6 Stories Entrepreneurs Need To Soar to 90,000 Feet!

At 90,000 Feet, we’ve done a lot of fundraising for entrepreneurs, corporations, universities, non-profits and other enterprises.  We always start with storytelling – and we make it as personal as possible.  We ask questions.

The most important questions for any entrepreneur or start-up are not just “what you do” or “how you do it” but “Why you started the company?”  That’s the spine of your story.  And many times, business people have no idea how to answer this simple question?

The Whole Story.

And, in this noisy, content saturated, “I don’t have a second spare” world, you need to master speed storytelling – especially if you’re raising money.  That means, you need to know your multiple story lines in order to pitch the complete story of what make your business worth someone’s precious time and money!  It’s not an opportunity for chest-thumping.  It’s not about you!  Your whole story is about relevance to people’s lives.  It’s about what difference your business makes?  What problem does it solve – like no other business before?  How does it serve people?  Or empower them to do things they never dreamed of?  Why does it matter to the world?

Once you define the holistic meaning of your business, it soars to those higher 90,000 Feet levels.  You gives your customers the full appreciation of your passions, motives and your higher purpose.  It also makes them trust your intentions…and without trust you lose effectiveness as a storyteller.

Eileen Gittins of Blurb outlines how storytelling has helped her not only raise money but give form to a corporate culture.  Gittins’ company started out as a way for people to make well-designed photo books in somewhat less than an eon. Since then, Blurb has grown into a popular platform for e-books, publishing about 7,000 titles a day and reeling in about $100 million in revenues a year.

As Blurb grew, Gittins learned how important it was for her customers to believe there were real live people behind it, and to trust in them. Blurb has no retail stores and no salespeople–it was all about the computer screen. Gittins found that storytelling was key to developing her brand and her culture, and came to believe that all entrepreneurs have to be able to tell these six stories.

1. The Pitch.

The first story, says Gittins, is the pitch, which she calls “the story to get you started.” You tell what you are doing, what you have on offer, and why the person listening should care about you. Gittins must have a good one–she’s raised $80 million in venture funding, and, as she puts it, “kissed so many VC frogs I don’t even remember their names.”

2. The Story of Your Company.

This tells what you do, why you do it, and what distinguishes you in the marketplace.

3. The Personal Story

“A personal story can advance your business more than you can imagine,” Gittins said. Her company has an all-hands meeting every month: “I get the engineers to show up at 8:30, which is an act of god,” she said.

At those meetings, each department nominates someone to tell a story of something that happened recently in the business. It can be of success, failure, or something in between. The stories help build trust between colleagues. And, Gittins says, and at some point, “People don’t want to hear from you. What they really want to do is hear from the guy who runs customer support or the CEO’s assistant. Those tend to be the personal stories.”

4. The Catalyst Story

This is the most important one, said Gittins. The form is predictable: There’s a hero, there are obstacles, the hero overcomes the obstacles, and all is sweetness and light. But the use of this story is anything but: “One of the great things about the catalyst story is it’s a great way to help your people understand some of the change you want to surface at your company,” Gittins said.

“We started in the world of personal publishing, where you make a photobook for your mom or the people you know. Now we’re doing self-publishing, and if people aren’t authors they don’t understand it.”

The catalyst story, she says, needs to be specific as to date and time. And by the time it’s over, it should be obvious to everyone in the audience what would have happened without the catalyst.

4. The Branding Story

At a small company, this story may rely heavily on the founder’s own story.

5. The Vision Thing

“This is the biggest possible vision of where your company can go,” says Gittins. And it often starts out a bit like a children’s story: “Once upon a time…” or “Imagine a world where…”

One of her favorite variations on “the vision thing” is to imagine the characteristics of the hypothetical company that would put her out of business tomorrow. Once you’ve done that, she says, “you’ve just defined the vision for what you need to do to pre-empt that from happening.”

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