Wednesday, May 8, 2013

It’s all in the telling

Storytelling 1One of our investors came by our offices recently, expecting the worst.  Communication had been sporadic and the company was definitely falling behind its milestones.  A planned fundraising was delayed; cash runway had been a concern for months.

Behind the scenes, though, really capable people had been beavering away on unexpected and difficult problems.  We had a few lucky breaks as experts came alongside with exactly the knowledge and connections that was needed.  A glimmer of a solution was starting to appear.

“So, I know the general outline – fill in some details for me?”

I’m proud of what’s been accomplished: we have a great story to tell. 

Anomalous results on a routine test last fall alerted us that something unexpected was happening in the base silicone….Two hypotheses explain the measurements…the first, although easier to try, led nowhere – we lost two months…the second was delayed by access to catalysts and resins – suppliers didn’t know us, didn’t trust us…At the same time, we found an alternative material with the properties we needed…We finally acquired the materials… We finally acquired the rights…We lost two quarters…We’re back on track…

Our investor pushed back.  “Plan A still sounds like something we’d invest in… Plan B is confusing, I’ll need to study it more...We’ll have questions…overall direction…timing…focus…”  Then it was done; he was off.

We had a great story to tell.  Why didn’t that come across?

That same day, a friend happened to have sent me a link to an blog post at the Harvard Business Review by Kate Minshew.  Titled “Every Entrepreneur’s Least Favorite Question”, it outlines the proper response to the query “How are things going?”  

Her advice is:

  • Highlight two recent accomplishments,
  • Talk about one problem you’re working on,
  • Talk about what’s different than 3 or 6 months ago, and
  • Ask for advice.

The article is really an epiphany:  I had blown all four guidelines and, so, had failed to tell an understandable or compelling story.   What I wanted him to understand was that we had A, we were getting B, an that one or the other leads to the C that we promised: the team did a great job for the investors.  From my narrative, he likely understood that 1) we had problems, 2) the solution was hard, 3) we were casting about for a backup, and so 4) the original plan was toast.

Live and learn.

Expat storiesI think that this guidance also holds for expats, who face the inevitable question “How’s it going?” (or variants like “How do you like it here?”).

I’ve filed my visa renewal, after I found the new KvK offices up in Sittard.  With the nicer weather, I’ve take a couple of long cycles towards Spa.  Things are great:  I’ve passed the Dutch reading exam and am working to get the other three done in November.  I do have one question though: One of my creditors is a bit slow in paying, do you know who I might talk with who’s been through a similar situation?

Okay, I can’t write dialog…but I think it’s good to have talking pints in mind. I will for the next investor visit.

For more on storytelling, take a look at

Pixar’s 22 rules of storytelling, and

This American Life’s Ira Glass on YouTube

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