Famed venture capital investor Ben Horowitz once said, “The CEO’s main job is to be the keeper of the vision and the story.”
Guy Raz agrees. Raz is the popular host of several NPR podcasts that reach millions of listeners a month. He shares the stories of famous startups and inspiring entrepreneurs in his new book, How I Built This.
I connected with Raz over Zoom recently to talk about the power of story to fuel an entrepreneur’s success.
Storytelling is a “growth hack that enables consumers to connect to your brand in a deeper, more personal way,” says Raz. “It’s a big part of how you differentiate your product, create brand loyalty, and set yourself up for long-term success.”
According to Raz, the story of your company performs three crucial functions.
1). A story connects your employees to the mission of the business. When they know the story, they are more connected to the product or service they offer. They’re more passionate about the company and enthusiastically share the story with customers, partners and stakeholders.
2). A story connects you with investors and shareholders who need to believe in your story and your product. It explains the why: Why is the product necessary? Why does it exist?
3). A story connects you to your customers. When customers understand the story behind a product or a service, they are much more likely to be invested in it as consumers.
A great storyteller and a great origin story can accomplish all three. For example, Raz offers the example of Whitney Wolfe, founder of the dating app, Bumble.
Whitney was the co-founder of Tinder. She left the company in a very tense and public battle, enduring “an avalanche of despicably hurtful online vitriol aimed directly at her,” writes Raz.
In 2014, when Bumble was launched, the dating app field was a crowded space with competitors like Match.com, eHarmony, along with Tinder and many others. Wolfe turned her frustration into empowerment. Here’s how Wolfe described it for Raz:
I always wanted to text the guy first, but I was never allowed to because society and my friends said no. I said to the team, ‘we’re going to reverse engineer this: you’re going to mutually match with each other, but women have to send the first message.’
The story of her journey “really connects people to Whitney and to Bumble,” says Raz. “Whitney was the perfect person to create the app.”
Raz also credits Tim Brown, the founder of Allbirds, for telling a compelling a story. “Tim’s from New Zealand. He wanted to find a way to use surplus Merino wool in an environmentally sustainable way.”
Brown and Allbirds co-founder, Joey Zwillinger, made 200 or more iterations before landing on the ideal shoe. After five years, they crafted a revolutionary wool fabric made specifically for footwear.
The Allbirds story—which is shared on the company’s website— answers the question, Why? Why was a sustainable resource virtually absent in the footwear industry?
Share the origin story behind your idea, product, service or company as often as you can. One story can answer multiple ‘why’ questions such as:
Why should I buy your product?
Why should I join this company?
Why should I be excited to work here?
Why should I invest in this company?
“Every business is a story,” says Raz. “The story, more than anything else, is what connects you and me and everyone out there to the thing you’re building.”
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