Going to a startup event is an exercise in patience for me. I’m always excited to meet ambitious founders and hear about what they are working on. On the other hand, I’m tired of hearing the “x for y startups” analogies.
All these comparisons seem quite logical and some are even quite clever but I think companies are missing the point by using them.
Instead of trying to be the Y in the equation, you should aim to be the X. All these companies want to be disruptive but talk about their products as copycats of someone else.
Let me talk about 3 reasons why you should forever ban the usage of the “x for y” analogy from your world.
Simple Analogies and Positioning
Maybe we should blame investors. They are bombarded with pitches and someone seemed to discover that using analogies can help break through the noise. Fast forward a few years and all you hear are analogies.
If you spent any time thinking about positioning though, you’ll realize that we have limited space in how we think about products and services. Al Ries and Jack Trout show that whenever we think of any given category e.g. soda, premium cars, smartphones, etc, most people can only come up with 1-2 options. These are dominant players in an industry e.g. Coke/Pepsi, Ferrari/Lamborghini, and iPhone/Samsung.
The analogy isn’t going to help you with positioning. This is like saying that you’re the Coke of the insurance industry. What does that even mean? It’s better to be the #1 option that comes up when people here insurance instead. This is harder of course than just coming up with a simple analogy.
Focus on Solutions not Problems
The second issue with the “x for y” analogy is that forces companies into thinking about solutions instead of the actual problems.
Let’s take Uber which is a popular option that companies use when describing themselves. Imagine that I tell you that we are the “Uber for Babysitting”. Does this mean that you will create a marketplace of babysitters that can be booked on demand?
That could work but what is the actual problem being solved? Perhaps parents don’t want a babysitter quickly. They may be willing to interview multiple candidates in the hopes of finding a long term option that they feel comfortable with. They may not even care about the app itself.
Some people may argue that you could find another option that is better suited for your business model e.g. employee recruiting. However, people aren’t looking for “suitable business models” when making these analogies, instead, it is about picking a popular company (Uber, Tinder, Spotify, etc) and trying to make it work.
Your Customers Don’t Care
Finally, your customers don’t actually care about your analogies. They only care about how your product helps them.
You might find that some customers find it easier to explain what you do through the “x for y” analogy but that’s your fault, not theirs. Your marketing should be clear enough for anyone to share.
Reject the “x for y startup” analogies and focus on building something that is actually useful. You’ll even stand out even in a crowd of copycats when you tell people about what you’re actually building and who you’re helping.