Babson Entrepreneur Experience Lab

Elements of the Entrepreneur Experience

Storytelling

Storytelling

Entrepreneurs are literally surrounded by stories—they are an integral component of culture and deeply embedded in the entrepreneur’s experience. Stories enlist others, create community, and are vehicles for deep social connection. Stories are critical learning tools that help emerging entrepreneurs assimilate the experiences of others—they are the next best substitute for actual experience. Consider the value of mentors who essentially provide stories from their own experience. Similarly, networking events, workshops, and conferences are chiefly an opportunity for entrepreneurs to gather and to learn from each other’s stories. Since one of the most fundamental jobs for entrepreneurs is convincing others to believe in something that does not yet fully exist, storytelling is also a critical tool for promotion—for creating and communicating a vision that compels others to join or to lend their support in the effort.

Stories are also mechanisms that perpetuate stereotypes and myths about entrepreneurship. Powerful and easy to relate to, not everyone is equipped with the best storytelling and story deciphering skills. Extracting knowledge and lessons from stories can be tough, resulting in missteps and misdirection. In their telling, it’s also easy to create a “reality distortion field,” a term attributed to Steve Jobs that refers to storytelling as an activity that convinces yourself and others to believe anything is possible. In this mode, storytelling can distort the proportion and degree of effort and cause entrepreneurs to dismiss signals that suggest a needed change in direction.

Opportunities

  1. How can we empower entrepreneurs with better storytelling skills?

  2. Can we codify the core elements of an entrepreneur’s story?

  3. How can we explicitly teach both storytelling and evaluation of stories as part of the entrepreneurship method?

  4. How can we shift our narrative from “pitching” to storytelling?

  5. How can we create new platforms for entrepreneurs to share their stories?

Powerful tools for connecting and convincing

Powerful tools for connecting and convincing

Lance

Lance thinks many first-time entrepreneurs have a naive approach to funding, so he helps them create a story that will help them get the resources they need.

http://blip.tv/play/h7YEgsvIIAA.html

Michelle

Michelle talks about the fear of "the pitch."

http://blip.tv/play/h7YEgsyNXAA.html

Dave

Dave talks about using stories to see if people are interested in his venture.

http://blip.tv/play/h7YEgsygSgA.html

Mike and Seth

Mike and Seth talk about the importance of leadership, and how it is an "amplification of your voice."

http://blip.tv/play/h7YEgszGawA.html

Kamal

Telling the story of being a young entrepreneur has been good for Kamal's business.

http://blip.tv/play/h7YEgs2pOgA.html

Eileen

Eileen discusses the importance of storytelling and building emotional connections with potential investors and customers.

http://blip.tv/play/h7YEgs6dbAA.html

When pitching to investors or simply explaining their venture to others, many entrepreneurs fall into the trap of focusing too heavily on the idea and the technical details of their work. This focus on the details obscures the more fundamental question, which is “Why should I care?” Technical proficiency is important, but creating an emotional connection should take priority. Some entrepreneurs, particularly serial entrepreneurs, realize the importance of engaging people emotionally in the vision before getting into the specifics. Being able to convey where you started, what steps you’ve taken to overcome challenges, and where you’re headed can help win people to your side. One entrepreneur described this process as creating a sense of inevitability: this is going to happen and therefore one should join. It’s about making it believable.

Eileen, a serial entrepreneur in San Francisco who created a publishing platform that allows anyone to make their own books, explicitly recognizes the importance of storytelling. “There are times when I think I should change my title to chief storyteller because we are in the business of story. That is the business of our business and I’m also a huge believer in the power of story to capture the emotional impact of what you’re trying to do. And when you’re out trying to raise money, facts and figures are necessary because that gives people confidence that you’ll be able to execute. But the facts and figures alone don’t tell them why it is that you’re going to change the world.”
 

Learning from Others Stories

Learning from Others Stories

Michael

Michael talks about knowledge and experience being more important than capital at his stage in venture creation.

http://blip.tv/play/h7YEgsrsAgA.html

Stories are useful learning tools because they’re the closest approximation to actual experience—a way of drawing on others’ experiences and the knowledge that comes with them.  The importance of this mode of learning can be seen in the prevalence of stories across the entrepreneurial culture. At the Midwest region’s signature entrepreneurship conference, Big Omaha, a host of entrepreneurs share stories from their experiences; the new book from a preeminent startup accelerator is a collection of stories from alumni; and the current crop of technology startup accelerators are all built around mentorship which  is, in fact, based in stories.

In talking about launching his company after a Three Day Startup (3DS) weekend, Mike, a young Austin entrepreneur building a Facebook app that lets students study together, said simply that “knowledge and foresight for us, at least at this stage, is more important than capital. I never crashed a company before, but many of the people in the [3DS] audience and the entrepreneurs there have both started companies and crashed them. And there’s experiences that come from that, and understanding how things work, what to do and what not to do.”

Crafting the Right Story

Crafting the Right Story

Jacob and Susan

Jacob and Susan had a good feeling for the business they wanted to start, but didn't always have the language to explain it.

http://blip.tv/play/h7YEgsr0EgA.html

Rich

Rich learned that you have to keep your story simple, especially when pitching to different audiences.

http://blip.tv/play/h7YEgsyhBQA.html

Kerry

Kerry has a hard time explaining what he does to people.

http://blip.tv/play/h7YEgsz5GQA.html

Even when the importance of storytelling is recognized, figuring out how to craft the right story for the right audience is challenging. When you’re fully immersed in the entrepreneur experience, there’s difficulty in removing yourself from the day-to-day enough to tell the story in a way that resonates with others.

Jacob and Susan started a community co-working space in Seattle when it was a very novel idea and spent a long time figuring out how to describe their business. “It would be interesting to look at the language we’ve used to describe our business over the years.… We had a really good feeling about the business we wanted to start.... but we didn’t always have the language. The easy part was knowing it, the hard part was explaining it to people.... It was a constant challenge but we know our language now.”

Dan, a social entrepreneur from Providence who founded a sustainable tea company right out of college, recounted that alongside an entrepreneurship course, the most valuable course he took in college was one focused on public speaking and persuasive communication. He didn’t know it at the time, but the ability to convincingly explain his venture and vision has been vitally important every step of the way.
 

Reality Distortion Fields and Other Pitfalls

Reality Distortion Fields and Other Pitfalls

Doug

Doug had a hard time distinguishing between good and bad advice, and ended up diverting from his original business model.

http://blip.tv/play/h7YEgsveZwA.html

Rich

Rich finds that you have to be careful when taking advice.

http://blip.tv/play/h7YEgsygfQA.html

Where creating a sense of inevitably is important, some entrepreneurs (to their detriment) fall into a “reality distortion field,” where they get caught up in the myth of what they want their venture to be versus what it’s actually becoming. There’s a fine line between productive naiveté and being unrealistic. If the power and comfort of the story is too great, there is the risk of being blind to the reality, overlooking changes that need to be made, and missing opportunities to pivot.

Similarly, since stories are the primary currency of mentorship, being able to ascertain what aspects of a particular story are most germane to a particular challenge is both critical and rather difficult. When learning from mentors and others, entrepreneurs can often stray from the path or become bogged down figuring out which advice to take and which advice to ignore.

Doug, a physician turned entrepreneur in Omaha, faced this issue when he “took advice” from several different people and ended up with a completely different business model for his patient communications startup than he orginially intended. “The advice I was getting was sincere, probably well-educated, but now I feel like that was a mistake to take that advice the way that I did.”