Egg-laying and milk-giving wool-pig

Idioms don’t always translate well across different languages and cultures, but I thought this particular German phrase was a visceral and compelling image as a warning to early-stage companies not to be “all things to all people.”

Eierlegendes und milchgebendes Wollschwein, literally egg-laying and milk-giving wool-pig (sometimes shortened to eierlegende Wollmilchsau), was a phrase I first heard on a phone call with a German company a couple of years back; it was repeated recently, prompting me to write this short blog.

While it sounds great to have a multi-functional animal which provides you with all your nutritional and clothing needs, it will not be a surprise that this is used pejoratively. It describes the familiar cynicism around things that sound too good to be true and claim to be capable of dramatic improvements across a whole host of different parameters.

So how does this apply to the commercialisation of emerging technologies? Generally speaking, for early-stage companies – and especially for platform technologies with broad applicability – it is critical to develop and prove a focused value proposition with a clearly defined benefit to the end user or partner with whom you are engaging. There is often a temptation to develop a long list of all the things your technology does and is a solution for; this is in the hope that it makes your proposition seem more attractive or widens your potential audience. However, what often happens is the message becomes muddied and the proposition less compelling.

As soon as you profess a fantastical ability to do many things effectively, you risk losing credibility and diluting your message, even though there may be validity to those declarations. Remember that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

Don’t be an egg-laying and milk-giving wool-pig.

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