March 13, 2018
Ep. #43, Startup Partnerships with Ellen Chisa and John Kodumal
In episode 43 of To Be Continuous, Edith and Paul are joined by Ellen Chisa, Paul's co-founder and CEO of Dark, as well as John Kodumal CTO...
A not so long time ago on a stage at the Heavybit Clubhouse, strategic messaging and positioning expert Andy Raskin showed us that anyone can tell a compelling story to pitch their products or services. The elements are all around us; we just need to focus their power.
“If you get the elements of the story right and you order them correctly,” he says, “then it’s not just the CEO who’s going to be a great storyteller and telling the right story.”
Love or hate them, you probably know the plot behind the Star Wars movies. The elements that made them classics (well, the early ones) have also kept us connected to the struggle of central characters like Luke and Leia. Knowing how stories work — be they Star Wars or Cinderella — can help connect potential customers to your product, making them the hero of their own epic journey.
In his Heavybit Speaker Series presentation “Building a Better Core Pitch” Raskin lays out the key components of a strategic story that every member of the team can rally around. So suit up your team whether they are a squadron of rebel fighters scrambling for a Death Star attack, or a seed-stage company building a value proposition for your early users or investors.
Raskin locks in (or maybe lets the Force guide him) to five elements that are more likely to reach and resonate with a target audience. Master these and your pitch will be easier than bullseyeing womp rats back on Tatooine.
Whatever your prospect’s personal dark side might be, you should focus, according to Raskin, on how it makes them feel.
Better if you can show how the customer is experiencing the problem, if you can show that struggle in emotional terms.
Back to Princess Leia and her story. We don’t really feel the emotional impact of the Death Star until it has obliterated her home planet. At that point we get it–this thing has to be stopped. For your potential users, show the frustrations and pains that they have to endure before you present your product as the solution. As for bringing Alderaan back, that one’s going to be a toughie.
You’ve established the villain of your user’s story, one that has possibly been plaguing them for some time. But why is now the time to take action? There’s too much to get done right now. Just remind me later.
Raskin uses Luke Skywalker as an example of the call to action. When tasked with a mission to save the princess, Luke drags his feet. “He basically sounds like a prospect you’ve been trying to sign who just keeps coming up with more excuses not to,” he says.
But we know what happens next. Luke goes back to his Tatooine home to find his house destroyed and his family killed. Only then does he embark on his quest. Is there an event that would or should trigger a decision in your prospective customers or investors?
Instead of sending in the stormtroopers, you’ll have to give a reason why your customers should act now. Look at what lies ahead. If your potential customer is growing their business, they should adopt your product, which is highly scalable, sooner than later. And what about establishing security for when the product comes out of beta next month? Bottom line, find a reason for your user or investor to act. Now.
The light at the end of the tunnel is the “Promised Land,” as Raskin describes it. This is where your potential customer or investor wants to be, but isn’t always easy for them to see. It is your job to show them what life will be like after they’ve adopted your product, made an investment or begun Jedi training with Yoda strapped to their backs. But as with training montages, you don’t get to see the final result all at once. It’s all about the tease.
Raskin refers to a master of product showmanship, Steve Jobs, as an example to not show your product right away. Instead, build up anticipation around what things will be like once your customers start using it, and then open the curtain.
“Jobs gets us imagining a world with this super easy-to-use, super smart phone before he even shows it to us,” Raskin explains. Whether it be a multi-functioning device or a niche product or service, build up the Promised Land for your user before showing them how your product can get them there.
Now it’s time to dive into the product itself. How will it help the hero of your story, the potential customer, vanquish the enemy and reach the Promised Land?
Raskin explains how you must take the role of Obi-Wan to the prospects’ Luke. “Often there’s this wizard character who’s kind of doing what you’re doing,” he says. “He’s trying to sell the hero on a vision of the future.” Obi-Wan gives Luke a lightsaber to help with his mission, shows him the ways of the Force and guides him off of Tatooine onboard the Millennium Falcon.
Things sound good in threes, and Raskin says that you should come up with three “gifts” or ways to present the capabilities of your product that will help your customer reach their Promised Land.
In order to drive home the narrative you’ve given, it’s time to back it up with some evidence that your product is the hero your customers or investors have been looking for.
Demos are one evocative way of providing evidence. Raskin explains how Elon Musk showed the potential of Tesla’s Powerwall in his keynote by powering the entire auditorium with one of his batteries.
If your product is a dev tool, show it solving a problem in a visual way. It might not power a building, but “size matters not when it comes to the Force.” Furthermore, research, statistics and having a clear product roadmap can support your story and give your customers or investors the confidence that the happy ending will come true.
Whether they are in marketing or development, each team member can tell a story that shows a journey from identifying a problem to proving the solution. With Raskin’s advice, you can make a simple description of your product into an attention-grabbing pitch that will help you stand out as a bright center to their universe.
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