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Book Short: Storytelling is a Key Success Factor for Fast Growth

Post Date: February 16, 2014
By: Stephanie Miller

Start-Up CEO” is written for just that – the start-up CEO, particularly first time start-up CEOs.  But marketers should read it anyway for two reasons:

  1. It’s written from the heart of a very successful business owner in our industry;
  2. It’s really good business advice from a great manager of both business and people, DMA Board Member and former Chairman, Matt Blumberg, CEO of Return Path.

I am proud to say that in a former life I worked at Return Path for seven years.  Still, I learned a lot from the book about how Matt guided the business, even though I was on the management team and involved in a lot of the decisions that he discusses in the book.  It’s an inside view of how the company grew in the digital marketing marketplace.  Many of you may recogonize outside forces and trends that shaped your own careers and businesses.

It’s broken down into five sections. The first of these is Storytelling – and while the book is about running a business, there are lessons for all marketers in this, to be applied to our quotidian marketing and our business planning – or your great start-up idea that you are burning to develop.  This summary is from a review at Tech Cocktail.

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You don’t have to be the one who comes up with your startup idea. In any case, start by talking to customers about their problems and solutions. Then vet ideas according to criteria like customer pain, market opportunity, ability to win the market, strategic fit, and economics. The difference between startups and big corporations is that startups understand that their assumptions are wrong.

To tell your story to investors, create a 10- to 12-slide presentation including your elevator pitch, the size of the market opportunity, your competitive advantage, your current status and roadmap, and a summary of your financials. Later-stage startups will need to add in the good and bad experiences of customers and how earlier plans are progressing.

To communicate your story to the team, create a document that includes your mission (goal), vision (what the world will look like if you accomplish it), and values. You can articulate these using a top-down approach, where they are set by founders and executives; a hybrid approach, where founders create them and employees weigh in; or a bottom-up approach, where you crowdsource the task to employees.

To revise your story, show it to customers, investors, team members, and industry experts, and get their feedback. Also be on the lookout for signs that you need to change: conflicting data, poor results, or internal chaos. That change takes one of two forms: changing the company (including acquisitions and adding or removing lines of business) and changing the business (a real pivot, while still using your core skills).

To bring this story to life, you need to actually start building an organization. The CEO’s role will change from figuring out product-market fit to articulating the vision to developing strategies for expansion and innovation. Along the way, you’ll have to make intentional choices about non-product elements: where to put an office, what technology to use, compensation, HR policies, and more. If your product isn’t world-changing, you might choose to support employees who want to help out different causes to add some meaning to their work.

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If you want still more intense learning from Matt and Startup CEO, check out the online learning version on NovoEd.



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