Are you a good Storyteller?

Source: Flickr © Larry Bray

Every entrepreneur has a story to tell, but how you tell that story is equally important. The art of storytelling has become a must-have skill for any entrepreneur to retain the attention of the listener, more so in today’s world where attention spans are shrinking.

As an entrepreneur, you have so many stories to tell. About building your MVP, getting your first customers, raising your first round of financing etc. Weaving stories from past experiences helps an entrepreneur in raising funds, engaging customers, hiring leaders and setting the right work culture across the organisation.

Stories drive Sales

Three Step Storytelling Process

Terry Rice, a NYU faculty and business development expert drives this point through his three step storytelling process. It can help drive the purchase process that makes a customer understand the need for your product.

Statistics / numbers can only help to an extent because the customer can always reply with “So what?”. Explaining the why through storytelling helps bridge this gap with subtle answers to customers “so what” query.

Stories create Brands

An entrepreneur who can tell a story across hooks the audience. These initial fans then become advocates for your brand leading to positive word of mouth.

Good stories create brands; good brands create loyalty; loyalty creates community and community creates cult.

How should a founder pitch his/her own story to investors?

Gabrielle Dolan in her book Stories for Work: The Essential Guide to Business Storytelling, explains that a story can be told using 4 broad approaches:

  • Triumph Inspiring stories of success and achievement overcoming odds that led to a reward
  • Transition — Opportunity that presented itself in times of change and how it was taken advantage of
  • Tension — Situational observations that challenged your thought process, views and the choices made to tackle such obstacles
  • Tragedy — Undesirable events that have caused disappointment, regret and how they resulted in a learning experience that shaped your journey

How should a founder pitch his/her product to customers?

Storytelling helps structure and create a narrative that forms the foundation to engage the audience. David Cancel, founder of Drift, gave an excellent breakdown which can be summarized as follows:

  1. Talk about a big inevitable change — Challenge the status quo and bring out an overwhelming change that will occur or has occurred that needs attention.
  2. Name the enemy — Get your audience on your side by labeling an obstacle or problem that needs to be overcome or is an itch that needs to be scratched
  3. Tease the “Promised Land” — Guide the audience to the solution and tell them how they can win. Create an ideal scenario of what the audience can expect
  4. Position capabilities as “magic” for slaying “monsters” — Now that the audience is hooked, make them fall in love with your product by bringing out everything that is possible through features and benefits
  5. Present your best evidence — If your product already has happy customers, show them off . In case of Drift where there was no traction, they used the product internally and showcased the results

Indian entrepreneurs who have used storytelling to their advantage.

  1. Girish Mathrubootham, Co-founder of Freshworks

In this podcast, Girish speaks about how stories provided immense value in his life at various points in time. His ability to tell stories helped him scale Freshworks. Especially in leadership hiring. He highlights that early on in an entrepreneurial journey “Data is your enemy, Story is your friend” especially when it comes to fundraising.

Girish gives another great lesson about leadership and decision-making through a story called “Which cow, which ditch?” which can be summarized as follows:

  • As per an old village fable, when a cow falls into a ditch, you first take the cow out, then you fill the ditch, and then you focus on preventing other cows from falling into ditches.
  • Any fast-growing startup has many cows already fallen in ditches (people dealing with problems). When a new hire in the leadership team with a background of working in a process-oriented large company joins, he/she tries to change processes to stop cows from falling into ditches.
  • However, employees cannot relate to it because they are all busy with the cows in the ditches. A good leader should pose the question “Which cow, which ditch?” and prioritize the top 2–3 problems and help those cows out of the ditches and then, finally, figure out, “How can I prevent cows from falling into ditches”.

2. Vijay Shekhar Sharma, Founder of Paytm

The darling of the Indian investment community, VSS honed the craft of storytelling with his experience of interacting with investors like Masayoshi Son, Warren Buffet and Jack Ma. VSS has quoted that his fundraising presentations used to be like a ‘light and sound’ show — showing the grand vision for India and PayTM.

Another example is when VSS explains how Indians are primed for building businesses anywhere by using the analogy of “waiting for a bus at a bus stop”

  • Vijay explains that right from a young age Indians figure out things quickly. As the bus approaches, we quickly gauge whether a bus will stop before the bus stop, at the bus stop or after the bus stop depending on how many people are on the bus.
  • As Indians we understand that even though there are rules to the game, we adapt to the changing market situation and are comfortable working in a low resource volatile environment. We thrive in chaos and if we can build large businesses in India, it is easier to build it in other countries.

This skill of observing, relating and explaining concepts through stories/anecdotes/analogies is what makes VSS interesting and inspiring. I am sure storytelling has played a role in building Paytm and scaling the company to where it is.

To conclude

Imagine yourself in front of an investor or a potential customer. Use the Guide to business storytelling by Gabrielle Dolan (triumph, transition, tragedy & tension) to engage potential investors and the Storytelling breakdown by David Cancel to engage potential customers.

Keep in mind the goal you wish to achieve through your story which should differ according to your audience. Your goal will decide the structure/narrative you need to follow to guide your audience to buying into your story.

Happy Storytelling!

Tell us your startup story in the comments below or write to me at adith@gembacapital.in

Entrepreneur First | Founder - Gemba Capital | Early stage Investor | Ex PE | Amateur Photographer | Foodie | Traveler |