How to make your startup story sharable
Some startup stories are shared and retold by customers, no matter how lousy the product or service this startup is offering turns out to be. The story is just so...sticky that you can't unremeber it. Some absolutely worthless ideas spread like fire. While you might be struggling with making your personal great startup story "stick". And the reason is simple: the stories that don't stick are just...not sticky. Think of an urban legend. A friend of a friend told me a story that happened to his friend. Being a sales agent, he ended up in a small town. In the evening, he went to the bar where he was approached by a pretty woman. The woman ordered him a drink, he made a sip - and that was the last thing he remembered. When he woke up he was in a bathroom, floating in a bath full of warm water. In his hand was a telephone receiver. He dialed 911 and was surprised that the operator received his story very seriously. She listened to him for a couple of minutes and then related: "Sir, please, don't panic. There's an organ harvesting mob operating in our area. Please, reach out to your back and check if there are weird wires running down your spine". The guy reaches out - and sure enough, the wires are there... This is a perfectly "sticky story". Can you make your story stick like this one? Absolutely! Here's a secret: "Sticky" stories are based on the SUCCESS principle. SUCCESS = Simple + Unexpected + Concrete + Credible + Emotional + Storytelling. simple Sticky ideas should be simple. But simple doesn't mean "primitive". "Simple" comes from hours and hours of hard work on the framework, not from being neglectful. Simple means finding the core of the idea. What does it basically mean? There's a perfect example to illustrate the "simplicity" of the idea and what it means, to get to the "core". Southwest airline is an American low-coster with amazingly low prices. The company has managed to keep fares without actually cutting too hard on customer service and maintaining a shocking performance gap between itself and all its competitors by putting "Low-cost" at the heart of its strategy and operation. Every airline wants to reduce costs. But Southwest Airlines has actually been doing it for years with great success. How do they manage to do it? How do they coordinate the efforts of thousands of employees? "We are the low fare airline" - is simple in its core idea that was introduced by Herb Kelleher, co-founder of Southwest Airlines. He explained it in the following terms: imagine a marketing specialist comes to me and says that customer research shows that customers would like to get a salad as a part of the breakfast menu. "Does adding a salad in the menu make us a low-fare airline?" - Herb Kelleher would ask the manager. - If it doesn't - forget the salad". You can start wrapping your core business idea by creating an "elevator pitch" - like the ones that were once used in Hollywood. When Hollywood producers struggled to make investors understand what the idea is about, they used smart references to already existing blockbusters. Like, "Aliens” = "Jaws on a spaceship". Or "Speed = Die hard on a bus". Unexpected If you want to think boring, think of flight safety announcements. However, there are ways to grab passengers' attention even in these hopeless circumstances. For inspiration check this flight attendant's creative video. Why did everyone stopped doing whatever they were doing and started filming this guy? Because his style was UNEXPECTED. If you're familiar with neuro-science it should not come to you as a big surprise. Our mind works by registering the unexpected and unpredictable, something that doesn't align with the routine or with the prediction our mind has made. Like, when you're looking at your dark brown boots only to notice one day that they are actually yellow. This is something that is destined to register and demand your undivided attention (at least for some time). And getting back to the urban legend framework - what makes us remember it in the first place is an unexpected plot twist. A good business-related example from the book - a story from a journalist who remembers her college days. She recalls that her genuine interest in journalism was awakened by a professor who used to run a "Best headline" contest among students. One day he suggested creating headlines for a student conference that was scheduled for the next Thursday. There were many options. But in the end, the professor said: " And the headline will be "No school next Thursday ''. This was an unexpected and powerful message that nailed the whole fuss about the conference. It was simple and went right to the core of the story. That is, turned the ordinary conference into a "sticky" idea.: concrete Abstractions are not very easily understandable by the human mind. Concreteness, on the other hand, is. Amazing business example from the book: TNC (Nature conservancy service) strategy. For years they have been struggling to protect California's environmentally sensitive zones. Until they have come up with an idea to rename these pieces of land as "unique landscapes". Thus, they have basically created the "Mount Hamilton Wilderness" and fought hard to add this name to the maps. Eventually, all city dwellers