Once Upon A Startup: Storytelling and Startup Pitches


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Use elements and techniques of storytelling to create a really great start up pitch

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  • So as a journalist turned advertising copywriter turned researcher I’m drawn to the stories of people and what makes them tick. I became fascinated with startups and storytelling. I began to wonder about the intersection between them.
  • When I say pitch I’m talking about the 8 - 20 minute pitch presentations, not and elevator pitch.
  • Being a researcher I decided to do what I do best. Explore. I talked to people who listen to hundreds of pitches a year. Investors, advisors and coaches. I asked them:
  • Know what they said?
  • I’m going to share with you what I learned. I’d also like for us to explore a little together, too. So what are some of your favorite movies you’ve seen or stories you’ve read? What do they all have in common?
  • They all tap into emotion. In my discussions with investors and advisors, most pitches do the opposite. They get too caught up in content and numbers, facts and figures.
  • One way or another your pitch has to tap into an emotional connection. The best way to do it is with story.
  • 4 main themes in storytelling for startup pitches. In my conversations, I discovered the single most important intersection of where story meets pitch was:
  • Storytelling takes a pitch through a filtering process that every investor, knowingly or unknowingly goes through. The first two filters typically happen within the first two to three minutes.
  • What are some of your favorite story characters? Novels? Movies? TV series? When we like a character we want him or her to win. Think of your protagonist as your idea, your product/service but mostly YOU.
  • If protagonists are too perfect, we tend not to like them. How many of us are perfect? How well can we relate to someone who is too perfect?
  • Our favorite story characters are usually not perfect. They are authentic and genuine. That’s why we like them.
  • In 1938, near the end of a decade of monumental turmoil, the year’s number-one newsmaker was not Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Hitler, or Mussolini. It wasn’t Pope Pius XI, nor was it Lou Gehrig, Howard Hughes, or Clark Gable. Can anyone guess who this might be?
  • The subject of the most newspaper column inches in 1938 wasn’t even a person. It an undersized, crooked-legged racehorse named Seabiscuit. As a nation struggling to get back on its feet, people could relate to him. If he could overcome overwhelming odds so could we. And he didn't just do it over 60 years ago. He did it again in Laura Hilldebrand’s book. Seabiscuit: an American Legend which was a runaway best seller. Seabiscuit was a character in story that captured the imagination of a entire nation.
  • A great pitch idea asks us to see the world not at it is, but as it could be and then it shows us how the entrepreneur is going to do that in a very clear and logical way.
  • There needs to be sign posts along the way that say “here comes the sense of discovery/wonder you-are-going-to-feel-like-an- eight-year-old” part. In a story It’s key phrases like: “What if……?” Or “Then one day…”
  • One investor told about an entrepreneur pitch. Great idea. Sound approach. Good market opportunity. Great numbers. Got together after the pitch. What do you think happened? Passed. No passion.
  • One of the best ways to demonstrate passion is through story.
  • You have to do it takes to make them care
  • You have to do it takes to make them care
  • Halo baby blankets protect babies from SIDS. Founder lost baby daughter to SIDS. He was devastated. He had to know what caused it. He asked himself, if there a way to prevent this from happening to others people? Might I be able to do something where maybe some good can come of this? He created the Sleep Sack. Today it is used in over 800 hospitals. The level of passion in his story, ultimately led to an angel investor investing in a startup that was out of their space.
  • You have to do it takes to make them care
  • Conflict/Resolution is the basis for every story. What’s the conflict? Set it up. Resolution – How do you execute. “Here’s how we are going to do this.”
  • What often makes a pitch compelling is when there was a problem to meet an unmet need. Most important – how quickly you can help an investor understand what is the value area where idea meets benefit. Help an investor see how you can meet an unmet need.
  • Example: LED lighting. Fascinating space. The story of light. Light. Just the word. Light. It implies SO much. Then the idea that, on global level, we are switching to a different kind of Light. Think about what that means to whoever provides that Light.
  • We lose interest when the telling of a story becomes too predictable. Our brains are primed to get ahead of us. The second we think we already know something (familiarity) we begin to tune out. Tricky balance. If something is too unrelated/appears that its not going anywhere, you’ll lose the audience.
  • Visual examples and demonstrations are infinitely better than explaining.
  • This is an old writer’s adage know as “Chekhov’s gun”. Be creative but only put something in your presentation that’s going to further idea. Don’t be creative for creativity sake. Be interesting but keep it to the point.
  • What ever your voice or your narrative is, keep going. Play it through. Investors and advisors see hundreds of pitches and email decks a year. They need to be able to recognize you. In storytelling it’s called voice or narrative. Take advantage of the opportunity and be a recognizable voice in the wilderness.
  • Yes they are. B2B’s are a little drier, but can still have a story. No matter how dry it seems a B2B startup idea might be, chances are you can find a way to make it interesting. For instance. How interesting could a movie about crossword puzzles possibly be?
  • The following is a presentation ending for startup called Suspicious Behavior. The pitch began with a story about how a community was being harassed by a person who was displaying some disturbing behavior.
  • When I started this session I talked about about how what I do for a living is a lot about asking questions. I believe we have a little break coming up so I have to ask:
  • What I want to know now is “What are we having for lunch?!!”
  • What I want to know now is “What are we having for lunch?!!”
  • Once Upon A Startup: Storytelling and Startup Pitches

