My grandmother was a storyteller. She wrote 10 or 11 books, mostly of children’s stories, and always had a story to tell. (As she got older, the stories got more fantastical. She worked as a simultaneous translator in the 1950s, and was a spy. Well, not really a spy, but she had to take documents to some shady people.)
Storytelling resonates with me more strongly than any other single sociological/community building concept.
Think about it. The first written communication was a story.
Pictures of deers and hunters with oversized spears (even then, we men exaggerated), running through trees and mountains.
We learn about our world through stories.
Stories are told each night on the news, and people make trillions and trillions of dollars, if the stories are told in just the right way.
I saw the movie Hugo this afternoon, and it was really a story about telling stories. It was about the heartbreak felt by a man, who no longer felt his stories were being heard, yet they were captured in the dreams of a young boy who struggled to find his place in a world that didn’t want him.
Story telling is an art. Its an amazing talent when its coupled with the desire to provide value, real value through the tale itself.
Yet, stories have a dark side, and not just around the campfire, but when we believe that the story is more important than the truth.
The world has been lying to us about what its like to be an entrepreneur.
What do you mean that Zuckerberg and friends worked 24 hours a day for months and months in a smelly small space filled with nothing but nerds? Where was JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE DAMMIT!
We have decoupled the story teller from the story, and apply value to each separately.
I see it happen all the time with entrepreneurs, who believe in “what a founder is” and how “an entrepreneur should act,” that they forget their primary purpose is to build a company and make decisions regardless of the prettiness of the action (or reaction), but based in the righteousness of the conclusion.
Raising money is not the story. It is a step.
Getting press is not the story. It is a step.
You are not the story. You are the shoulders on which your startup should stand for all to see.
Take a moment and think to yourself, what is the story you are telling? What do your employees, investors, customers think of your story?
If your story is not telling the world that your company is 1) adding enormous value; or 2) that it has a deep belief in its mission, then perhaps you are telling the wrong story.
And, most importantly, if you are letting others (including the tech press) dictate what your story should be, you are fucked.
The story of your company should capture the dreams of your users, employees and investors, and I can guarantee that none of them are dreaming about you.
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For the past several days, I have been contemplating life.
I do this often. It’s almost a ritual at this point. I stop. I review. I think about things I have done; I question why I did them, and evaluate them. I try to learn from things I have done and havent done. I guess at the future; at alternative paths decision points could have created.
And, I do this quietly for the clarity it brings.
Yesterday, I was interviewed by a Japanese magazine. I get interviewed now and again, mostly about startups, often about Graphicly. This time, when asked why Graphicly, “It about the stories,” jumped out of my mouth.
One of the realizations I have come to over the past few days, is that I love story and love to tell stories.
It’s the legacy my grandmother left me.
My grandmother, who died last year, told stories constantly. Some would call her a liar. I called her inventive. Some were amazed at her tales. I was impressed with their ever-changing plots.
She would sit with me for hours spinning a tale that I would remember for years. As she got older, I would remind her of the story of the prince that lived in a speck of dirt that could only escape in a soap-bubble.
And she would tell me of the continued aventures of the tiny prince.
She taught me that everything is about the story. Everything is about how its told. It’s about the connection between words and imagination.
It’s what gets me so excited about what we are doing at Graphicly. We are enabling people to converse around story. We are helping to build community around imagination. Mostly, we are supporting the story tellers.
My grandmother once told me that stories were what bound communities together. Shared experiences and beliefs recounted in simple ways. We all love to slay the dragon and woo the princess. We strive to be the hero. We want to save the world.
“Give me a chance,” we demand in our stories. “Give me a chance, and I will change the world.”
Everything builds around the story. The truth, the lies, the inconsistencies, the reveals.
I miss my grandmother’s stories. I find that when I am contemplating my life, I often hear her voice telling my story. I see the curved corner of her mouth indicating that she knows the truth is malleable, and that the story is better for it.
In my daily life, I lean on the story. I talk in pictures, I see problems and solutions visually, and find explaining issues is easier when there is a bit of a story surrounding it. “It’s like my grandmother once told me,” I explain. “Our users are like the little prince living on his own little planet. They want their planet to be theirs, but they also want to show it to their friends.”
Story lives everywhere. Today I read a post written by a friend about three other friends. The quick of it: Sarah Lacy wrote a post about how Bijan Sabet‘s Spark Capital reneged on a term sheet that was presented to Lauren Leto and Patrick Moberg of Bnter, enraging the NYC investor world and showing that VCs are evil.
It’s always hard reading Sarah’s posts because I know that she writes in a way that forces the reader to love or hate the content and, by association, her. It’s a great style that clearly drives a lot of readership.
As I finished reading the story, my first reaction was a mix of disappointment in someone I have a ton of respect for (I have told Bijan that he is one of three people I would love to have on a board one day) and disappointment for two people who I have a ton of respect for (Patrick drew a picture a few years ago that got me to dive into blogging with both feet, and Lauren is an interesting mix of focus, savvy, luck and energy – and while this sounds stalkerish, I am fascinated with the fascination people have with her, and the image she has cultivated. Plus they are both cool as shit. People I’d probably hang out with and invite to my parents house if they ever happened to be in my home town.).
