I have been writing on why social entrepreneurs and marketers need to look at storytelling as an instrument of connecting emotionally with their stakeholders- arguments in favour of this have been clearly articulated. Thus storytelling is means to an end and not an end in itself. In this article I want to reflect on the mindset an entrepreneur needs to have to be a storyteller.
I firmly believe that for any social startup or impact organization to be able to tell stories the founder or the leadership team needs to wear a storyteller’s hat. They need to think like storytellers to legitimize it within the organization. When this happens, storytelling becomes a common culture and craft.
You may argue that storytelling is a marketer’s job. The answer- Yes and No. Yes because it falls under his immediate job role and hence he needs to administer it. No because storytelling is not just an operational activity. It is the willingness and ability of everyone who represent the organization to the outside world to speak about it in a positive, meaningful and relatable way. It’s like customer-centricity. Isn’t it everyone’s job?
Can You Tell A Story, Mr. Founder?
Founder’s personality can have a significant bearing on a startup brand, especially in the early stages. A founder who is not a good storyteller can never be the face of a brand. However, not every entrepreneur can assume this role by default. So, how can a founder be a good storyteller?
Let’s break down the word storyteller into 2 parts- ‘Story’ and ‘Teller’. Let’s look at ‘Story’. As a founder you need to be a good observer of people and events happening around you. It’s only when you are attentive and perceptive that you start identifying stories. These events may not always be game-changing in nature.
Let’s say a member of your field staff reported to you that a solar powered light that your company has made does not provide a fisherwoman enough brightness to work through the night thus affecting her business. Being a passionate entrepreneur you will immediately instruct your product team to look into it. However, if you are a ‘storyteller founder’, you may also look at this episode as a human story. It is a story of the positive impact your product can have not only on an end user’s immediate need for lighting but also on her ability to be economically productive to earn her daily livelihood.
The other part of the word is ‘Teller’. If you are able to identify the human story behind an event, you also need to tell it to the world. The means of expressing a story need not always be expensive multimedia or a marketing campaign. It could be told in many simple formats- Instagram post, photo album on Facebook, quick post on your organization’s blog, before an investor presentation etc.
Once you recognize how your product can have a significant impact on the business of a fisherwoman, you may want to meet her to understand her story better. It could be a simple exercise of knowing the trials and tribulations of the fisherwoman. You could share with the world the lessons and insights you gain from her, embellished with some imagery of her personality, house and profession. You have a story, a real and humane one.
If you develop a knack of regularly finding human stories and telling them nice and fresh, you become a storyteller founder.
Traits Of A Storyteller
Being a storyteller needs you to be wisely open about your life as an entrepreneur. You face many challenges- irate customers, product failures, inefficient field staff. You encounter several positive events as well- 100th customer, launching operations in a new region, robust sales growth. All these life events have background stories to them. Put them in front of people albeit in a manner that doesn’t compromise your organization’s competitiveness.
Purpose of storytelling is not to project the founder as a stellar entrepreneur who is always cool and in control of things but to show that he is as human as anybody else and goes through high and low times. His honesty in accepting his drawbacks and showcasing lessons learned makes his audience- customers,employees, investors and partners trust him and connect emotionally with him. Clearly, such an entrepreneur is not looking at massaging his ego but demonstrates simplicity and perceptiveness.
A storyteller founder invariably builds a personal brand for himself. In an article titled, ‘Personal Branding For Social Entrepreneurs: Why It’s Important And How To Build It’ I have written about how a digitally savvy, highly accessible and an articulate social entrepreneur can attract much-needed attention to the social good brand’s cause.
One of the most active social entrepreneurs who has built a formidable personal brand is Blake Mycoskie. He is a zealous storyteller and leverages social media to further his social cause at Toms Shoes.
Bhushan Trivedi is a social entrepreneur I have personally known for over a year. He displays genuine enthusiasm to share insights, lessons and experiences from his entrepreneurial journey.
A storyteller founder does not project himself as a stellar entrepreneur but someone who is as human as everybody else. Honesty, perceptiveness and openness are the hallmarks of such an entrepreneur. It’s about the mindset and not so much about the art.