    1. 1. Once Upon A StartupTurning Your Pitch Into a Great Story
    2. 2. Like most kids growing up I asked a lot of questions.
    3. 3. Why is there fuzz on a tennis ball ?
    4. 4. What’s so magic about magic markers?
    5. 5. Why are barns red?I got put to bed early a lot.
    6. 6. There was only one thing I loved more than asking questions. And that was stories. I still do.
    7. 7. What do I know about whatmakes great startup pitches?
    8. 8. Not Much.
    9. 9. So I went exploring. And talked to people who did.
    10. 10. How much does story have to do with a great pitch?
    11. 11. Everything.
    12. 12. “Most people care the most about the things thattouch, move, and inspire them. They make decisions based on emotion, and then look for the facts that support these decisions. Thus it behooves everyentrepreneur to learn how to craft stories from theirpersonal experience and the world at large that make an emotional connection, as well as tie in the facts.” - Mark Evans, Forbes Contributor
    13. 13. Emotion and gut are a big part of angel investing. - Joy Lindsay, Investor
    14. 14. Likeability.
    15. 15. “I’m compelled to go to the next stepwith people I like.” - Joy Lindsay, Investor
    16. 16. “I’m compelled to go to the nextstep with people I like.” - Joy Lindsay, Investor I don’t listen to ideas. I listen to people. - Cem Erdem, Investor
    17. 17. “I’m compelled to go to the next step with people I like.” - Joy Lindsay, Investor I don’t listen to ideas. I listen to people. - Cem Erdem, InvestorFirst couple minutes in a pitch you knowwhether or not you are “in”. -Sara Russick, Investor
    18. 18. Filtering Process Do I like you? Do I believe you? How compelling is your idea? Can you execute it?
    19. 19. The Protagonist is either likeable or we end up liking them because of their story.
    20. 20. Likeable characters are not perfect.
    21. 21. Likeable characters are not perfect.
    22. 22. Imagination
    23. 23. “The best startup pitch storiesask us to use our imaginations.” -Joy Lindsay, Investor
    24. 24. Stories can make you feel like a kid again. It’s that senseof discovery and wonder. It’s what entrepreneurs are about. Anytime you can share that feeling with your audience you’ve started to capture their imagination. - Chris Carlson, Narrative Pros
    25. 25. Passion
    26. 26. “Passion is a requirement” -Sara Russick, Investor
    27. 27. Why?
    28. 28. Passion is important to investors because: • They need to know you are going to be able to evolve your company.
    29. 29. Passion is important to investors because: • They need to know you are going to be able to evolve your company. • Need to know you are going to be able to continue to sell your product, motivate your employees, and form beneficial working relationships with your vendors and partners.
    30. 30. “If I dont think you can do this, I’mnot going to invest in you. All this isconveyed through passion.” -Sara Russick, Investor
    31. 31. How do youdemonstrate passion?
    32. 32. “Make Me Care” - Cem Erdem, Investor
    33. 33. Okay, for reals.
    34. 34. Conflict - Resolution
    35. 35. “Keep engagement on the emotionallevel. You are going to solve aproblem. Carry the emotionalmindset to the solution. Keep itthrough the value proposition andinto the exit plan.” - Sara Russick, Investor
    36. 36. Conflict-Resolution is anopportunity for storytelling when you don’t have a personal involvement.
    37. 37. Some Storytelling Tips
    38. 38. Keep the rabbit in sight but just out of reach. Don’tlet the hounds run past the rabbit - Chris Carlson, Narrative Pros
    39. 39. Show Don’t Tell
    40. 40. Use data to tell your story in a stimulating way.
    41. 41. If you put a gun on the wall, use it.
    42. 42. Carry your story from your email deck through to your verbal story in pitch presentation. Keep it consistent.
    43. 43. Yeah but B2C and B2B are different.
    44. 44. Think of B2B as a documentary.
    45. 45. Finish strong. -Meg Rose Dickey, Business Insider
    46. 46. Bring it full circle. -Chris Carlson , Narrative Pros
    47. 47. What’s for lunch?
    48. 48. Special Thanks To:Cem Erdem, Project SkywayCasey Allen, Project SkywayJoy LindsaySarah Russick, Gopher AngelsChris Carlson, Narrative ProsPatrick Donahue, DealPen