But, as I stepped back and started to think through the story — and there is no doubt that regardless of the amount of truth present, it’s a story — it began to remind me more and more of my grandmother’s twinkle.
The evil VC; the wide-eyed and naive entrepreneurs. Their cliché hollywood moment. And the anger and outrage that ensued.
Did it happen? No idea.
But here is what I know: Bijan is one of the most standup people (let alone VC) that I know.
And, when I wrote my post that 2011 is going to be the year of women entrepreneurs, my biggest mistake was missing Lauren. She is neither naive or wide-eyed, and with Patrick could very well make Bnter the biggest story of 2011 (if it can move outside of NY effectively).
I am excited to speak at Big Omaha with Sarah. She is a fantastic storyteller. Her ability to weave truth, opinion and supposition into a relatable story is second to none. Hate or love her, her writing is amazing.
And when I am at Funded By Night in Detroit, I will certainly be excited to hear about Bnter’s progress and what Lauren has planned (and, of course, which VCs are going to be lucky enough to be part of that future), and commiserate about investors that bailed out at the last minute or came in at much, much lower amounts that originally promised).
My grandmother once told me that an adventure not worth telling a story about was not worth going on.
We entrepreneurs have plenty of stories to tell, and at the end of the day, it’s the adventures and stories that make it all worth it.
- The Betrayal of Bnter (techcrunch.com)
- Pitch Perfect – Playing With Your Toys (learntoduck.com)
- (Founder Stories) Lauren Leto: Texts From Last Night Was A Million Dollar Idea, Bnter Is Next (techcrunch.com)
- Grandmother chronicles: What’s the story? (sarahjansen.wordpress.com)
- Pitch Perfect – Get Your Story Straight (learntoduck.com)
My grandmother, who passed away last year was an amazing story teller. I remember the hundreds of stories she would tell me as I grew up. She even wrote several books that were collections of children’s stories from around the world.
Why does this matter in pitching your company?
Because without story, you have nothing.
Think of your pitch as having a beginning, middle and an end. It should be a story of triumph filled with passion and vision. A story that tells the tale of belonging and battle.
Dont believe your pitch should have the same elements as the greatest stories ever told? Then you are missing out on the key ingredient to a powerful pitch, because a story will allow potential investors to relate to you and your company.
Couple of key points: This is not for your 30sec pitch (you can compress the story, but the truth is that a 30sec pitch is just problem + market + solution. – “Mismatched socks cause 5% of all employee firings. Socks.io allows people to ensure that their socks are matched correctly before they leave the house, eliminating the embarrassment and saving jobs.”)
Why did you start this business? What about the problem compelled you to act? In the beginning, you need to set the stage. Explain the genesis of the idea and why you are passionate about it. (Notice I never said solution. That will come later.)
“I have two dogs at home, and they were truly difficult to train. I constantly wished I could have a trainer in the house with me when the dogs would bark at the door or do other things that were inappropriate. Clearly, I wasnt doing a great job of training them. After doing a little research, I found that the pet market is more than $41 billion in size, and even so, there was no great in-house training solution. So rather than give the dogs away, I built PetTrainer.ly.”
Analysis: The connection point is around training dogs. Everyone with a dog had to 1) train them; and 2) can’t understand why their dog does XXX everyday. The difficulty with this pitch is if the investor isnt an “animal person” you may find that you have immediately turned them off. Hence the importance of research into whom you want to pitch.
This is the meat. This is the section where you tell the story about the market size, the opportunity. The business itself, and your secret sauce. How are you going to change the world? What is the benefit of having this investor?
Spend the most time in the middle of the story, and allow for the most questions during this time.
“Most people dont realize how important it is to be able to zombify your parents. With the rising cost of health care, its less of a burden to have a zombie mom and dad versus parents that continue to burden their children. With the market standing at $50billion dollars, our ZombieParen.ts creates a unique delivery mechanism by putting Zombie Juice inside denture cream. Over the course of a few months, elder parents no longer desire food or need costly medicines.
We have also figured out how to deal with the brains problem. We have developed in conjunction with Zombie Juice, a wide range of synthetic brains, which really allows us to sell the razor cheaply and make our money on the blades.
To date, we have 10,000 Zombies in our system, buying on average 10 brains a month at $5 a brain. We are growing at a rate of 40% month over month, and with our upcoming Facebook and Android apps, we expect that number to double. We havent built an iOS app yet, given most iOS users have clearly lost their minds.”
Analysis: Zombie brains? Really? In this case the story is a big market and a business model based on reoccurring revenue. If you are talking to investors that dont shy away from physical products, and have been successful with the Gillette model, they now have enough information to ask solid questions and get a good feel for what the business could be, and how they could generate returns from the business. More importantly, it helps the investor understand how you are thinking about the business, and if they can trust you to steward the business.
The end is the easiest part. Ask for what you want and why you want it, and then be quiet. Let the first question come from the investor. Let them absorb your pitch, your story and your ask, and then, let them respond.
“We need approximately $500,000 to fund about a year with 4 employees including myself. That will get us to the next milestone, which will be 50,000 cats herded on a monthly basis. At that point, we will probably have to raise a bit more money.”
And, thats it.
Step One was find the right people to tell the story to. Step Two is tell an interesting story. Step Three will start to cover the demo itself.
Next Post: Pitch Perfect – Demoing