THE creation of new firms is the single most important part of the economic drama,” says Carl Schramm, the chief executive of the Kauffman Foundation, the world’s largest private foundation devoted to encouraging entrepreneurship. He was speaking about the challenges facing the world’s entrepreneurs. While the whole speech was fascinating, that statement really stood out.
It struck me because the start-up moment is often the defining part of an entrepreneur’s own personal drama. Not the IPO or the sale, but the moment of inspiration, and the initial phase of getting started.
And for many successful entrepreneurs, it is that period that becomes a key part of their narrative – the tales of hurdles overcome, inspired decisions and brave risk taking that follow them through the years.
Take Google. Everyone has heard the story of Larry Page and Sergey Brin studying at Stanford, working on a project to “organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”, and misspelling the word Googol to come up with the defining start-up of the past 20 years.
Facebook’s origins were so full of drama that The Social Network – a movie loosely based on its early years – scooped dozens of awards and ended the year at the top of many movie-of-the-year charts.
Closer to home, Innocent’s brand image wouldn’t have quite the same quirky appeal without the story of the founding group of three working a fresh-fruit stall at a festival and asking the customers whether they should quit their jobs to sell smoothies full-time.
And Will King, the maverick boss of King of Shaves, a smart storyteller and avid user of social media, always goes back to the moment he decided to take on Gillette and Wilkinson Sword by creating a product that would tackle his razor burn.
The common theme is that a strong launch story, well-told, can become part of the start-up narrative, and a key weapon in the entrepreneur’s armoury.
SELLING YOUR STORY
When my business partner and I started our firm, Seven Hills, in January last year, the market was still in the doldrums and many people thought we were mad for quitting jobs when the going appeared so tough. But just like many others before us, we believed that the downturn provided a great opportunity to do something different in our sector, so we set about creating a campaigning PR business that would champion entrepreneurship and become part of the economic recovery story.
The point is that branding, marketing and communications are essential aspects of building a successful business, as is a narrative that engages and delivers a compelling point of difference. From customers to investors, journalists to employees, you need a message and it needs to be one that gets people to sit up and take notice.
The creator of a business is a walking advert. Entrepreneurs need to learn about how to make that work to their advantage. Smart entrepreneurs recognise this and make much of their founding story. They willingly accept the role of communicator-in-chief, craft their narrative and grasp opportunities to tell their story. The start-up story is an asset that entrepreneurs need to understand more, harness ruthlessly and use to create advantage.
Entrepreneurs who don't have a story, don’t really stand a chance.
Nick Giles is co-founder of the public relations consultancy Seven Hills.