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Crafting your Storyline

A good storyline can help your investors understand why your offering matters and what kind of need it meets. Once they're convinced about the why and the what, you can then move on to the how: execution and early signals of traction. I'm often asked to review a pitch deck. Most often I find the storyline is not clear or too analytical; just a laying down of facts. In the early stages, all you have is your narrative. Your product is evolving and has not found fit yet, you are getting feedback that contradicts each other and you have to follow your vision through this haze of distraction.

Here's how to craft your storyline :

Start by telling the story of using your product in five key moments, from your customer's perspective. From experience, I have seen that most startups have a story that can be told in five key moments. For example, here is Airbnb's storyline in five key moments :

1. Millenial wants to travel

2. Looks up places to stay

3. Find an awesome place: downtown, affordable, lovely host

4. Meets host, has an amazing local experience

5. Leaves with experiences, memories, and friends

You can stretch this out to fifteen frames for the guest and fifteen for the host later, as Airbnb did with their Snow White storyboard but to surface why your offering is valuable, this is enough. From experience, the most valuable part of this exercise is the forcing function of identifying the key moments for your customer and deciding when does the story really starts for your customer. Before the exercise, most of the startups start the story from their application. After the exercise, they start from a real-life situation or incident, which triggers a need for which the startup is providing the bridge.

For example, in the case of a startup helping people diagnosed with cancer, their story started right after being diagnosed. It became clear pretty quickly, that given the emotional charge of the moment, the intervention had to be made by the doctor who had to suggest the app and platform as the place to get support. The patient would simply be too overwhelmed to search on their own.

It also became clear that, given the moment, the app would have to provide value: in this case comfort, reassurance and a sense of safety, very quickly. Starting with a carefully crafted video, that speaks to what it is like to receive this news and what are the most important next steps to take right now felt like a good idea. This is even before sign-up, for the first time visitor.

Another startup taking on a systems-level precision farming challenge in a developing nation, discovered they have too many key moments. They could not possibly design all of this well and by themselves. This led to a conversation about how to empower the local lead farmers they were working with to educate others, leaving them to focus on precision farming. One resulting intervention discussed was a model farm, where the other farmers could see precision farming in action, eliminating the need to convince otherwise resistant farmers.

Stories are meaning-making instruments. Use it well and make it easier for everyone, including yourself to understand what really matters in your offering and why. All the best.

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