One Plus One is Often Less Than Two

Simplicity is king in the world of startups - If you can't explain your startup idea in one sentence, then it probably isn't worth doing. Actually, that's probably a bit too much space - let's stick to six words (just for a challenge). I'm going to try out this little exercise with a few ideas that I've been throwing around:

  • File Sharing for Pets
  • Wireless Printing From Any Bologna Sandwich
  • Hamster Taxidermy Done Right/Made Simple
  • Virtual Private Networking For Snails

Seriously, if you are talking to an investor or potential customer, and you can't get across your idea in 15 seconds or less, you have probably lost them. I once had a business partner to whom I would say things like "you have two sentences to explain the idea that you just tried to enumerate." More often than not, he wouldn't be able to do it. We also weren't business partners for all that long.

And not only does the listener need to understand the idea, he also needs to "get it." At which point he will say "I get it," or something of the sort. If the listener can't understand why Fido or Fluffy would want to share files, your pitch is just as bad as it would be had he not spoken the language you were using to pitch the idea.

So you give your pitch, and the investor doesn't like it. A lot of first-time entrepreneurs make another mistake here. They take two ideas that individually aren't compelling, and combine them in an attempt to divert attention from either stinker. The problem is that they end up building an even bigger stinker. Let's use my examples from above to illustrate:

  • File Sharing and Virtual Private Networking for Pets and Snails
  • Wireless Printing/Hamster Taxidermy Done Right/Made Simple/From Any Bologna Sandwich

I think that both of those break my six word rule, but the products provide so much functionality that it's probably ok. But, wait a second - those pitches don't really make sense. Our hypothetical investor isn't really interested in putting any money in? No matter - let's combine them into one idea, since that will probably fix everything. A lot of first-time startup founders continue to do this, layering feature upon feature (with the rationale that anyone could find something that he likes in the mess).

  • File Sharing/Virtual Private Networking/Wireless Printing/Hamster Taxidermy Done Right/Made Simple/From Any Bologna Sandwich/For Pets and Snails

Ok, that sounds about right for most of the ideas coming from your average MBA student/startup weekend. So what's the problem here?

The problem is that none of the ideas are compelling in and of themselves, so they aren't really any better if you put them all together. So, start again, and try to pitch your idea in six words. If you can't, you either have problems being concise, or maybe your idea just isn't compelling enough.