September 19, 2007

The bane of the buzz - by Sanjay Anandaram

A friend narrated this to me this morning. He was on a business trip to Taiwan and bumped into a colleague from a much larger division of the same company at Taipei airport. After exchanging some chit-chat, the colleague told my friend that he was likely to be now based out of Taipei as it was an important part of the division’s “China strategy”. On further enquiry it transpired that instead of long distance phone calls and faxes and emails to Taiwanese vendors and partners from Bangalore, he would now be able to visit them and make local phone calls and send local faxes and email! Ostensibly, this would result in enhanced relationships leading to furtherance of the division’s “China strategy”.

One of the banes of our times has been the gross trivialization of word meanings. Words like “innovation” and “strategy” have been almost trivialized into banality - almost every trivial act of improvement or approach is either an innovation or a strategy. There’s this almost manic desire to being “buzzword compliant” in speech. It’s almost a ritual that one feels one has to go through to be accepted as an inner member of some exalted club. Entrepreneurs too easily fall prey to the usage of buzzwords. Sample these lines from some business plans I’ve received:


1. We See this as a Unique Opportunity to Build a Service Model that Boxes ‘IBM’, SAP, ‘McKinsey’ & ‘Silicon Valley’ to Serve Healthcare Players in India & the USA-EU, Specially the SME
2. Our Financial Managed Services Leverage 3 Innovations that Enable Business Technology Services to be Delivered on Internet (Virtualization, Software-as-a-Service, IP Telecom) Media & Economics. We Inject Financial Domain Best Practices & Models into the Services
3. We Will Offer a Range of Multi-Channel Service Chain Offerings to Both Supply & Demand Chain Customers Combining Customized Products/Services for Profit-Making in the Aftermarket
4. Our Innovative Organizational Initiatives that include (i) a hard-to-find engineering team with experience of integrated dual-shore software engineering and (b) Atypical sales, patent management and HR initiatives tailored to effectively leverage tools, solutions and high-end engineers


I, for one, am not sure what to make of such language. At an event recently a budding entrepreneur asked me “Will VCs fund incremental innovation or quantum innovation?” I had to tell him that VCs only fund businesses that they believe make money!

The point I’m driving towards is that presentations and business plans need to be written in simple straightforward language that drive home the point that the team, market opportunity, the offering of the company, the business & revenue model, all support the creation of a valuable business. Given the short attention spans of most people (especially VCs!), it is important to grasp the attention of the reader in the shortest possible time without having the reader reach out to a buzzword dictionary to decipher the language. It is also a testament to how well the entrepreneur and the team have understood the business and the value to customers. Only when something is very well understood can it be explained in very simple terms that even a lay person can make sense of. If customers, investors, employees and others cannot understand what the value proposition of your company is how likely are they to buy the product, invest or join your company?

One of the tests that VCs use is to ask the question: “What’s your elevator pitch” i.e. explain your business to me in a few short sentences (in the time it takes the lift/elevator to travel to the desired floor) in under a minute or so. If one has to draw maps and figures and language to explain the offering, there’s a problem. It is said that Einstein explained his Theory of Relativity to a lay person thus: If you are sitting for an hour on a park bench with someone you love, it seems like a minute; If you are sitting for a minute with someone you hate, it seems like an hour! My theory explains this phenomenon.

Now, can you describe your business in simple terms? What do you think?

Sanjay Anandaram is a passionate advocate of entrepreneurship in India; He brings close to two decades of experience as an entrepreneur, corporate executive, venture investor, faculty member, advisor and mentor. He’s involved with Nasscom, TiE, IIM-Bangalore, and INSEAD business school in driving entrepreneurship. He can be reached at sanjay@jumpstartup.net. The views expressed here are his own.