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The Airbnb For Blah: Why Startup Analogies Aren't Going Away

The Pandora of art. The Netflix of voter registration. The Pinterest of porn. New startup ideas are often difficult to explain, but in recent years, entrepreneurs, PR firms, and the tech press have turned to business analogies like these to quickly elucidate new concepts.

Calling a startup the "Netflix of..." or the "Airbnb of..." can instantly explain the service or business model, but such analogies are used so often that they've become a joke in the tech world. (A parody site was even created to mock the trend; for example: "So, basically, it's like a Yelp for highway accidents!") But the analogies aren't going away, despite how much they're supposedly hated. Only recently, we've seen the "Netflix for nail polish," the "Pandora of talk radio," and the "Pinterest of daily deals." As annoying and unjustified as the analogies often are, they're actually considered helpful to most involved in the industry, from VCs to company founders.

"I think there's a value for that first five seconds before you're established," says Aaron Hirschhorn, founder of DogVacay, which is often called the Airbnb for dogs. "Anything that helps you quickly explain the concept at least adds value."

Sonia Sahney Nagar agrees. She says her startup Pickie, which many consider the Flipboard for shopping, benefitted from making the comparison, especially with VCs. "I know it's run out of favor with the tech community—that it's very passé now—but I remember in investor meetings, we used to be like, 'Well, you look at all your social feeds and plug in products,' and there would be this glossy look in people's eyes. But when we said, 'We're the Flipboard for shopping,' they'd immediately get it."

As much as the tech press complains of such overused analogies, it's often the media that invents the comparisons. "It was something the media dreamed up," Hirschhorn says of DogVacay's tag. "It's a moniker the tech press really enjoys, for easy-to-digest headlines. We raised funding recently, and not once did Airbnb come up in any of my interviews [about the funding]. But in almost every single article, it was, 'DogVacay, the Airbnb for dogs.'"

Hirschhorn and Nagar aren't worried about the comparisons, nor are they concerned with potentially being typecast. ("I'm not worried about it at all," Hirschhorn says.)

But they both hope to one day outgrow the analogies.

"I hope we grow out of it—to someday become our own entity," Nagar says. "Because we're doing things that are different than just being called the 'Flipboard for blah.'"

[Image: Flickr user Andrew Magill]