Legendary Silicon Valley venture capital investor John Doerr still remembers the pitch he heard from two Stanford students in 1999. Larry Page and Sergey Brin delivered the most concise, compelling mission statement he had ever heard.

Google, they said, existed to "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful."

Doerr bought a 12 percent stake of the company for $11.8 million. Today, he's worth more than $7 billion, which takes into account his investments in other companies like Amazon, Netscape, and Twitter. On that day, he learned something that all entrepreneurs should consider when selling their idea: There's power in simplicity. 

He tells the Google story in his new book, Measure What Matters. The original pitch was extremely simple. Doerr writes that the entire presentation consisted of just 17 slides--and investors were hooked from the start with eleven precise, well-chosen words.

Google's pitch was memorable, clear, and vivid.

The 11-word hook also impressed another investor, Sequoia Capital partner, Michael Moritz. He, too, struck gold with some other investments such as PayPal, Yahoo, and Airbnb.

"You cannot lead an individual--let alone a team or an organization--without being able to clearly communicate the direction in which you want to go," Moritz told me during one of our conversations. "A leader has got to be able to clearly enunciate where he or she wants to go."

Moritz believes that if an entrepreneur cannot explain an idea in one sentence, it's too complicated. "Most people--most listeners--don't concentrate, or they tune out, or they have short memories. So burning the message into their skulls is a rare art. In order to do that it, your idea must be memorable, clear, and vivid," he says.

A concise vision of what you want to achieve can serve as your company's guiding principle for years, even decades. Moritz told me that Cisco Systems had one of the best headlines he had ever heard. Its co-founder, Sandy Lerner, pitched the eight-employee company to Moritz by saying, "We network networks."

When you find a mission that works, stick with it.

Strive for a Twitter-friendly headline.

Google's mission statement can easily fit in a Twitter post, which is why I call it a "Twitter-friendly headline." Your big idea should be able to fit in one short sentence of 140 characters or less. In Moritz's words, it should be unmistakable and profound in its simplicity. Long, convoluted explanations are almost never profound.

Every product should have a headline, too. When I wrote The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs. I learned that Apple's creative content team--and often Jobs himself--would craft one compelling sentence that perfectly summarized a particular product. The line had to be clear, short and repeatable.

The original iPod was "1,000 songs in your pocket." The Macbook Air was "the world's thinnest notebook." When the first iPhone was introduced in 2007, Apple would "reinvent the phone." These statements were more than simple slogans. They formed the foundation of the company's launch presentations, press releases, ads and marketing campaigns.

Every presentation, every product, and every company should have one headline that provides the big picture of what it's trying to accomplish. If it can fit in a short tweet, even better.  

Above all, remember that simplicity is hard work. Don't get frustrated if you can't think of your headline immediately. "Simple can be harder than complex," Steve Jobs once said. "But it's worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains."

Published on: Oct 29, 2018
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