How to fix your sucky startup storytelling



So a startup walks into a bar… bet you want to know what happens next, right? All the best stories are the ones that hook you right from the very beginning, and hold your interest till the end. But more often than not, you’ll have a hard time doing that when telling people about your awesome new enterprise. Why is that? Well, the short answer is: your storytelling skills suck.

Cheer up! While you’ll probably never win a Pulitzer Prize, there are some simple guidelines you can follow that will help you create compelling, memorable stories that will help define your product, your company, and your brand.

Don’t start at the beginning

We live in a world of short attention spans, of “been there, done that,” of “show me something different.” When you start to tell your startup’s story, skip the “once upon a time” and jump right to your first big disaster, or your first incredible success. Then bring everyone along as you explain how you got there.

Nobody cares about you

Seriously, nobody gives a damn about how amazing you are and how amazing your people are. There are enough egotists at the local pub. What you need to do is be relevant and offer useful solutions. Keep asking yourself, “why would people want to know this? What mistake did I make (or not make) that others could benefit from reading about?”

Emotions matter

Only the weirdos will truly want to hear about your manufacturing process or your cloud infrastructure. Using (or overusing) jargon can be a real turn-off to people who don’t know your industry as intimately as you do. Focus on what you and your company stand for, and how hearing your story will make other people feel. (Good, I hope. Motivated, I hope.)

How do you do that? By being genuine and authentic. This doesn’t mean larding your story up with hundreds of adjectives — less really is more. Say it like you mean it, not like you think it should sound in order to be cool.

Dropbox is a great example! All of their customer communications are extremely simple, direct, engaging  and focused on the benefits. Everything says, “we’re making your life better by providing super-easy ways to store and share your files.” Be clear what message you want to communicate — or your story won’t stick at all.

Play to your strength

While not everyone can be a brilliant writer, literally anyone can tell a good story.  It’s a matter of finding the medium that works best for you. Some people are great wordsmiths, some people are amazing speakers, and some people make incredible videos or motion graphics. Do what you do best and you’re guaranteed to get the best result.

Be consistent

Find that sweet spot between what you stand for and how it responds to the needs of your target audience. It’s what most companies define as their ‘mission,’ which should be visible and consistent across every piece of content — whether it’s social media, email marketing, or a sales presentation.  

Never underestimate the importance of being clear and consistent in your storytelling. In order to do that, you need to describe the bottom line of your company. What is it that you actually want to tell the world? What do you stand for and how are you solving someone else’s problems?

So before wondering if the content format will actually resonate with your audience, make sure you understand what message you want to tell — or your story won’t stick at all. Look at Nike. You see the swoosh, you read “Just do it,” and you know exactly what they’re about. Yes, they make cutting-edge athletic gear, but what they sell is empowerment, not just for Olympians but for weekend warriors too. That’s a message that sticks.

And finally…the payoff

Really good, compelling storytelling is hard. It takes work, and I mean real work. People go to university for years to learn this skill! So don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get it right the first time — or even the second or third! Just keep in mind what the point of your story is (we smarty-pants people call it the premise). The rest will come. Trust me.



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