A story isn’t enough

This past week marked graduation for the 2nd cohort of the Creative Startups Accelerator. It’s a terrific venture and I’m a huge fan of how they support and challenge creative folks to build a business, and, especially, use lean startup principles. 

I dropped in for a couple of days to say hi, and unintentionally ended up offering my perspective as an alum of the program. One of my favorite mentors from last year, Lena Ramfelt, asked what 3 things stayed with me a year later, and it prompted some reflection… 

  1. Focus. Doing one thing well is hard, and when you’re solving a problem there are a lot of side issues raised, especially if you’re listening to your customers and gathering qualitative and quantitative data. Staying focused on the core problem you’re solving is really the heart of any startup. 
  2. Testing. In the early stages, your job is to test things and find out what works. Having a mindset of experimentation and being willing to clearly define and measure what you want to have happen matters. If you talk to a founder or employee in an early stage business, and they can’t quickly tell you in clear terms what they’re testing and what they’re measuring it against, it’s likely not going anywhere. 
  3. Story matters, but not just any story. While storytelling is widely talked about in the startup ecosystem, very few people do it well. It’s common to hear founders talk about their own journey, at the expense of a story that really appeals to a customer, investor, etc. 

That last item is something that Creative Startups changed for me. I already understood the need for a good story, and I’ve got a background in acting / theater so I know what a powerful moment looks and feels like. 

But I didn’t really absorb until afterwards how it actually works. “Tell us a story” simply isn’t enough, you have to craft one that has meaning, and resonance. I suspect the spectrum looks something like this… 


A lot of people master the first one, and a precious few get to the end with a depth of skill and experience. 

When I was developing a two minute pitch for Closr.to I noticed the difference, which after a lot of distillation ended up looking something like the below. (I’ve actually parted ways w/my cofounders there and it’s now known as localweb.is, but that’s a story for another time).

V. 1 — Have you ever noticed that while we have social networks to connect us to people across the country and the world, we still have problems figuring out what’s happening in our local world, around us, with the people nearby? Closr.to is the web that’s around you, that connects you to what’s already happening. 

V.2 — Connecting to people nearby is a huge part of the human experience. We’re already solving hundreds of problems each day with the people around us, but there’s no “local web” that really enables us to do that efficiently and without friction. That’s where Closr.to comes in, it’s a social web where location matters again. 

V.3 — If you take your phone out of your pocket right now, in this moment, you can connect to people halfway across the world. But what happens if you try to connect to people and things around you? Finding a coffee shop may be doable on Yelp or you might be able to crowdsource it via Facebook, but what if you want to find another designer to co-work with? A class on making pie crusts that’s nearby, and happens this week? Another veteran who’s been through the process of re-acclimating to life stateside again and can provide perspective? Closr.to is a new kind of social web that combines location and interest, that connects you to the world that’s already around you, just on the web. 

I explained that pitch to Lena and a couple of other folks in the program. To be honest, as I told them, I think it’s still pretty rough, but it was getting there. Boiling down the story and connecting it to your focus and testing / measuring is critical. Being able to tell a story that’s relevant to a customer / end user, investor, or other stakeholder, is really what makes all the difference between a successful startup and one that’s just engaged in wishful thinking.