The story arc entrepreneurs should follow to build a compelling brand message, according to hundreds of interviews with founders like Sara Blakely, Daymond John, and Tobias Lutke

  • Legendary VC Ben Horowitz has said that a CEO's main job is to be "the keeper of the vision and the story" for their company.
  • A new book from "How I Built This" podcaster and author Guy Raz gathers dozens of these stories, drawn from the best of his hugely popular interviews with founders like Sara Blakely, Daymond John, and Tobias Lutke.
  • Business Insider spoke with Raz to find out how entrepreneurs can tap into the power of good storytelling to grow their business.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Why does your company exist?

It's a big question, and one that founders must have an answer to if they hope to build a business that attracts the talent, customers, and investors it needs to grow.

Over the past five years of hosting the "How I Built This" podcast, journalist Guy Raz has tackled this very subject with hundreds of founders, including Sara Blakely, Daymond John, and Tobias Lutke.

Founders and CEOs have a lot of responsibilities, but the most important one according to Legendary VC Ben Horowitz is to be "the keeper of the vision and the story" for their company.

To learn more about how entrepreneurs can better tell their stories, Business Insider spoke with Raz about the key elements of a compelling narrative.

"In every business there's a story, and in every story there's a reason why this business exists," Raz said.

Understand the classic 'heroic journey' archetype

Anyone who spends enough time studying great stories — from Captain Ahab to Captain America — will eventually encounter Joseph Campbell's model of the Hero's Journey.

In these stories, a protagonist hears a call, ventures out, struggles with a challenge, and returns home.

"I saw these patterns in every single story of entrepreneurs, and it became clear to me that there are parallels," Raz said. "It's not always as dramatic as literally slaying a dragon, but there were moments in all these stories."

When beginning your story, try to think back to the moment you first heard the call that became the motivation or inspiration for your business, even if it was a long time before you began outlining an actual plan.

Great stories have compelling titles

If you're not sure where to begin telling your story, one place to start is your company's name.

"I ask virtually every founder I interview about the name of their company, and for almost all of them, the question is like a trigger that sends the story of the company's founding practically shooting right out of them," Raz writes in his book.

Great company names inspire the imagination and help set your business apart from its competitors, like Spanx, FUBU, or Tesla. Together, your story and your brand tell the world what kind of business you are.

"That's the user experience," Raz told us. "That matters a lot, because that also signals how you want your product or service to be seen in the world and consumed in the world."

In the book, Raz writes that stories "are a mechanism for thinking deeply about yourself, your product or service, your employees, your customers, your market, and the world. They explain each to all the others in a way that facts and figures never can."

Resist the temptation to make it too tidy

The best stories have a sense of surprise and struggle, and it's important to include those when describing your journeys and challenges.

"Dealing with failure or dealing with setbacks or humiliations is very hard, and it's not always evident and obvious at the time that that is part of the story," Raz said.

Much as you may want to project an image of success, a straight-ahead rise to the top is unlikely to be realistic or interesting.

This is not to say you should empty every once of baggage you can think of, but Raz says that human beings are drawn to honest accounts of the defining challenges that you had to overcome.

"The story of why a company exists is messy, and that's really great," he said.

Practice telling it, revising it, and telling it again

It's unlikely that you'll get your story right on the first try. Then again, you're probably not getting your business idea right on the first try either, and that's okay.

"We don't always know our story until a long time after it's happened or big parts of it that happened," Raz said. "When you're in the middle of your story, especially if you're going through difficult moments, it's very hard to step back and say, 'Okay, this is part of my story.'"

As you shape and refine your company narrative, you'll grow more effective at rallying your team, engaging new customers, and winning over investors.

"The reason why the story is ultimately so important is because it connects you as the founder to all of the things you have to be connected to," Raz said.

In other words, your story gives people a reason to bet on your business over someone else's.

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