“Don’t tell me how awesome your product is, tell me about YOU!”


Right now, this very second, in garages, coffee shops, barns and garden sheds around the world— and yes, maybe even in offices too — people are beavering away making their business ideas happen.

And in this uber-long-tail of startups, the challenge remains the same for every early stage entrepreneur with an awesome product or service that’s going to change the world: how the heck do you get heard?

There is no magic wand to getting your startup noticed, but instead of competing on your product benefits, try shining the light on your story (how you had your business idea, how you made it happen) and your purpose (your Why).

This is your opportunity = to harness the human side of what you do.

Here are three businesses who use their story and purpose to great effect:

  1. Hiut Denim

David is the founder of Hiut Denim. Here’s David telling his own story in a little video I shot in their factory in Cardigan, Wales.

So Hiut Denim is selling an idea: that the business can give the jeans makers of Cardigan their jobs back.

They’re attracting customers not only because of their quality, but because of what the business stands for and customers buy into that.

There’s another reason this particular story works so well. People like the story of this tiny factory on the edge of Wales, with just fifteen people, competing with the big brands. It’s a story of the little guy trying to beat the big guy. We like championing the underdog.

2. Sugru

Sugru is mouldable glue — stick it, shape it and it will turn into rubber. Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh, founder of Sugru, invented it when she was a student at London’s Royal College of Art.

You can use Sugru to fix stuff — it might be mending a cable on your MacBook, making a hook for your keys or for adding rubber edges to your camera so when you drop it, it doesn’t break. There are infinite ways you can use it.

Five years ago Sugru was in just one shop. Today Sugru is in 5,000 stores around the world. They have over a million users in 160 countries around the world.

One reason for their success is that Sugru stands for something: Jane wants the world to get fixing things again, rather than throwing broken things away. The business’s story and purpose are two things that will make its idea famous.

Sugru has also built an online community. A community of users who upload videos of how they’ve used the product, who share ideas and tips on Twitter and Instagram.

This community isn’t just customers, but also investors. Last month, Sugru launched an equity crowdfunding campaign on Crowdcube for £1m pounds. They were 50% funded in just 24 hours.

That rapid success is because of all that LOVE from their community.

It’s because those investors fell in love with the story and the purpose.

The customers wanted to be part of the story.

3) BeerBods

This is Matt.

Since a teenager Matt has enjoyed drinking beer, but not the cheap cans from supermarkets: he has always been interested in discovering beers from small independent breweries, the beers no-one had heard of before.

So Matt started a beer club in his shed. Each week he would choose a different beer and then invite his friends to taste and sample these. They would sit around in the shed and talk about the beer.

His friends loved the beer club. Matt thought, how can I scale this idea?

In 2012 he put up a one page website explaining his idea for an online beer club subscription service, asking people to register if they liked the idea. He said to himself, if 20 people sign up in the first week he would turn it into a business. In the first 24 hours, 250 people signed up.

BeerBods was launched. For £3 a week, customers get sent a new beer. Then every Thursday subscribers hang out on social media, taste and talk about the beer.

It’s like what used to happen in the shed but with hundreds and hundreds of people.

In 2013 Matt quit his job to make BeerBods a full-time business. Last year, they crowdfunded and raised £150,000 from 101 investors in 36 hours, all because they have this loyal community. The people who are Beerbods customers love being part of the story too.

It’s not the cheapest way to buy beer, but the customers buy into BeerBods’ purpose which is “Getting more people drinking better beer”.

People want to be part of that.

I love Matt’s story because he never intended for this to become his full time job, he never meant to start a business, he was just following his passion, running a club for his friends and family. It was just so easy to test the idea online, to put up that website asking who was interested in joining, that he became an accidental entrepreneur.

Why are stories so special?

Your story feeds into everything a business does. A story is more than just your marketing message, it’s a touchstone for what you stand for.

A story is not just there for people outside your business, it’s valuable for people inside too.

Stories work because they are memorable. They engage with us on an emotional level. They are shareable.

And when it comes to business communication, we know that people don’t remember data, they don’t remember spreadsheets, they don’t remember business plans, but they do remember stories.

What’s so special about the three businesses in the story above?

  • They each have a great founder story.
  • They’ve use digital tools and social media to build a passionate user community.
  • They each stand for something.
  • They all feel human.

