… But what do you guys do?!

Messaging is a crucial aspect of everything you do in a startup. When hiring, that’s even more true.

Haje Jan Kamps
Dec 5, 2017 · 5 min read

A while back, I went along to the Silicon Milkroundabout, a cringeworthily named jobs fair aimed at startups in the UK. I figured it would be good to go along and get a taste for how recruitment works on a larger scale, and to have a chance at talking to a few companies.

What struck me, was that there’s a huge disparity between the companies that go to these sort of things. Some of them were very clear about what they do, who they are, what their ambitions are, and who they are hoping to hire, whereas others do not.

Getting your messaging wrong at this stage is a huge problem; You’re in a market competing for a lot of talent, and if the people who might potentially want to work for you don’t know what you do, they’re unlikely to come talk to you.

I’m pretty famous. Or so said the sticker.

If you are running a company, you really ought to be able to put together a mission statement in less than eight words.

Writing a good one is really hard, but here’s a hint: “Striving always to provide better service”, for example, is a terrible mission statement. You may well be doing all of that with your business, but imagine you had a business card that read the following:

ImaginaryCorp: Striving Always to Provide Better Service.

It’s absolutely rubbish: What does the company do? Who are they doing it for? What is their service, and why will it impact my life to improve it?

FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY… WHAT DO YOU DO?!

It’s worth noting that a slogan is not the same as a mission statement. You may recognise ‘Every Little Helps’, ‘Have it Your Way’, ‘Just Do It’, ‘Think Different’, ‘I’m Lovin’ It’, and ‘Delighting you Always’… But in isolation, each of those statements says preciously little about what the business is or does.

You need a good short mission statement

Creating a good short mission statement is infuriatingly tricky, but there are a lot of businesses who have managed to distill their entire ethos into only a few words. It’s valuable, because it can help as a crash introduction to what your business does, and who they do it for.

A few examples of good mini mission statements:

Bose: Better Sound Through Research

Kodak: A Virtual World of Live Pictures

Triggertrap: Creative Ways of Triggering your Camera

As you can see, a good mini mission statement is crucial to getting context about a business.

Let’s go straight to the examples

So, why am I harping on about this? Well, at this Silicon Milkroundabout event, there were examples on both extremes of this.

Dattch

The first example is Dattch. I’ve got to admit that I don’t get the name, but that’s irrelevant, their strapline says it all: “The Lesbian Dating App” explains that it’s a mobile product, aimed at lesbians, and aims to find you a date. Easy, clear, and concise. Brilliant.

Citymapper

The next example is Citymapper: They have an advantage in that their name is very descriptive.

Their banner doesn’t have a lot of content on it, but it’s all extremely relevant: They have maps of cities, they make cities easier to use, and they are ‘the ultimate transport app for London’. A bold claim which I happen to agree with, but the key point here is that they’ve really nailed their message, three times: In their name, in their strapline, and in their description. One glance, and there can be no doubt what these guys do.

Pivotal Labs

Pivotal Labs were another example: They had one of the smaller booths at the show, but they stood out because they had really maximised the use of the space: Two pop-up banners, a skirt around the table they were using, and all very well designed.

The problem? Well, the banner says “Pivotal Labs”, “We’re growing”, “We’re Agile”, and… that’s about it. I would hazard a guess that every single business at this particular careers fair was both agile and growing. Without a useful name (Do you know what a Pivotal Lab does? I don’t…), it basically means that they have all this fantastic space, which they’ve wasted, because you still can’t figure out what they actually do.

Makers Academy and GulfTalent

Finally, I’d like to show you the photo that inspired this article in the first place. On the left is Maker’s Academy. Their banner is really simple, and reads “Learn to code in 10 weeks”. And… I guess that’s all we need to know about them: Their entire business summarised into 6 words.

I don’t think I would have even noticed that, if it hadn’t been for the incredibly poor banner right next to it. “Take on the Challenge Make an Impact. Fast-growing online business. Market leader in 9 countries. Over 3 million users. London. Dubai.” Have you ever heard such an enormous amount of fluff? Of course you want a challenge, make an impact, and all that stuff. But WHAT DO YOU DO?!

Does it matter? Well, I think I wouldn’t have bothered to go talk to GulfTalent to even find out what they do, but since I had decided to write an article, I had to know. So I asked them. It turns out they’re a recruitment agency, that are recruiting themselves. I suppose I ought to have been able to infer that from ‘GulfTalent’, but my point is this: Take a look at the two banners, side by side, and draw your own conclusion: Who would you rather talk to?

Haje Jan Kamps

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Helping startups for a living and taking photos for fun.