The Power of Storytelling
There’s a story behind every product feature, we’re just terrible at telling it!
In this world, where we are limited on everything and always looking for shortcuts, we seek quick ways to easily express what we want to say; a tweet, a one-liner, a website landing page. We hope it will be memorable but, let’s be honest, unless your tag line is ‘just do it’ or ‘I’m lovin it’, it never is and most people will just brush past these unmemorable messages in the sea of things they’re consuming in any given day.
Why do I say this? Because we’re so desperate to immediately hit someone with a message that we tend to this at the expense of crafting a narrative or story people can genuinely connect with or care to form an opinion about. There’s a reason why people are now taking their one-liner thoughts into 40+thread long tweets to demonstrate the reality of what they want to say, with the hope it resonates with their audience on a deeper level — here’s a great example recently from my friend, Tushar.
We default constantly to easy ‘features’ we can categorise and use to assume significance.
I recently gave a talk on the Power of Storytelling to a group of entrepreneurs at Decelera in Menorca. I started by saying three things:
- My name is Natasha
- I studied French and Spanish at Oxford University
- I work at Seedcamp
I showed no emotion, expressed no real tone or intonation, just the facts — my product features, if you will. Bizarrely, this was greeted with a round of applause. I’m not sure if we’re so unused to hearing people talk in person these days that everything deserves a clap, or whether one of those three things felt worthy of celebrating. Baffling to me but also evidence of what I was thinking — that we default constantly to easy ‘features’ we can categorise and use to assume significance.
When you break down the product features, there’s a deep-rooted story behind every single one of them.
Maybe people interpreted this as, Natasha went to Oxford, therefore she must be reasonably intelligent? Or perhaps the reading was, Natasha is clearly one of ‘those’ people who went to Oxford and needs everyone to know about it — there’s a special place for those kinda people.
Either way, that one line tells so little of the real story. When you break down these three product features, there’s a deep-rooted story behind every single one of them. For me, this goes like this:
- My name is Natasha
My mum’s dad sadly died when she was 8 years old. His name was Sascha and so naming me Natasha is a nod to him, a grandfather I never got to meet.
2. I studied French and Spanish at Oxford University
I had this strange fascination with Spanish from a young age — the love of travel and sunshine clearly started early! I did a trade-off with my mum when I was 10 to quit Sunday Hebrew school, which I hated (largely because I was bullied at school for being Jewish and so thought anything to do with my religion had to be bad) to start learning Spanish at a free, government-funded language school in Hendon.
It turned out to be a pretty decent trade-off, as I ended up going from my state comprehensive school to study French and Spanish at Oxford University. At the time, I thought there was no way I was clever enough to get in, so I shut off it ever being an option to me. But, it was clearly there, buried somewhere in the back of my mind as something I really wanted even though at the time I played — and continue to play — it down, it was a huge deal to me. It took more recently finding a notebook at my parent’s house from when I was leaving primary school, aged 11, and turning to the first page where I found a message saying “I hope you achieve your dreams and become the editor of a magazine and study at Oxford University”, to realise this. I guess at least half of that came true (I learned while living in Argentina that journalism wasn’t the career path for me, but that’s a story for another time).
3. I work at Seedcamp
I got a job at Seedcamp within a week of my last startup shutting down. If you’ve been through a shutdown, you know what an emotional rollercoaster that is. Add in the absolute mania of the startup before and I was feeling pretty beat. I messaged Carlos on Facebook as Seedcamp was an investor in Pronto (this is back when people still used Facebook to communicate) to ask if any of the portfolio were hiring. He responded saying they were, and would I consider working with them as a fund and also supporting the portfolio. Two hours later, I was at the Seedcamp office in Google Campus to meet the team and, five years later, we may no longer be at Campus, but I remain at Seedcamp where I run everything post-investment and support our portfolio on all things go-to-market, positioning, scaling and everything else in between.
Phew, that’s a lot to get through. I appreciate that not everyone has the time to ‘go deep in the majority of interactions we go through on a daily basis but I genuinely believe when we craft stories — and I’m not talking fairytales, though there’s a reason we remember those — it opens up so many more layers to connect with others.
Off the back of this, I had everyone at Decelera break into twos to discuss a product feature they built and the story behind ‘why’ they built it, ie — the juicy bits we never really get into the weeds of. With every feature, line of code, new idea, team hire, there is always a story behind it; some piece of research, insight, experience, or desire that led us to it. And, yet, we never tell these stories. We’re so focused on the bite size, digestible information, that we sacrifice any emotion and all end up saying we’re doing XXX Better, Faster or Cheaper.
So, today, my challenge for you is to think about the last product feature you built and to explain to someone why you decided to build it. If there’s no compelling story behind it, will it actually work?