In defense of originality

"We're the Amazon of cats." "We're the Uber of drinks."

"We're the Netflix of hair care."

"We're the X of Y" seems to be all I am hearing startups describe themselves as these days. It's become so prevalent, you can find youtube videos or dumb HBO shows that use these sayings in dialogue to mock entrepreneurs. When I was learning to pitch a startup at Techpeaks, we were encouraged to use these analogies to describe our new ideas. We were told that investors would understand us faster. I think overall this is actually hurting the quality and originality of products in the long run.

When someone asks what your company does, you should communicate the value to the user immediately and clearly. For example, if you are a wine delivery service that sent a few new bottles every month to my users to try so they can discover new ones, would you want to be remembered as:

"Netflix for wines."


"Winernator - A way to experience and discover new and unique wines every month."

Every description of the company should be about the value to the user, not somebody else's valuable company that kind of resembles yours. But this isn't the part that's incredibly harmful. The problem is that these comparisons are starting to take a toll on the product and user experience.

As a UX consultant, I've been helping startups/ larger companies come up with their product strategy and create new business lines. I recently had a situation where my team and I had been working with a client who wanted to be the Skyscanner* of Mortgages*. When we asked the founder what value did he want to provide to his users, he talked a lot about the current problems in the market. He explained that he wanted Skyscanner because it allowed people to drill down on the right flights for them, something he wanted to do for his financial products.

Great. We had the information we needed to make a great experience for his users based off this problem of drilling down to the right products for the right users. We presented him with three different options for their site. He wasn't satisfied. After a lot of back and forth he said he did not want these experiences, he wanted Skyscanner. So we made something that was a bit more similar to skyscanner with their filters and took it back. No. He wanted Skyscanner.

He literally wanted the entire experience  and layout to be a duplicate of Skyscanner... but for mortgages.

The experience for Skyscanner was made for people searching for flights, not mortgages. Users don't search for mortgages the same way they search for flights. They will be in a different setting, in a different circumstance, with different concerns. You have to qualify people for mortgages. You don't qualify people for flights. The requirements and the use cases are different, and the experiences don't match up.

Unfortunately this isn't the first time I've been in this position. This is what happens when you let another company's value become YOUR product's value. Founders think about their pitches and product positions so many times a day, that it becomes ingrained in them. If you are staring at other people's products all day and reciting yours as an analogy to them, you are going to blur the lines between what is your product and what is theirs.

I am not saying don't use a business model that works. I'm saying don't think because it worked in one vertical it will work in another. Each product we build needs to be unique and original for our targeted audience. Every user's reaction differs depending on what their situation is at that moment of need. If they are filling out very important forms, they might be incredibly careful, articulate, and neat. If they are taking notes in a meeting, they might be rushing to get things done. This doesn't mean because they are writing that the same product will work or even be needed in both cases.

I would love to hear founders drop the X of Y analogies and start explaining their products for the value that they convey, not the other successes they wish to imitate. If your product is solving a problem in an original way, let that shine through. To me, that's the better pitch.

[*Note: Analogies changed for anonymity's sake.]