Tell a four-word story.

James Buckhouse
Design Story
Published in
3 min readOct 24, 2012


Forget the elevator pitch. You only get four words.

If you want to start a business or launch a new project, you need to be able to describe your effort in four words.

Why four?

If you write a longer story, the door cracks open to ambiguity; you can start to hedge your bets, get vague or abstract. Stick with four. It means you must identify a subject, an object, a verb, and maybe one descriptor or refining notion.

If this sounds impossibly hard, then keep at it. What can you strip away from your self-description to get down to four words? Yes, it’s arbitrarily too hard to be reasonable, but try it!

Here’s my take on a few well-known companies:

Pinterest: Organize everything you love.
Facebook: Connect the entire world.
Google: Easily find useful information.
Twitter: Discover what’s happening.

“There’s no better way to force a conversation about what your team values than to write a four-word story.”

Here’s a step-by-step workshop you can try during your next team meeting.

Step 1:
Start by brainstorming all the words you can think of that relate to your company. Put them in a big pile. Keep going. Get dozens. Lump them all together. Don’t say no to any of them yet. Brainstorm.

Step 2:
Eliminate some that are a little off the mark. Then organize the rest into groups. You might have one group of words that talks about people or users or customers. You might have another that talks about your advantages, such as real-time, reliable, or proprietary. Keep going until you have all the words in groups.

Step 3:
Consolidate the groups until you only have four. Pick an “essential” word that best encapsulates the meaning of the group.

Step 4:
Write down your four words and re-arrange until they start to form the structure of a sentence. Start with this proto-sentence. Now re-write until you have your golden four.

Step 5:
Test the sentence. Does it hold up to what you actually value? Can you substitute out any of the words for better ones? Try it out on one of your toughest business questions: Does it help you decide which way forward? Not happy with the results? Iterate. When you get it, you’ll know.


We build better when we work together. Here’s how

  1. Draw the human need your product solves. You’ll build better products and form stronger partnerships across teams when you learn to draw together… Read more to learn how.
  2. Four types of business stories. Your business needs four different types of stories, each with a very different function. Learn how to write all four.
  3. Is it #shareworthy? Niche bloggers, big brands, start-ups, and thought-leaders listen up: Every time you put anything into the world, ask yourself if your audience will want to pass it along…Learn how to get repeated.

Read more #designstory posts.



James Buckhouse
Design Story

Design Partner at Sequoia, Founder of Sequoia Design Lab. Past: Twitter, Dreamworks. Guest lecturer at Stanford GSB/ & Harvard GSD