Your synergistic press release for your leading on-demand startup may feel unrevolutionary without disruptive buzzwords, but seriously, you don’t need them.
Some entrepreneurs think that you have to have at least a few buzzwords for anyone reputable to consider your pitch. But here’s the reality: Overused buzzwords rarely help explain your ideas to investors, journalists, and customers. Instead, they harm your credibility, and thus damage your chances of closing a deal or securing widespread media coverage.
I’ve seen countless entrepreneurs fill their pitch decks with innocuous buzzwords without even knowing they’re quietly destroying their credibility. Buzzword bingo gets even worse when you start looking at the awful press releases some clueless companies somehow approve for distribution.
Starting and running a company is hard enough as is--there’s no need to shoot yourself in the foot as well. That’s why I have compiled a long list of buzzwords you should almost never use in a pitch, derived from the thousands of pitches I’ve seen as a journalist and an investor. Some of these words have been non grata for years; others have only recently joined the lexicon of banned words because of overuse.
Before I begin, a special thanks to Brian Solis, Sarah Buhr, Matt Schlicht, Jeremiah Owyang, and many others for their contributions to this list.
In no particular order, here are the buzzwords you should never use in a pitch:
Disruptive: Punishable by instant deletion of your email.
Groundbreaking: Punishable by the spontaneous combustion of your computer.
Transformative: Punishable by a one-on-one wrestling match with a gorilla.
Uber for X: If I had a nickel for every time I heard the phrase “We are the Uber for…,” I could buy enough Uber rides to last the next 500 years. Hundreds of startups now make the comparison to the $50 billion-plus behemoth, and trying to compare yourself to Uber will just result in your email going into the trash.
Ninja: Don’t call yourself or your team code ninjas, sales ninjas, or any type of ninjas. It’s not funny, unique, or a compliment anymore. If you do use this buzzword, I will send a real ninja for you.
Rock star: Same as ninja, except the ninja I send for you will beat you with a guitar instead.
Revolutionary: No! Just no.
Synergy: You’re really thinking of using this word in a press release? Really? Reeeaally?
Engage: Only Captain Jean-Luc Picard should be allowed to say "engage." “Engage your audience,” “increase engagement,” and all the variations have become painfully overused. Use sparingly.
Cutting edge: Are you a 1980s businessman?
Big data: It’s not that data-oriented startups are bad--far from it. It’s that the term big data has lost its meaning because of overuse. I’ve seen entrepreneurs use the term to describe everything from pet wearables to advanced AI software. Big data is nondescriptive, so use more descriptive terms when possible.
Dynamic: What does this word even mean anymore?
Unicorn: I’m guilty of using this term--it’s been part of the Silicon Valley lexicon ever since venture capitalist Aileen Lee coined the term in 2013. These days, you cannot open a tech news website without running into a unicorn reference, and you can’t walk five blocks in San Francisco without hearing someone talk about how X startup is the next mythical horse with a sparkly horn. Use the term with discretion.
On-demand economy: Similar to “Uber for X.”
Exponential: If your metrics are really exponential, just use the actual numbers and tell us how fast you’re growing. The phrase exponential growth doesn’t mean a damn thing.
Pivot: Too many people replace the word failed with pivoted these days. It was a fine term to use when it entered the tech lexicon in 2011, but like so many buzzwords on this list, it has overstayed its welcome.
Interactive: Every product is interactive. Interactivity isn’t a differentiation point.
David and Goliath: We get it--you’re a startup taking on Google or Facebook or Amazon or Microsoft or Disney, etc. But the press has used the ancient comparison so much in recent years that I want to pound my head into a chair every time I see this phrase pop up in my feeds. Be more creative with your analogies!
Broken: Saying something is “broken” doesn’t describe what’s actually wrong with it. “Existing marketing tools don’t account for X, Y, and Z” is a more complete pitch than “Existing marketing tools are broken.”
Visionary: If any part of your deck claims that you or anybody else on your team is a “visionary,” I will personally kick you where the sun don’t shine.
Leading: The market leader doesn’t need to tell people its the market leader.
Best: The best doesn’t need to brag about why its the best.
I hope this list will help you tighten your next pitch deck or separate the pretenders from the innovators. However, while this list is extensive, it is by no means complete.
That’s why I will update this article every week for the next month with your suggestions for this list. All I ask is that you post your suggestions in the comments. What buzzwords annoy the crap out of you?