I told you these three stories because I like them. Each of the stories excites me! And that’s what a good business story does; just like a good movie or a good novel does.

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” (Simon Sinek)

They’re story-led businesses, but also purpose-led. They’ve successfully captured their ‘Why’.

If you are launching a startup, tell your audience what you stand for, why you care, what you believe in. Inject some passion into your startup .

And if your business doesn’t stand for anything, has no purpose, no Big Idea, no compelling backstory, no unique spirit, then what is the point? If you lack passion and don’t stand for anything, how do you have a chance of standing out from the crowd, and how can you convince your customers to buy into you?

If you’re going to effectively engage with anyone — a potential employee, an investor, your end user — you need an emotional connection with them. You need a story and you need a purpose.

It’s not enough however just to have a great story or to know what your purpose is, you need to share it with the outside world.

I see some businesses who don’t leverage any of this stuff, they don’t talk about, they hide it away, they sit on it. They’re missing out on the opportunity.

When I work with client organisations, I use this simple four stage process to capture and nail a business story:

When you’re crafting your story, the most important thing to remember is: people not products.

When I was writing for the Financial Times I got pitched a stack of story ideas from PRs and founders. I’d get sent press releases about a new innovation, or a startup that had just got funding.

But so many of them were missing an ingredient. They didn’t interest me because they lacked a human element.

Because I only wanted to to write about one thing: people.

I wanted to see the human side of business.

That’s why I wrote about Matt at BeerBods.

That’s why I wrote about Kathryn, the founder of Decoded who gets people learning to code in a day.

If you’re struggling to think what your story might be, here are five types to help you:

  1. The Eureka Story: How I had the idea (that’s Jane from Sugru, stumbling across her idea at The Royal College of Art);
  2. The Why Story: Why I had the idea (that’s David Hieatt, how he had the idea for Hiut Denim when he was running in the hills above Cardigan);
  3. The Founder Story: Who had the idea (that’s Matt at Beerbods);
  4. The Customer or User Story: Who’s using the product? (that’s Sugru’s customers);
  5. The Transformation Story: how is this product changing the world? (that’s the story of Uber or Airbnb, a business that is truly disrupting an industry).

Once you’ve captured your story you need to share it with your target audience(s) whether that’s customers, new recruits, investors, press or whatever.

Whoever your audience is, the chances are they are online.

The good news is that the Internet has given us a microphone. We’ve been given a bunch of digital tools to tell our story online. Whether email newsletters, Twitter, Medium, SlideShare, Instagram or Facebook, pick the right platform for the task and audience. Let me highlight a few of my favourites:

  1. An email newsletter is a great way to build and nurture a community around your story and purpose. Hiut Denim send out a regular email Scrapbook Chronicles, but the focus isn’t on their latest jeans, instead they share links of things they’ve spotted — a cool video on YouTube, a great new album, a fascinating article on Medium. Sure, some weeks there might be a link to a new jean they’ve released, but mostly it’s about selling what they stand for, building a community.
  2. Medium is a great platform for thinking out loud, to share what you are thinking with the outside world. It’s also a great place to tell the behind the scenes story of what it’s like starting a business, of your real-time story. Tell us what drives you, what you stand for, why you get out of bed in the morning. Tell us your struggles, show your vulnerability. Be human (check out my beginner’s guide to sharing your business thinking on Medium).
  3. A manifestos can be effective. Sugru created The Fixer’s Manifesto: they’re not selling the product, they’re selling what the product stands for. You can share it online, you can download it and stick it on your fridge. It’s a great way of starting a movement, of spreading their Why.
  4. Instagram is a great tool for sharing your story, especially going behind the scenes. If you are a startup founder who’s just too busy to blog, Instagram is great for sharing your story in real time. I follow entrepreneurs on Instagram like Swissmiss, Paul Smith and Jamie Oliver — it provides an insight into their lives as entrepreneurs.

So there you have it.

You have an opportunity to set your story free. To leverage your story and purpose to get heard. To lift the bonnet on your business and shine the light on what makes you tick.

Good luck!

This post is based on a presentation I gave at TheFamily in Paris, in June 2015. If you want to have a conversation about how I can help your business capture its story, or you’d like me to give a presentation in your organisation, contact me hello@iansanders.com, more about me at iansanders.com

(thanks to @ZESanders for the doodle at the top of this post)

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