26.Nov 2021

Storytelling: A Powerful Art for Every Startup

“Once upon a time…” – a sentence that seems to belong in an old book with worn pages on your child’s bedside table. Still, as an entrepreneur, you should remember and use storytelling, as it is one of the most effective strategies for your startup. Make storytelling a centerpiece of your business and create your own fairy tale of success for your company’s happily ever after.

What is your Story?

Together with Lena Pawlowski, former creative lead of our alumni YFood, we looked at the art of storytelling and why it is so important for startups in any business area to start finding their story early on and what to keep in mind.

Does your startup need early-phase support? We can help with the Master Accelerator!

Why Do I Need Storytelling as a Founder?

Every founder can use storytelling. For some startups – depending on the product or service – this strategy may be more useful than others, and some people have a greater talent than others, but everyone can do it. Usually, every good pitch includes a story. In early phases, it can compensate for the absence of a physical product or other visualization like a website.The story helps convince family, friends, first employees, or investors to believe in your idea. 

Doing storytelling right can also save resources. A good story helps keep up your employees’ motivation and attract new talent. It also makes your life easier regarding marketing, social media, and public relations. If you have a great story, you have a solid foundation for all of your communication. But, you snooze, you lose: Don’t wait too long to think about your story or you risk not getting all involved people on board.

What Is Storytelling?

The term “storytelling” is nothing new and sadly belongs to the long list of overused words in modern marketing language. The concept is an easy one: We humans love stories, and they have always existed. No matter the language, the culture, the medium, the era – stories fascinate humans. That is not an odd quirk to our species but based on how our brain works. However consummate, stories stimulate the production of hormones and the limbic system. This complex part of the human brain is responsible for emotional reactions, their control and has an influence on learning processes and decision making. Simply put: Storytelling is powerful because it influences the emotions and the decisions we make based on them.

You don’t need the jury of the Pulitzer Prize to know that there is a difference in the quality of stories. Even if we can tell a story as unique as the narrator is, there are some basic characteristics. Aristotle identified the structure of beginning, middle, and end; later, it became the structure of three or five acts (e.g. in Shakespeare’s dramas). Until today, the principle of the Hero’s Journey is the basis for TV series, movies, books, or video games. For your startup story, you don’t need to remember all of these but just three key elements:

  1. There has to be a strategic goal that you follow with your story
  2. There needs to be a change or development (as e.g. in the Hero’s Journey)
  3. Think Bonnie Taylor: I Need A Hero

How to Start Storytelling?

Before you can tell a story, you need to have one. That’s why you start with finding your core story. Start by thinking about how you would tell your friends about the idea, and work from there:

  1. Find the reason why – why are you working for this idea every day? What is it that drives you?
  2. Talk, talk, talk – start talking to friends, family, and other founders to see if everybody understands your story. Don’t worry too much about someone stealing your idea, which is rather rare, but see the opportunity: By talking to others, you might find new contacts or gain new insights.
  3. Watch and learn – look for great examples and study how they did it. There are a variety of possibilities to start a story. You can focus on the personality of the founder, the problem you want to solve, or why you and your company will change the world.

Once you have your core story, don’t think you are done yet. To make your story work, you need to adapt it to the respective audience. The core story stays the same, but an investor might need to hear a longer, shorter, more detailed, etc. version of it than a customer.

The Most Important Ingredient

Like grandmother’s pound cake recipe, the most important aspect is as simple as it is often neglected: The tiny question WHY? Author Simon Sinek says: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” This should be the core of every communication you do. First “why”, then “how”, and lastly “what”. Even great and successful companies tell you much about how and what they do, but not why. But in all your storytelling, this is the most crucial part.

Now you know why telling stories is an essential entrepreneurial ability. It may come to you naturally or by practice and learning. But at the end, you can tell: Mirror, mirror on the wall – who has the greatest story of them all?

Join our Master Accelerator for more support on starting your business in the best way possible with the help of German unicorn founders. 

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