Over the past 12 years, I've covered countless tech companies, from mobile app developers to companies that help you find a place to work in a big city. After sitting through hundreds (or is it thousands?) of meetings and recording countless interviews over the phone, I've taken note of the catch-phrases people say again and again. And again. Until the point at which they no longer mean anything. Now they're just annoying.
Here are the nine terms I'd like to kill.
With apologies to Eric Ries and the Lean Start-up crew, the word pivot has lost all meaning. Originally, it meant analyzes your customer base and revenue and making a fairly dramatic change. A design company, say, might shift to become an app developer. But now start-ups characterize nearly any change as a pivot. (I can't help but think of the basketball "pivot" which is more of a side-step move.) It's okay to analyze customers and revenue and make changes. But calling them pivots doesn't make you sound any smarter.
Here's another term I liked when people first started using it, circa Pinterest's launch in 2010. But think about it: We've been talking about curating the Web now for three years. That's like 50 years in the analog world. There's now "media curation" and "SEO curation" and "start-up curation"--we're curating our use of the word curate.
3. Eating your own dog food
Other than the obvious gross factor, this phrase refers to how a company should use it's own product. If you make an accounting app, you better be using it for your own accounting. But what was once a somewhat helpful metaphor has become tired and, frankly, completely obvious. Of course you should be testing your own product. No need to "dogfood it." (Don't even get me started on the grammatical offense committed in that previous sentence.)
4. Disruptive technology
Even when a small airline tracking start-up like RouteHappy.com comes along, it bears some similarities and owes some of its inspiration to a site like Kayak. No slight to either service. Few entrepreneurs come up with something the world has never heard of. They come up with incremental innovations that improve--rather than disrupt--what already exists.
5. Lipstick on a pig
In design circles, if you say this phrase in a meeting you will be taken out back and ridiculed for hours. It's a cliche. You're talking about an analytics database that has a trendy new look but woefully broken code? Sorry, it's still a cliche.
6. Barrier to entry
In the Silicon Valley sub-culture, when someone talks about your start-up and drops the phrase "barrier to entry" it's basically the equivalent of saying "your idea sucks." What it really means is that your company is not going to get funding, or customers hate it, or that there's a major technical problem. Instead of using the phrase, just be up front: This isn't a barrier to entry; it's a failure.
7. Finding synergy
It's hard to say this one with a straight face anymore. It reminds me of the old Fake Steve Jobs blog written by Daniel Lyons, who is now an editor at Forbes and writes for Newsweek. He used to put a bunch of goofy business phrases together like "let's find the synergy in our paradigm shift" in a way that always made me laugh. What's sad is that real people actually talk this way.
8. Best of breed
Doesn't every company view its product as best of breed? Who sets out to be the middle of the pack or the worst?
9. Social media
This one could get me in trouble, because I receive a handful of pitches per day from "social media" companies and many experts who make a living by analyzing social media. But when your car and even your baby's diaper can tweet for you, hasn't pretty much everything become "social"?