The Three Perspectives of Startup Storytelling
One of the most important stories you need to tell as an entrepreneur is about the problem and how you’re solving it.
This story can be told from at least three points of view (POV):
- Your (the entrepreneur’s) POV: How you personally experienced the problem and how you found a way to solve it.
- The Neutral POV: Describing the problem and the solution in a 3rd person, technical sense.
- The Customer’s POV: Seeing the problem from the customers’ perspective, their pain points, and how your solution changes their lives.
Having coached hundreds of startup teams here in Taiwan (and elsewhere in Asia), we noticed that a large majority approach the story from only one POV:
The neutral one.
Whether for cultural or other reasons, they tend to launch into the problem in a technical sense, outline the solution in a technical sense, then dive into how to tech works, the IP, etc.
It’s all very impersonal. And we believe this to be a mistake.
In truth, all three POVs are important in their own ways, and to be an effective communicator, you need to master all three. Here’s why.
Your POV shows why you care
You’ve probably heard the saying that investors invest in people. There’s a reason for that. When you describe a problem in a fully neutral and technical sense, even if the investors were convinced, they’d still have a crucial question in their mind:
“Ok, this is a problem. But… why do YOU care about it?”
It’s all about your motives. This matters a great deal because, as Paul Graham writes, so many entrepreneurs have the wrong motives.
When the runway gets short, fundraising isn’t going well, and you’re forced to let good people go… do you care enough to keep grinding? If big tech came along and offered you a big job title and salary, would you care enough not to ditch the venture?
In the entrepreneurial world, you see, when the going gets tough, it’s not always the tough that gets going — it’s those who care the most.
So tell your story about the problem, and make sure that they understand how strong your motivation really is.
Here’s a good example of pitching from a personal POV:
Your POV also shows why you can
Your POV can also help answer another key question in investors’ minds:
“Ok, you really care about this. But why CAN you solve it?”
Some investors like it when an outsider takes on an industry with a fresh perspective, but for every such funder, we’ve met many more that prefer battle-tested veterans whose unique insights on a problem are founded on years of experience in a vertical.
And this is what your POV can show as well. Tell them that you’ve worked in the industry for years building some pretty cool things, but that you see a serious problem with the way things are. Few others have seen it. Few others know how to solve it. But you know.
Here’s an example:
The Customer’s POV
Unlike your POV which shows why you care about and can solve the problem, the customer POV demonstrates a couple of equally important points:
1. That you understand your customers intimately
I’ve sat in a few impressive pitches where the entrepreneur talked in superbly fine details about the day-to-day reality of their customers — the workflow, the decision process, the hassles, etc. — as if they knew all that better than even their customers did.
They can also speak in vivid details about the customers’ struggle finding the right solutions (hint: your competitors’ offerings), and why these simply failed to ease the customers’ pains.
2. How your solution changes the customers’ lives
After detailing the customers’ struggles, the entrepreneur-storyteller would turn around and, from the customers’ perspective, tell the story of how the startup’s solution changed the customers’ lives.
They didn’t draw up a list of features and functions and specs. They didn’t launch into technical details. Instead, they simply articulated how their customers experienced the before and after, what it all meant to the customers — and they did all this in the customers’ voice.
Being able to tell your customer’s story also says a lot about your ability to sell — a critical skill set that investors really care about.
Everyone says that storytelling is an important skill for entrepreneurs. Less talked about is the fact that stories can be told from different points of view, and each has its value.
Make sure that you’re not just speaking from an impersonal viewpoint.
Master your own POV — to show them why you care enough to endure, and why you’re equipped to break through.
And master your customer’s POV — to show them that you know the customers’ reality intimately, and have a solution that isn’t just a collection of specs, but a way to change their lives for the better.
We’ll dive into more specifics of these story in future posts.