started thinking about the land as the "wilderness". "Before that, if someone wanted to make an environmental impact - they did not know where to start", - recalls one of the company employees. - After the "wilderness" appeared in discourse it was much easier to focus public efforts on preserving it. It was not about just some land, it became a very specific concrete piece of land and it made our message much stronger". credible There's a good story about how ulcer treatment has been discovered. The disease was considered to be caused by an unhealthy lifestyle rather than anything else. In the early 80-s two scientists Barry Marshall and Robin Warren discovered that the reason for ulcer was a bacteria. It was a great discovery - now ulcer patients could be treated fast and efficiently. The problem was - nobody believed them. Why? Because they lacked credibility! They were not PhDs, they weren't from prominent institutions and they were from a wrong location (not Harvard or Stanford). Their article was declined from publication a couple of times and colleagues just laughed at the conference where they reported their discovery. The researchers decided to feed themselves with a soup full of Helicobacter pylori (bacteria that they believed caused the disease) in order to prove their findings. They recorded each and every step, described all the symptoms and the treatment. And only this experiment turned scientific society on their side. Scientists have nothing left but to believe them with all the evidence present. Of course, as an entrepreneur you're not expected to take desperate steps like this and infect yourself with a deadly disease. However, credibility appeal is irresistible for the general public on the same level it is valuable for scientists. Even more so, perhaps. The only difference is that with business you have various sources of credibility to utilize: other entrepreneurs, customers, advisors, banks, investors. To prove that you're worthy it's always better to have someone who can vouch for you. Providing a source of praise or information is vital when you want to create a sticky idea that will spread without any efforts from you. But don't forget that data itself can and should also be credible. When you build your startup use revenue and financial forecasts as a source of credibility while talking to investors and banks. Emotional Mother Teresa once said: — If I look at the mass I won't act. If I look at the one - I will. To make your idea sticky you definitely need an emotional response. But stories about "many", abstract stories - they don't raise emotions as powerful as personalised experience. If you've ever donated to charity you should have noticed that. Charity organizations rarely build their campaigns on abstract stories like "help people of Africa '', "support the poor", etc. They always tell a specific story of a specific child or a specific abused adult that needs your support. This type of discourse gets emotional response faster and more efficiently. Building your story make it as personal as you can. Tell the story of your own pain that you're out to solve. Tell the story of a customer who approached you with an idea - and that's how your startup came to life. Generalisations like "I noticed that lots of people struggle with this problem..." - they are good and plausible. But just not sticky. Storytelling Why are stories even important? Can't you just strip your conversation to the punchline and tell everyone what exactly you're building out there? Why do you need to create a plot or a drama around it? Because that's how our brain works. We remember good stories. We don't remember dry facts and narratives that don't reflect our own values, feelings and emotions. Try to remember a string of numbers (take 6 or 7) like a telephone number. Or take a bunch of historical facts from Wikipedia and try to memorise them. You will probably succeed if you try hard enough. But now, think of the organ harvesting urban legend from the very beginning of this text. Do you still remember it? Did you try hard to remember all the details (sales guy, bar, poisoned drink, wires from the spine)? Bet it just pops in your head as soon as you think of it. Because it's not just a bunch of facts, it's a story! There are several successful story plots you might utilize. It's really helpful when you're about to decide what story to wrap your business around. So, we have: Challenge Plots. These are great stories of personal struggles and achievements. "I lost 100 kg in 6 month" or "I've built a 100K business in 3 months" would be awesome to begin with. Connection Plots. Stories when some ground rules are broken to connect two people or groups of people. Think of Romeo and Juliet as a model to copy. Creativity Plots. Stories how someone made a mental breakthrough or tackled a problem in a new way. That's all the stories about Steve Jobs and Elon Musk - they will remain "sticky" no matter what Mr. Musk has to say about crypto. The main takeaway: not only create a story around your startup, but make sure it falls in one of the mentioned categories. Telling people about that "aha" moment when you come up with your startup idea, make sure to appeal to challenges, connections or creativity for better results. Based on Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath 2. “The Pandora effect” Pocadota’s workflow results in creating intrigue. As users can’t see their shots until they get a set of printouts they become curious about the result. And human curiosity is an extremely powerful motivator and driver of human actions. At an early age, we fulfill our sense of curiosity on the highest level — everything around us is unknown and we can explore away. As we grow older we encounter fewer and fewer things that look unknown to us. We become more risk-aware, more cautious — as a result, a natural way of releasing millions of endorphins and feel total happiness through exploration is almost lost to most of us. In their study entitled “The Pandora effect — The Power and Peril of Curiosity”, the American scientists Christopher K. Hsee and Bowen Ruan demonstrated that humans are willing to research new things, even if they can expect negative consequences. To give an example, test subjects voluntarily subjected themselves to electric shocks in order to satisfy their curiosity. Well, in comparison to electric shocks Pocadota’s offer — Every shot is an intrigue. Wait several weeks to find out the answer! — seems like a great deal. 3. Strong Product Management Patrick Collet admits that despite all the right psychological “buttons” their product pushes it would not probably work if not for his experience in managing complex projects. He did not work with mobile apps before but it doesn’t matter, he insists. Basic business rules are universally applicable. Nor he, nor his 14yo daughter were able to build the app on their own, so they had to hire an agency. How did it go? Timeline — the project shipped in 4 months. As expected. No delays Budget — spot on. No spending over the limit. Patrick says he used all well-known PM techniques to achieve these amazing results: ✅ Invest lots of your personal time in owning the product (set guidelines, specify the requirements, set priorities) ✅ Daily meet-ups in agile style “What are you going to work on today and is there something that’s blocking you?” ✅ Retrospectives that helped to improve overall velocity ✅ Being reachable 24/7 But he is sure what worked better than a net of controlling and pushing activities was the idea behind the app. The agency team was so impressed and captivated by the idea itself that they had no problem working long hours and at the weekends.
Passion turned out to be the key ingredient in Pocadota PM practices. 4. Focus on the business side While agency devs were coding away, Patrick and his daughter focused on the distribution: they reached out to the B2B segment (tourist agencies, hotels, event venues, wedding services) and offered integration with Pocadota. For B2B customers it was a great way to improve their value proposition and raise margin by offering a unique service. For Pocadota — a solid deal flow. Also, Patrick’s daughter took on herself a launch campaign and despite her young age managed to arrange several publications in the local (Montreal) papers and even a TV episode covering new service. Finally, Patrick personally went to pitch to the largest in Montreal printing service provider and managed to get the best prices possible for their printing services. It was the most important part because the Pocadota business model is extremely simple. No monthly/yearly subscriptions. Customers only pay for virtual film rolls (9.99 CA$ for 24 shots and 12.99 CA$ for 36 shots). Pocadota, on the other hand, pays provider + delivery fees. Therefore, the better the printing rate — the better for the business. By now, 2 months after the launch Patrick says that they started getting returning customers. And this is another piece of idea validation. Because for him and his daughter, despite the business success, it is still an educational project. A hands-on approach to learning startup business. Probably, it’s an old-fashioned way, no online lessons included. But as we can see, remaining old-fashioned sometimes might prove to be the best strategy. 3 takeaways from Pocadota case study There is no recipe for a successful startup. Even a recommended framework might lead you to failure. But the opposite is true too: going against the rules doesn’t promise certain death to your business. With crazy tech development the niche for “old-fashioned” products is also growing. Partly, not all users want to rush with the tech progress (and keeping in mind that the average age in the EU and US, as well as Canada is growing because of the global population ageing effect, the number of users who belong to this category will only increase). Partly, because apps in general are getting worse. Here’s a great article by Tim Bray that explains this phenomenon. Basically, because there’s no PM in the world who’d say “Looks like it works just fine, let’s leave it as it is”. Result — apps get more and more complicated and tougher to use. Thus, the need for simpler, back-to-basics apps grows. Managerial skills are more important for building a successful business in tech than coding. You can hire an agency for technical tasks. But you can’t hire a founder for your startup.
Some startup stories are shared and retold by customers, no matter how lousy the product or service this startup is offering turns out to...