Helping Start-ups Tell Their Story

by Holland-Mark | August 3, 2010

MassChallenge is a great program to encourage the development of start-ups in Massachusetts, and we’ve been involved with it from the beginning. A couple of weeks ago they asked us to pull together some kind of workshop to help contestants tell their stories more effectively, and we’re going to start the two-week program today.

A start-up is a kind of passionate hypothesis, put forward by true believers with the conviction to work long hours in service to a vision. Entrepreneurship, for me anyway, is the process of corrupting that vision with the external reality… adjusting it to the inevitable successes and failures along the way, sometimes ending up in a place very different from the one you set out for.

Because of this, selling is the most important thing a start-up does. Selling grounds you in reality, shapes your vision, and — in the best case — extends your runway. Unlike marketing, selling adapts in real time. Every sales meeting should end with reflection on what worked and what didn’t in your story, evolving your pitch deck the way a stand-up comedian refines his material.

There’s a turning point in the life of most successful start-ups, though, where the rate of this iteration drops sharply. It’s the point at which you “find the button,” meaning you begin to get confirmation from the market that you are indeed solving a problem the world will pay you to solve.

It’s at that point your marketing needs to grow up. You need the courage to dump the cluttered, clumsy, and uncommitted appeals that have given you the flexibility you needed in the first phase. You need to adopt the clear, compelling, and concise messaging you’ll need to be successful in the next one.

Our One Simple Thing™ offering is all about helping brands achieve this clarity of message. Here’s how I’m going to explain it to the MassChallenge finalists today…