nokia killer, but they were also much more than that.

If your product is much more than just “a Product X killer”, don’t do it a disservice by labeling it so. And if it’s not, you have a bigger problem on your hands.

“The Next Product X”

Almost by definition, this label means that you don’t have a disruptor. “The next Product X” implies an improved version of the original, a 2.0 so to speak. Is that really how you make a disruptive product? No – Airbnb never was a “next” something, and neither was the iPhone. So please don’t do it either.

“Product X for Market Y”

My problem with this label is that disruptors tend to be domain-specific and simply transplanting the idea to another market is no guarantee of success. It also signals lack of originality.

There’s an exception to every rule though. I guess you could say that LinkedIn is “a Facebook for professionals” – both very successful businesses – but that only proves the point.

Bottom line: Try to find ways to describe your product or service that don’t piggyback on big flashy names.

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