Distilling market noise into market sense

VisionMobile is the leading research company in the app economy. Our Developer Economics research program tracks developer experiences across platforms, revenues, apps, tools, APIs, segments and regions, via the largest, most global developer surveys.

The Art of One-line Pitching: A Study of AngelList

[An AngelList study about the top companies being referenced by startups in their one-line pitching. VisionMobile Sales Operation Manager, Chris Eleftheriadis, shares his insights on how nowadays startups communicate their value proposition to investors]

The Art of One-line Pitching: A Study of AngelList

Startups are abundant today – addressing every imaginable user need, and often in unconventional ways. Many of today’s startups, from e-commerce to healthcare, are combining many “business patterns” – social, mobile, media, marketplaces, gamification, reputation systems, and many more. And there lies the challenge: how do you communicate your startup’s value proposition in a one-line elevator pitch? Very often your elevator pitch will determine if you can get a meeting with an investor, or the number of positives from a partner onboarding campaign. This challenge of crafting a short, memorable, meaningful one-line elevator pitch has led startups to use more creative techniques such as referring or comparing to established startup success stories. Call it LinkedIn for X, AirBnB for Y, eBay for Z.

As part of our research into ecosystems we asked ourselves an unusual question – Which are the most popular companies that startups are using as a reference or a meme in order to describe what they do? This question led us to some very interesting insights that we wanted to share in this article.

Text cloud 43

We crawled AngelList, the go-to-site for tracking startup activity, to answer this question. To our surprise, we found so many relevant examples of referenced pitching that lead to notable patterns on how innovation is understood and communicated.


The most referenced companies

In our research of AngelList startups we identified more than 60 companies referenced by more than 1700 startups in their one-line pitches. The top 10 of those companies are already culture memes: they account for an impressive 46% of all startup references on Angelist.

AngelList - Top 10 Referenced Companies

Linkedin tops the leaderboard with about 113 references identified with Pinterest and eBay following closely behind with 105 and 103 references. The top 10 is made up of Facebook, Yelp, Instagram, Groupon, Airbnb, Youtube and Amazon.

AngelList - Top Referenced Companies

We’ve also created a cool visualisation with the top companies being referred – as well as the startups who are using them to define themselves. Take a look!

AngelList - Company referrals


The Top 9 types of referenced pitching

1. Common. The most common of referenced pitching can be drilled down to 3 similar formats:
– X for Y: Yammer for Education.
– X meets Y: Yelp meets Hipster meets Foursquare:
– The X of Y: The Pinterest of online dating

2. Funny (ironic). Very effective especially in its sarcastic form:
– Facebook for the dead.
– Instagram for basketball junkies.
– Think “Netflix for Grandma” + “Help, I’ve fallen and I cant get up”.
– Yelp for medical marijuana.

2.1. Funny (compound). Combining two or more companies:
– If YouTube and Twitter made ridiculously good-looking babies.
– If Pandora and Facebook had a baby, it would be…
– LinkedIn and match.com had a baby who went to law school.

3. But better. In short “we’re doing same thing as them but better” – it’s kind of ironic but I guess it could work with some investors:
– Better than Amazon” customer experience for any Brand.
– LinkedIn on Steroids.
– Search engine that beats Kayak.com’s fares by up to 80%.
– VEVO/YouTube/Spotify/Pandora/MobileRoadie/OurStage – but better.

4. Equation. Plain mathematics – can’t be wrong!
– (Google x Facebook x Amazon) + (Universal Reviews)
– Ebay+Soundcloud= …
– FLIMBY=Yammer+Delicious+Gotomeeting+more
– Instagram + Trips = …

5. Explanatory. It’s like if the common type was a little bit more precise:
– A Spotify with Pandora on top.
– Solving the Enterprise Dropbox problem.
– Think TripAdvisor but instead of reviewing a hotel you review your street.
– What Open table is for restaurants we are for sports venues!

6. For nonprofits. This can be any type of description but explicitly for nonprofits:
– Kickstarter on Steroids, tailored for nonprofits
– Marriage of Salesforce, WordPress, Constant Contact, Ebay for Nonprofits
– Spotify for Donors & Nonprofits
– Yammer for Nonprofits

7. Crash collusion. It’s that unpredictable result when you mix things:
– Blends Facebook, Pinterest, Google & Twitter creating world’s 1st social shopping network.
– SurveyMonkey+LinkedIn+Facebook mashed together.
– Think Flipboard and Hootsuite In One.

8. Regional. Same activity as the referenced company but focused on a specific region – in short pure copycats.
– Yelp for Brazil.
– GetTaxi for Southeast Asia & Middle East.
– Kickstarter of the Arab world.
– Russian LinkedIn.

9. User groups. Again, same activity but targeting only specific user groups.
– TripAdvisor meets 1 million+ airline flight crew.
– eHarmony.com for Gays and Lesbians.
– Pinterest for MEN.
– TripAdvisor for Muslim-friendly hotels.


Referenced pitching is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it makes it clear to explain your value proposition and implies a sense of accomplishment. On the other hand, is it really safer to go with the flow and define your startup in terms of another, successful business or separate yourself from the crowd?

What emerges from this research is that 18 out of 20 most referenced startups practice a multi-sided platform model. These are marketplaces connecting disparate user groups (e.g. OpenTable connecting restaurants with restaurant-goers, LinkedIn connecting professionals with HR recruiters), running affiliate programs (e.g. Amazon), or exposing business assets to developers via APIs whether short-head (e.g. Spotify apps) or long tail (e.g. Twilio). With 95% of referenced startups being marketplaces, the mechanisms for creating and capturing value in today’s digital world are governed by what we call ecosystem economics. Today’s innovation lies more in business models than technology.

– Chris (@abyssnet)

  • Nivi

    Cool post. I RTed.

  • Greg Jarucki

    So no one is creative any more?

  • I don't necessarily think that there's an art to pitching–the most creativity might be simply knowing your facts and being able to deliver all facts in a strong fashion. At the end of the day, they're all people.

  • I’m impressed by the amount of research you’ve done on the pitches! I’m horrified by the findings though.

    Referencing another business to describe your own would suggest to me that you’re either late to market, in a very small niche (a subset of your reference) or that you’re not able to articulate your own virtues sufficiently.

    I certainly agree that the innovation is in the business model more than the technology…


Distilling market noise into market sense

What gets desktop developers out of bed in the morning?

desktop developer segmentation

Despite all the hype around the death of the PC and the enormous amount of media attention focused on mobile,…

Continue reading ...

A proven model for targeting IoT developers


  What if you could identify a handful of developer personas, or segments, each with a very distinct set of…

Continue reading ...

1000 skills: Amazon Alexa as a metaphor for the IoT developer community


Alexa is a centerpiece of Amazon’s Smart Home push, and quickly growing to become one of the most promising attempts…

Continue reading ...


Research on the app economy and developer ecosystems

Developer Segmentation 2014


The Developer Segmentation Q3 2014 report is the most sophisticated study of developer segments to date. The report delivers a…

Continue reading ...

App Profits and Costs


This research report examines the critical success factors for a profitable app, and how business and technology choices, such as…

Continue reading ...

Developer Segmentation 2013

Developer Segmentation 2013

The Developer Segmentation 2013 report delivers a needs-based segmentation model that actually works, with extensive profiling of the eight principle…

Continue reading ...