What makes for a good story? You will have your own answer, but here I propose to you some points to consider while you are charting your own entrepreneurial journey. Most experts may not tell you what I am going to share with you here. But then again, I am not an expert and that gives me the privilege to share with you my perspective as an equal, as a friend.
Writer and surgeon Sherwin Nuland said, “The more personal you are willing to be and the more intimate you are willing to be about the details of your own life, the more universal you are.” So be confident in talking about your weaknesses and vulnerabilities. In today’s world of glorifying success stories it has become a fad to talk about, out and loud, one’s achievements and accomplishments.
Most of these stories concentrate on what a superhuman entrepreneur you are, how you had this one brilliant idea that turned into your biggest break, how you built a great team and got your investors and customers to love you dearly. Every day we hear eulogies about who raised more funding, who got into the billion dollar club, who worked non-stop and who the next big thing is.
Trust me, glossy stories may attract investors, get you a front page in the newspaper but they do not make your story. You may grab eye balls for a short while but it will not connect you to me and to millions out there. I would any day hear about your stumbling, moments when you bled, when you felt like giving it all up and moments when you were at your weakest. Show me that you are more than your achievements; that you are a human being and you have the ability to connect, to reveal and in turn inspire.
It is through their honest unflinching stories that we remember great leaders by. Theodore Roosevelt’s ‘Citizenship in a Republic’ is one such example -
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
When you talk about your story, choose honesty. If you have read David Kirkpatrick's, ‘The Facebook Effect,’ then you will remember this - At one staff meeting during those chaotic early weeks, when Facebook’s ability to maintain its momentum seemed so precarious, twenty-two-year-old Mark Zuckerberg showed a candour that both surprised many of his colleagues and endeared him to them. He said, “But I’m sort of learning on the job here.” Probably it was not the best time for him to confess this, but he did. And in doing so, he not only inspired his team but also first time entrepreneurs across the globe, who are all learning on the job to be a CEO.
Closer home, Flipkart has built a story on execution, probably at a point of time in India when we did not know what delivery on time meant. Recently, the founders of the same company sent an apology letter to their users when the big billion dollar sales campaign failed. I don't remember getting such an honest mail from the founders of many other companies, especially when the world was attacking and ridiculing them for the mistakes they made. It required courage and to me it made a great story of honesty and acceptance.
Now you could argue that these guys are already a success and what they do will be seen differently than a rookie entrepreneur just starting up. I disagree. A startup story is a work in progress. It’s not a one-time effort, newspaper clipping or five minute spotlight of fame. Writing a good startup story of your own will require everyday effort, attention and practice. It is a sum total of a great many things; not an ensemble performance but millions of small things you do daily.
My request to you-in those millions of things embrace your weaknesses and embrace honesty.