RIBS — THE MESSAGING FRAMEWORK FOR ANY PRODUCT & COMPANY
This article originally appeared in TechCrunch
Over more than two decades of advising founders, I’ve heard all kinds of stories — good, bad, and everything in between. And while everyone is different, I’ve noticed the very best stories have something in common: they pass the RIBS test. I’ve talked a lot about this over the years, and it’s stood the test of time and trends.
The test is designed to tell you if your story is memorable (will it “stick to your ribs?”) so you can turn it into a compelling message. It looks something like this:
Before you can come up with a good story, you need to think about the audience. Who are you trying to reach? Are you solving a problem they care about? What matters to them about that problem? Why does your solution deserve attention?
Marc Benioff could have launched Salesforce by describing it as an online way for companies to manage relationships with their customers. It’s true and it would have been interesting, at least to some people. But instead, Marc went bigger: he ran a campaign that described Salesforce as the “end of software.”
At the time, software was everywhere, and it was creating all kinds of problems: it was massively expensive, time-consuming, and prone to failure. By taking on those issues, Marc made the company instantly more relevant to a bigger market and audience. The conversation went from a discussion of feature checklists, contacts, and leads, to how an entire industry would change. Marc looked like a visionary, and Salesforce seemed revolutionary.
As a founder, it’s natural to have some doubts about what you’re doing and whether it will work. Just make sure everyone else feels like it’s destined to happen.
If you can convince people that a problem is obvious and your solution just makes sense, it will be like having a gust of wind at your company’s back — you’ll build momentum and the journey to relevance will be that much shorter. If it doesn’t seem like whatever trend or movement you’re a part of will eventually come to pass, you’ll be fighting the whole way.
Electric cars are a good example. With limited resources and a changing climate, it’s clear that the future will require cars to run on something other than gasoline. Eventually, it’s easy to see a world where all cars are electric. It’s not clear at this point what specific technology or company will win out, but alternative fuels are the future — and should be part of the mix of cars on the road.
You can think about food delivery the same way. Should pizza and Chinese food be the only meals you can have delivered to your home? No way. A broader food delivery ecosystem just makes sense, even if we’re still waiting to see who ends up dominating the market.
Let’s say what you’re doing is relevant, and you’ve made it seem inevitable. You may still have a problem if people don’t believe your company is the one to make it happen.
This is a central challenge for every startup. Without a track record, there is no reason anyone should believe you’ll win, and there will always be a bigger or more established company that should be able to do what you’re trying to do. That’s why every startup needs to “put points on the board” — notching smaller wins again and again and again until people finally start to believe. You have to prove that you care more, and that you’re gaining momentum and traction. And you have to keep working at it each and every day.
These days, everyone’s busy. We’re on social media, checking email, trying to balance work, friends, and family. In order to break through, a story needs to cut through the noise — and the way to do that is to keep things simple.
End of software. Three words. It doesn’t matter how great your idea is — if you can’t fit it on an index card, nobody’s going to remember it. That’s why my advice to founders is simple (see what I did there?): take your messaging and edit it down. Keep going until you arrive at its essence. What’s the one line you want people to remember? You only get one, so make it count.
Relevant. Inevitable. Believable. Simple. Behind most successful companies is a story that checks every one of those boxes. So before you go too far, spend time thinking about yours. If it sticks to your RIBS, you just might be onto something.
Caryn Marooney is a General Partner at Coatue. The information contained in this blog should not be considered investment advice from Coatue and Coatue may or may not hold positions in the in the companies referenced in this article.