When I was co-founder of Volar – a startup that helps people navigate the future of work – I spent uncountable nights awake with my team. We worked hard to find the best way to communicate with clarity and efficiency the transformation we wanted to promote. And the most important at that time: to make investors, partners, and users wanting to be part of our vision.
The process of crafting a story that generates results is a continuous process. It feels more like crafting a sculpture: first you add all the information you have in your mind, then you start to cut it off.
We crafted our story in a way that took us to the final of the Everis Awards of Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Portugal. There were hundreds of startups at the beginning We were part of the 10 ones chosen for the final. And 1 of the only 2 startups focused on social and human impact. On the opposite side of 8 startups focused on tech solutions. This was winning by itself.
In a context where so many startups with amazing innovative solutions to present, attention is the prize for those who are able to connect.
Stories are a way to communicate what you offer in a way that resonates with your audience.
The first time I entered the room to work with Volar I saw Maria Julia (who brought the idea from the Silicon Valley where she was mentored by the Singularity University’s head of Future of Work) and an infinite amount of post-its in every inch of wall in the room. There were books highlighted, frameworks, and papers everywhere.
With so much information in that room instead of finding answers, the team was just getting more and more distracted from what really mattered.
“Forget everything that is in this room”, I told her.
“What are we trying to achieve here?”, I asked.
She replied, “We want to communicate our message and vision clearly to the investors, so they realize that we are relevant in between those hundreds of others startups.”
“We want to be supported in promoting the transformation we believe to be possible”.
You. Yes, you who are reading this text right now. Understand this: if you want to stand out in the eyes of others, you don’t need to be the “never seen before on earth E.T. with the never seen before solution”. You only need to show how you relate to the people who listen to you and how you really understand them.
As Tony Robbins always says “people like people who are like them, or who are like who they want to be”. That is why it matters to find the right moment where your story connects with the story of your audience. Why you are the right people to help them.
If you are pitching to investors, it matters even more. Because investors don’t invest in ideas. This is secondary, investors will invest in the team they believe to be the right one to take the idea forward.
So, before you worry about getting the perfect pitch, find the right story.
The steps of connection
We knew who would be evaluating the finalists for the awards. They were men, executives of multinationals, most of them 50+ years old and with a more traditional business approach.
On the presentation day to get the Everis Prize (and the investment), what we were looking for was to make clear why we existed and why it mattered to them to engage with our mission.
Once the reason why resonate with them the next step would be to tell them what we do and how we do it.
Then if it sounds reasonable for them, they will want to know the numbers. Then if the numbers sound reasonable for them, they want to know if we are capable of making it happen.
But because we told them our story they will assume that we are capable. Their subconscious would do the work because we already did the hard work of making them care about our vision.
If you are in a similar situation ahead of you, keep in mind that the engagement you expect to get is like going up a staircase. Achieving your goal is the last step but to get there you need to climb every other step before. If you try to jump directly to the last one you will fall.
Remember: attention is the prize for those who are able to connect.
Understand who is your audience and climb every step
After all the work we did to craft the right story, Maria Julia opened our presentation at the final do the Everis Awards of Entrepreneurship and Innovation with a killer question:
“Did you know which career you wanted to pursue when you were in college?”
“I thought I knew.”
“I wanted to be in the middle of the corporate world. I wanted to have a fancy title and sit at the highest building. I wanted to be hustling in between meetings in New York.”
- 1st step: We started like this because we wanted to mirror the desires and inner drives of people when they are young. By mapping the paths people of the previous generations and millennials used to think that would lead to a successful life. The vision she shared – which was true for her – was the daily routine of those sitting on the other side of the table to evaluate us – our audience.
“After putting so much study, time and effort, I got my own version of that. But it didn’t feel like what I was expecting to be.”
- 2nd step: Mirror their frustration. It was obvious that our audience at the moment – investors – lives also weren’t what they expected to be when they were young. We were all just buying the advertisement dream. Having a carer for life was the standard at their time. So they just kept going.
“And this is the problem. Having expectations means that we don’t know. Expectations are born from the assumptions we make about what is going to happen. And if you don’t know you can only hope. Right?”
- 3rd Step: Show that it is a common problem: No one of us in that room had another way to know how it would be unless we went there by ourselves to experience it.
“Well, imagine a world where we could have known. Where we could experiment with different kinds of jobs and positions, allowing us to observe if that would resonate with our desires and needs. Allowing us to be aware of how we feel and how we work best.”
- 4th Step: your vision meets their ideal world.
Now we give them the data. Showing them that it doesn’t happen just with them.
“3 billion people in the world are not engaged, passionate, or excited about their daily journey at work.”
Uow. It sucks, right?! Imagine all these people unhappy with their jobs! – This is the awareness we wanted to raise about a serious problem society is ignoring and how it would impact the world positively if there were solutions to tackle this problem.
But just telling them “Hey, check this out! This is very important!” wouldn’t work. They needed to feel it.
3 billion people who are producing at their best is a huge loss for companies, that could have been optimizing their resources and people, and also their health and happiness – people who could have been contributing actively with positive transformations in the world. Again, this is about the audience who were listening to us at that moment: their companies are part of this statistic.
If people are happier at the work, they produce more and better. As a consequence the turnover decrease.
An opportunity to innovate for companies and an opportunity of experimentation for people.
Now that we had their attention we can introduce our solution (never the opposite).
At the end we summarized our focus and intention:
- We want to disrupt the traditional professional path that leads people to later frustrations.
- We want to rethink professionals stereotypes.
- We want to share the best practices between different industries to provoke innovation.
We ended the presentation by proving that it was possible to happen because we did it.
“I was in the corporate universe but I wanted so bad to dive into innovation that I went to the Silicon Valley. Later, I worked with startups in São Paulo. Later, I worked in an American governmental tech company with a remote team from 18 different countries.
This was my experiment Volar that brought me here today.
I put all these experiences together to understand which was the path I wanted to pursue and to understand for real how it was to work at each one of them. But that was very risk and it was a very hard way to do it.
“Imagine if I had Volar at that time to help me do it…”
Results of the Award
We didn’t get the prize but we got something that we couldn’t even imagine getting that day.
At the end of the presentations, the Everis’ president came to us to share his story! He told us about his experiences in life and how our story and mission resonated with him.
He also told us about how Everis, as a very traditional foundation, was facing challenges to keep the young talents in the group. That he saw the exchange of insights between industries and experimentation as a fundamental key to keep them motivated to stay within the group and to generate innovation from the inside out.
He asked us to present a program proposal from Volar to implement it into the Everis company.
Stories connect people. And people open opportunities.
What is innovation
Innovation is not about creating something never seen before but it is about looking at a problem that has been ignored through a fresh perspective and new solutions.
- Don’t start with the facts. Tell your story. Tell the story of many. Use the facts to show how the story is real.
- Communicate your vision and the transformation you promote to others.
- Use the steps of connection.
- Innovation is an effective approach for a problem, not an invention.