Founder’s stories captivate us the way few business stories do. Even as glittering as Apple has become, we are reminded that it all started with two guys in a garage. Facebook was born in a Harvard dorm room. Coca Cola started in an Atlanta pharmacy. Henry Ford fought for years with investors and patent attorneys before a single Model A rolled off the assembly line. And who can forget Thomas Edison? His founder’s story is so good that he is credited with inventing the lightbulb rather than improving and refining an existing technology.
Why does your founder’s story matter?
People connect with the ideas and romance of success borne out of struggle and hardship (even if the greatest hardship was that pizza was unavailable after 2 am). We all love the feeling that smart billionaire business people are really not all that different from us. And the American ideal of being able to create success with your own two hands and an idea is irresistible.
In short, there is no better way to humanize a company than to know that the beer you’re enjoying started out in the kitchen of a home brewer who was convinced he could make something tastier.
How do you write a compelling founder’s story?
First strip away all of the current happenings in your company and dial your way-back machine to the time when Acme Cartoon Balloons was just a twinkle in the eye of the founder, Chris Smithers. Something made Chris decide that she could make cartoon balloons better than anyone else, that the world was waiting for a new and improved cartoon balloon. One that was bigger, louder, greener, funnier, and aggravated Wile E. Coyote better than the current crop of cartoon balloons.
What was the “aha” moment?
What made Chris quit her job, mortgage her house, and conscript friends and relatives into balloon test dummies? Where is the passion? Did Chris grow up dreaming of creating the ultimate cartoon balloon, or was this moment born out of frustration at not being able to find cartoon balloons that lived up to her expectations?
Secret sauce: the setbacks!
We don’t remember the Thomas Edison light bulb story without remembering the thousand wrong choices he made – and his unshakable work to find the RIGHT choice. We know that Steve Jobs was summarily dismissed from Apple and then was brought back years later to resurrect the company.
The setbacks are what makes the story human. A regular person, coming up against great odds perseveres and keeps going because they must fulfill their vision. Give your readers the warts-n-all version of your founder’s story – betting on the wrong technology, the brink of financial ruin, eating ramen noodles every day for a year. The suffering makes the success even sweeter – and it keeps the reader with you.
The third act: success!
Here is where you make the last connection: the moment of success. This is the payoff for your reader – the reason they came along on the journey. This is where the ramen-noodle diet pays off when the app that has struggled for attention suddenly gets mentioned by some celeb and suddenly Mark Zuckerberg is knocking at the door.
Bonus points: Season with humanizing elements
Does your founder collect Star Wars PEZ dispensers? Does she enjoy hand-tying fishing flies before heading off to the back woods for trout fishing? Do they still drive the same car – or were they finally able to get the classic 1970’s muscle car that they first saw when they were 11 years old?
These little peeks into what makes your founder tick make him approachable.
After all, who orders Superman around? No one. But Clark Kent sure feels the wrath of Perry White (editor of the Daily Planet). It’s the Clark Kent persona that humanizes our superhero.