Story telling for startup founders

Steve Jobs once said, “Start with Customer Experience and work backwards towards Technology“. He understood that you cant start from the answer – you have to understand the problem first!

Many startups we evaluate have something exciting in the works at all times – and founders love raving about their babies! And understandably so, they’ve toiled, put in the hard work, and are proud of their accomplishments.

At times, founders are so engrossed with their offering, that for an outsider to understand what exactly are they doing becomes a bit confusing. Now, it is important to understand those founders live and breathe what they do, and outsiders need to first understand from a 30,000 feet view.

Starting with why your solution is so exciting is probably not the best way to begin!

When you start giving out answers without asking the questions first, that is akin to a weird game of Koun Banega Crorepati! Nobody knows whats going on!

There are some founders that go provide context – but again those are 1-or-2 sentences about describing the problem. This is kind of the opposite of what Jobs suggested. And invariably, the founder ends the conversation with ‘Hey, trust me, I know what I’m doing!’

Customers need More

Having a brief understanding of the problem, and diving deep into the solution is the wrong way to do things. For startups, really understanding and nailing the problem is all that matters. After all, if you don’t own that space, why are you even in business?

The problem is the foundation of your existence. That is how you empathize with your customers. That is how you develop your product. That is where you start positioning yourself.

I read somewhere that every need is contextual. It’s not the same for everyone. Heck! It’s even different for the same person at different points in time! It varies from function ‘This needs beautification!’ to emotion ‘I need support!’. And the nature of a need is that it finds a way to get itself met – with or without you!

Startups need compelling narratives

Here is how you can find the compelling narrative your startup needs:

a) Target market – Who are you selling to? B2B or B2C? Is the buyer and the user the same?

b) 30,000 feet problem – What is that one general problem that affects every target customer? Is it price? Convenience?

c) Activity – What are customers or users doing when they will use your product?

d) Goal – What is the primary end goal when users are performing the activity?

e) Functional problem – What is the most difficult part about the activity today?

f) Outcomes – What defines a good outcome if the activity goes right? What defines a bad outcome if the activity goes wrong? What is the impact in both cases?

g) Substitute – Needs are met with or without you. What do users do without you to solve the problem?

h) Complaints – What do users complain about the substitute? They can do with a solution, why do they need YOUR solution?

i) Trend – How can this problem worsen in the future?

j) Impact – What is the positive impact of solving this problem? Is it time-saving? Does it lead to cost-saving?

k) Potential users – How many people can be potential users, even if it is for a single usage?

Closing comments

When potential customers hear about the way you are approaching solving the problem, they should self-identify with every step. They will self-validate themselves. This is a good starting point to ask more questions about how you can do better.

At this point, you will not have to do a hard sell!

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