Every startup founder in Africa should be a storyteller

Every startup founder in Africa should be a storyteller - Startup Lagos

The startup founder and the power of stories

Every startup founder has or should have, an enigmatic story to tell.

This is not just simply because every startup journey is a story waiting to be told, but even more, because startup founders are uniquely connected to their journeys. Startups are birthed from ideas that are not ephemeral and utopic, but connected to real-world problems – problems that the startup founder encounters in his/her everyday engagements.

Given that there are no one-size-fits-all solutions to diverse problems, the startup founder realizes that his/her journey to a product-market fit is not a single line trajectory, but one with loops and turns. The startup founder constantly has to pivot and iterate his/her product to match users needs and booming market opportunities. Consequently, the startup founder discovers the necessity of constantly being on alert, listening to the market and data.

The rigorous journey of startup growth is also one with many thorns on the way, as a lot of startup founders have come to find. Startups, according to Paul Graham, co-founder of Y-Combinator, have to pass through a deep and dark trough of sorrow. While their entry into the market is met with a lot of euphoria and jubilation, the gradual wearing off of novelty, leads to a grim realization of the stark, bland landscape ahead. In spite of Graham’s vivid description of the startup process, this may be far from the case for all startups. Just as faces differ, startup experiences do likewise. Some may have it easier than others, and yet others have it tougher, dependent on many factors, some of which are geographical location, startup ecosystem enablement, internet penetration and connectivity, investor confidence, etc.

Every startup goes through a tough and long-winding road to success. Source: Paul Graham's The Process.

While this journey towards the promised land is important, what is even more important for fuelling this movement towards equilibrium is the power of storytelling. There is a science to storytelling, that makes our brains even more alive and active in the wake of a compelling story. Stories, according to Neil Gaiman, are genuinely symbiotic organisms that we live with, that allow human beings to advance.

Dryburgh makes a point of this, when he emphasizes that when we are being told a story, things change dramatically–not only are the language processing parts activated, but any other area in the brain that we would use when experiencing events of the story, also light up. If stories are told of delicious food recipes, our sensory cortex becomes excited, just as stories of motion trigger our motor cortex. A story therefore, can get your entire brain excited.

A storytelling opportunity

Stories offer the opportunity for startup founders to share their vision, their motivation, and their challenges. It also is liberating for the startup founder. It helps him/her to rethink within a space of time, his/her entire journey, and recapture the motivation to keep going. Like a weary but delighted traveler who has arrived at a junction or temporary point of refuge, the story of his/her travails and victories erupts in a story. This story invigorates the traveler to set out again with more resolve in light of his/her goal.

As such, every founder has a storytelling opportunity.

Given that startups through the lifecycle of their products have to constantly be ready to pitch to investors, to the public, and to potential markets, the nature of their solutions, startup founders have to be in love with storytelling. It’s not just enough to love one’s journey and story but to know how to tell it beautifully.

Consequently, every startup founder should be a great storyteller.

Learning to tell your startup story

What is interesting at this point, is that this skill can be learned. Tom Albrighton details all these highlights some of the ingredients of a beautiful and compelling story. For Africa, startup founders require, even more, the embrace and adoption of the storytelling method, to get across their startup initiatives even better. Great startup stories carry a number of elements:

  • Great startup stories are dramatic. Not because they introduce dramatic and theatrical twists and turns, but because they connect with the emotion of the listeners–the right words, the right tone of voice, the right expressions of depth. While a lot of this skill can be gotten through competence and command of language, an emotional connection to the story in question, is required to communicate emotion.
  • Great startup stories embody trust in the narrator of the story. The startup founder’s relative success in building the startup, or navigating business is crucial to helping his listeners embrace the significance of the founder’s journey. They help the listeners to understand what feelings are stirred in them as they look on at him/her, passionately narrating his/her startup experience.
  • Great startup stories are relatable. These stories of startup success come from a human place. The listeners can easily identify their own struggles in there, just as they can appreciate the success so far. They see the human side of the narrator, the challenges he/she has had to battle with in harsh economic policies, in administrative bottlenecks, in constantly pivoting to match a dynamic and competitive market landscape, etc.
  • Great startup stories are simple as well. All that these stories serve are the beauty of the founder’s experience, nothing more is needed. The flamboyance of language or the intricate weavings of the story are unneeded. Just the clear and compelling points of the startup founder’s intrinsic motivation to solve a definite problem in and around his/her community.
  • Great startup stories are familiar. We can find seeds of them in the Airbnb story of three young guys sporting one of the silliest ideas, and starting from the simplest of formats to launch one of the biggest firms globally at the moment, as well as in the story of Steve Jobs and how he gradually set towards creating one of the most globally-accepted products of today’s world – Apple. What makes these stories great and compelling is that our brain sort of tells us we’ve heard it before. Somewhere. Someplace. It connects with us again.
  • Great startup stories need no long-winding explanation. Single-sentence solutions to problems, with little or no unnecessary decorations. Listeners want to be able to find meaning in the stories themselves, to easily glimpse the contributions and solutions that the startup is addressing without much ado.

Do you have a unique story as a startup founder that you wish to share?

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