Carnegie Mellon Computer Science Straight into startups as an engineer, but no idea what a “business" was Learned by doing (i.e.: the hard way, screwed up a lot Consumer side projects Eventually leveraged my tech chops to help Boston consumer companies scale Co-founded Boundless Learning to disrupt the textbook market Raised 10MM dollars in 2 rounds in 6months Joined Venrock (lead from Series A) as tech investor Singulatarian, Board game geek (Yay euro style games- current favorite Tzolkin)
This presentations about stories.
Collection of unfinished blog posts wrapped into this presentation Apologies for Amero-centric viewpoint, OTOH but hey can learn about some interesting American historical figures.
As a child, I used to believe that if you could form a logical argument, no matter how long it took to explain, in pains-taking detail. you could convince someone else to do just about anything - go to war with you, become your friend, do your homework while you played video games, whatever. That’s the power of words- you simply make a bunch of sounds or write a bunch of symbols, and someone else changes their behavior as a result.
The story of your company is a major, major piece of what “it” is, throughout it’s entire life - in fact, it’s the only thing “it” is in the very beginning, and that story, that “it”, is how you recruit employees, convince customers to give you a shot, and secure funding. Investors will always do diligence before investing, but they won’t always do diligience- unless they are excited. That solely rests on the power of your story.
So my talk is a story about story telling, and specifically, about 4 types of stories you’ll need to be able to tell well when fundraising for your company- but ALL of them are useful for recruiting, internal alignment, business development etc.
It won’t work if you just hand someone your plan, or often even your pitch w/o narration
born Alabama, US in 1880, 19 months old, left her blind, and deaf- unfortunately before she learned how to speak, leaving her severely impaired.
Parents connected to Anne Sullivan, who had experience teaching the blind, to help 7 year old Helen.
Teaching Helen was immensely frustrating & difficult for both of Anne & her, but in a dramatic moment when Anne spelled “Water” on Helen’s hand running under cool water, language and naming ‘clicked’ for Helen.
Graduate at 24 as first deaf/blind person w/ bachelor arts from Radcliffe, part of harvard
She became a prolific writer (12 books), lecturer, and political activist for those with disabilities. In short, a hero
A blind deaf child became a world famous SPEAKER and WRITER and used her journey, struggle, and lessons to inspire and help and advocate for other w/ disability
At it’s core, it’s about venturing from the known into the unknown,
With a little bit of help or digging deep, learning something critical to conquer your challenge,
Sharing that revelation with others to transform the broader world.
Who better to advocate for the capability of the disabled than someone who had so masterfully triumphed and demonstrated not jut capability, but mastery of language and communication, like Helen Keller. Who better? She earned and understood that revelation better than anyone
In terms of your company, investors are looking for the “why you?” “What makes you so special?” “What hard-fought secret have you learned?"
Now I hope none of you have had a life as challenging as Helen’s, but the best you story is the one where you have hard fought for the knowledge to bring your startup to life, and share that change w/ the world.
And now that you’ve earned that revelation, you’re bringing it to the world
Wanted to make a game, ended up making Flickr
Wanted to make a game, ended up making Slack
Enter the Kudzu. Co-evolution is great, but what happens when you transplant an organism from one ecosystem into another?
3 things: it can be brutally selected against (i.e.: die), it can find it’s niche and be stable or it can, through no malice, come to DOMINATE the ecosystem and runaway
because it’s competitive adaptions are alien to the ecosystem, and none of the organisms in it could co-evolve a defense to achieve a balance against it.
Such is the story of the Kudzu.
The family of plants called Kudzu is native to China.
The Kudzu is a naturally fast-growing plant (up to a foot a day) that can kill existing vegetation by growing right over it & shading it out.
Now, given the Chinese winter & ecosystem, the Kudzu experiences a natural, cyclical die-back each year, keeping it in check.
But when the plant was marketed for it’s fast-growing, shade generating capabilities to folks in the warm, South Eastern US in the 1880s,
100 years later it covered 7.5 million acres of land, is listed as a noxious weed, and found as far north as NYC, and Nova Scotia Canada.
Evolution is a fascinating thing to study.
Really understanding co-evolution, how species evolve not just against their environment, but how their environment evolves against them, I find particularly fascinating.
Is the humming bird’s beak long to get at the nectar of long-flowered plant is hiding away? Or did that plant cleverly evolve with the hummingbird to make sure the efficient pollinator is the only type of creature that gets access to it’s limited pollination incentives? (aka nectar)
If you look at a biological ecosystem, the creatures in it have spent thousands and thousands of years co-evolving against one another in a careful dance.
The same metaphor is true for business - most businesses that exit to day have co-evolved against one another.
cabs are broken terrible experience and they are regulated- to be terrible
Can’t really fix them
Three revelations: everyone has a phone, and people will drive for money
But the big one: there’s a loophole w/ american law if you pre-arrange you’re fine - you’re not a cab company, you don’t need a medallion
They don’t have to go from city to city buying medallions Don’t have to own a fleet of cars Uber is Kudzu
Venrock co, Dollar Shave Club Michael Dubin Disruption doesn’t need to be so sneaky, but you just need to bring
Direct sales Cheaper prices no middleman Know your customers
Recurring model (= better product in this case)- results in built in loyalty
So how does galette compete? forced to behave unnaturally, against how all their internal structures are evolved/organized
Babe Ruth is an American baseball player famous for his larger than life personality, and larger than life talent.
He played for the New York Yankees between 1920 and 1934. In 1932, when the Yankees made it to the world series, and Babe Ruth stepped up to the plate as batter, he was met with lemon throwing and jeers from hostile fans. With two strikes (three and your out)
Babe Ruth pointed straight down the field. The pitch was thrown, he swung the bat, and hit a home run right out of the park exactly in the direction he had pointed; and that moment became famous as the "babe ruth called shot”.
The "Called Shot” is the epitome of execution- this is what I’m going to do, watch me do it, and the implied “I told you so” afterwards.
Data can sometimes speak for itself, but when part of a “called shot” story, it’s incredibly powerful.
Now I'm not a sports guy but here we are 80 years later talking about someone who pointed and swing a bat; that's how emotionally impactful the called shot is - that burns a memory like nothing else.
When pitching your startup, one element of your pitch is the called shot. Each financing you raise is to get to the next milestone.
We are going to do X, then raise a seed We did X, we’re raising the seed to accomplish Y We did Y, we’re raising the A to accomplish Z
You can even call a shot while you’re financing (We expect to finish by date Y) We expect to close this key sale during this process, etc etc)
Show superior execution by wrapping it in a called shot story. Note: story here isn’t enough on it’s own, it’s about properly framing the data.
Most successful magician in history
Copperfield has so far sold 40 million tickets and grossed over $4 billion, which is more than any other solo entertainer in history
, Copperfield's career of over 30 years has earned him 11
a live audience wouldn’t be able to see it search lights should pass through the helicopter wouldn’t be able to see it radar should fail
point is not sleight of hand
if you can do that for something thats not even real, imagine for guiding people down your real path of thought
take control of framing everything, the opportunity, the risks, the challenges, the gotchas. Be authentic,
BE BELIEVABLE, and require taking the lead on the story, the framing
Shift Conference 2015 - Aaron White (Venrock)
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