The Netflixes Of Business Analogies

It's often tough to explain startups and new tech and what they do, especially if no one's ever done it before. But there's one not-so-innovative tactic the pitch people of innovative products and services have turned to throughout the decades. Describing a service as "the Netflix of" or "The Pandora of" [fill-in-the-blank] industry.

We're the Netflix of news readers! The Netflix of college text books! And my personal favorite: The Dollar Shave Club, an e-commerce site designed for well-groomed men, which according to the PR rep, has been "dubbed the Netflix of shaving." (By whom?)

Problem is the claims are often misleading or incomplete in their attempts to summon some notion of personalization (Pandora) or a by-mail service or subscription plan (Netflix).

For the most part, we in the media gobble this up (Fast Company included). An endless amount of headlines and articles include the phrase "the Netflix of…" In fact, a search for the phrase on clip archive Lexis-Nexis returned too many results to display. (Lexis will not display results if a query returns more than 3,000 hits.) On Google, the results are just as redundant:

The Netflix of Banks
The Netflix of Cufflinks
The Netflix of Photo Sharing
The Netflix of Audiobooks
The Netflix of Baby Clothes
The Netflix of Batteries For The Developing World
The Netflix of Academic Journals
The Netflix of Fine Art

The list goes on. Replace "Netflix" with "Pandora" and the list is seemingly infinite. The Pandora … of learning … of long form journalism … of food and wine … of online fashion.

But the trend itself has been going on far longer than Netflix and Pandora became the algorithms du jour. Before, it was common to see pitches proclaiming a startup as "the Amazon of..." or "the Salesforce of...," companies that were (and still very much are) instantly recognizable and relatable due to their success and efficiency.

The trend has even sparked parodies, such as, a site launched to hilariously debunk Silicon Valley boilerplate. "Wait, what does your startup do?" reads the top of every page. "Basically, it's like a Wordpress for airlines!" says one pitch. Hit refresh, and that pitch will change: "Basically, it's like Amazon for collegiate Jewish women!" And so forth.

[Image: Flickr user tiff_ku1]

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  • Michael Dubin

    Good article, and I agree there's a danger in over-simplified pitches & comparisons.  Nevertheless, Ausitn, how do we get you in the Club.  Email me:

  • jeff goldenson

    I'd just like to remind readers of the utility of this device.  There is a good reason it has stood the test of time.  And while abused, it's worth noting why it works. 

    The difficulty of introducing something new is that it's new.  So starting a listener in a "place" they know (netflix, what have you), and edging them along to the new by introducing the new ingredient (context/industry, e.g. banks) can be very effective.  It is a quick way to communicate a lot of information while empowering the listener (at best) to extrapolate further about what this new thing is. 

    Whenever you can get your listener imagining a future along with you, you're doing great.