Startups fail for many reasons, but one thing that is sure to make achieving success difficult is poor storytelling. I’m not talking about reading your kids a story before bed, I’m talking about telling the story of your startup. What are you doing and why does it matter? Why should people care?
Today, many people feel overloaded with information, thanks to emails, tweets, and other messages. At the same time, we are consuming more news than ever before. So how can you get someone to pay attention to your startup? You need to fight for attention, because you don’t have a lot of time.
The elevator pitch is a great tool, because it forces you to really think about what it is you’re trying to say. An elevator ride is short, after all! When you have just seconds instead of minutes, you need to make sure that your message is easily understood and hits all the right points. That means speaking at a comfortable pace rather than trying to cram as much information in as possible. And it also means focusing on benefits – the technical specifications of your product are not going to draw anyone in.
Great storytelling is about more than just an elevator pitch, however. Think about the great startup stories that we all know. The story of Google, the story of Apple, the story of Facebook. What do they have in common? According to my fellow Startup Edmonton board member Todd Babiak, who spoke to a group of entrepreneurs at MediaCamp Edmonton in early February, they have “choice and change”. There’s a nugget somewhere in those stories, where a choice was presented and a change was made. Using The Social Network as an example, Todd pointed to the scene early in the film where Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin talk outside the Carribbean night party. It’s the moment where Mark seems to decide that Facemash could be something more. He tells Eduardo about the idea and states the terms of their partnership, which Eduardo accepts. Mark could have “rehabilitated his image” after getting in trouble for Facemash but instead, he chose a different path.
Todd knows a thing or two about storytelling. A novelist and long-time journalist, Todd left the Edmonton Journal last year to start his own company, called Story Engine. They focus on helping businesses being their stories to life: “No matter what business you’re in, you’re in the story business.” Todd encouraged the entrepreneurs in the room at MediaCamp to “think about the hook and about framing.” It has to be compelling, because you can’t simply tell someone to be interested in whatever it is that you’re saying. Another tip is to keep your language simple and direct, by stripping away nonsense. Oh, and remember that the story only starts once. If it all sounds a little “massaged”, that’s by design. There are many ways to tell a story, after all. Just make sure you tell the truth.
Reflecting on his time at the Journal, Todd realized that he never had any local tech entrepreneurs approach him about writing a story. Was that because those entrepreneurs were off telling their own stories? Probably not, though it is now a possibility thanks to the amazing tools at your disposal, things like WordPress and Tumblr. I think that needs to change.
When you get the opportunity to talk to a journalist and they ask how your startup came to be, tell them a story. If you’re a journalist, resist the temptation to simply talk about the “what” and focus on the startup’s story instead. If you mentor or work with entrepreneurs, ask them for their story and encourage them to start telling it. If you’re serious about your startup, it is time to get serious about your story.
Mack D. Male
I’m a geek. I love Twitter and Edmonton!
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada · http://www.mastermaq.ca