11. One Sentence


What are you up to???

As you launch your startup, you will repeatedly be asked, “What are you doing?” Or variations, such as, “Tell me about your company.”

In most settings, the right answer is just one or two sentences. Summarize the problem and your solution, hitting upon the key elements of your business. Key elements are those you uncovered as your business’s core essence.

Summarizing your business in a single sentence is not easy. By this stage, you have been thinking about your idea for months, if not years. You should have detailed plans for your product, if not a prototype ready for market.

There are two ways to create this sentence. First, start with the core essence and build upward. Second, start with a paragraph and prune downward. Spend a bit of time and try both, meeting somewhere in the middle.

For example, let’s return to Coca-Cola. Given the core essence of refreshing, favorite, beverage, we can build this up:

  • Coca-Cola produces refreshing, popular, beverages.
  • Coca-Cola is a popular brand of refreshing drinks.
  • Coca-Cola is the world’s most popular brand of carbonated beverages.
  • Coca-Cola makes the world happy through tasty, refreshing drinks.

And so on, iterating until reaching the company’s actual one-liner:

  • “The Coca-Cola Company is the world’s largest beverage company, refreshing consumers with more than 500 sparkling and still brands.”—CocaCola.com


The key here, like in every step of The Next Step, is iteration. Don’t expect to find a great one-sentence description on the first try or in the first dozen iterations. Expect it to take multiple hours and multiple iterations, spread across multiple days if not weeks. Try it on lots of new people. Then expect to change it for the first few months, as you learn what words work and which words are misunderstood or simply fall flat.

Once you have a one-sentence description you like, you can then take the pieces that you pruned away and add a second sentence to provide more details or other secondary information. Again, from Coca-Cola:

  • “The Coca-Cola Company is the world’s largest beverage company, refreshing consumers with more than 500 sparkling and still brands. Our Company and bottling partners are dedicated to our 2020 Vision, a roadmap for doubling system revenues this decade, focused on five key areas—profit, people, portfolio, partners and planet.”—CocaCola.com


The second sentence here is focused on bottling partners, employees, and investors, not consumers. You will also need a few versions of your one- and two-sentence descriptions, depending on the target audience.

And, finally, if you can summarize your business in one and two sentences, you are ready to summarize it in one paragraph. At times, you’ll have more space available and more time to talk about your company.

In each of these marketing messages, before you call it done, check it against the core essence. Does it cover all three words/concepts?



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