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Why startups are building storyboards and what is it all about?


If you are a movie buff you would know what we mean by a ‘storyboard’. Filmmakers have used these graphical representations to show how the movie would proceed. It allows the actors and crew members to visualise the shots before all of them team up for a shoot. A startup storyboard is both similar and different to one that is used by the filmmakers. Similar, as it offers a visual representation of the core idea behind the business and different as it narrates the story over the course of time instead of offering more plan for the process. As startups mushroom across industries storyboards have become an integral part of the ecosystem.

Importance of Storyboard for Startups

This brings us to the most pertinent questions, “why storyboards are so important for any startup?” Personal experience tells me any startup founder(s) needs to sell all the time and there is no respite from this! Even before you reach close to selling your products or services you need to sell your idea to the investors while seeking funds. And this is no easy job as many of your investors won’t have expert knowledge in the idea you present them. Trying to narrate your idea through words is quite a challenge especially if you aren’t a charismatic speaker.

If the investors aren’t well versed in the industry/technology you are focused in (in reality majority aren’t) you may see blank faces with occasional nods. In most cases, these nodes are their attempt to hide ignorance rather than an acknowledgement of your idea. By the end of your presentation, you may shake hands and bid goodbye without arousing any bit of excitement in their minds. This is where storyboards act as a powerful medium of communication and improve your odds of success. You may have heard the phrase ‘picture tells a thousand words’ numerous times and that’s exactly what storyboards do.

Storytelling is as old an art as the human civilisation. From the time people lived in caves, they left behind their experiences, cultures and way of life in the form of sketches, stick figures and paintings. And this means of communication remains as powerful today as they were in the ancient world. Since storyboards are visuals they tend to register faster in minds of your listeners than long monologues. You will be able to illustrate your idea better and also generate curiosity in the minds of your listeners. It allows you to share the problem you have identified better and also explain how you are going to solve it. Storyboards arouse the right kind of desire in the minds of your listeners (investors in your case) and improve your chances of generating the funding for our idea.

How to Build a Powerful Storyboard?

As someone who has experience in sitting on either side of the table, I have seen a fair number of startup storyboards. While some are beautifully designed they fail to deliver the message and other storyboards with mere pencil sketches send across the right message. Here I share with you some of my ideas on creating the perfect storyboard for your business. While these aren’t rules written on the rock they are conventions that have yielded successful results for hundreds of startups. You can alter them and improvise upon them based on your idea and ground realities.

1. Paper and Always Paper – With the choice of software and online tools at your disposal using pen/pencil and paper may sound primitive. But you must know that the best storyboards are created on paper and not digital platforms. There are three reasons why paper sketches are the way to go about it. First, they are fast compared to design tools that often tie you down for hours in its features; secondly, everybody in your startup can contribute to the idea and not just designers if you push over sheets of paper to them. Thirdly, they are rough and nobody tends to get too attached to them. For instance, you can dump your co-founders sketch without any hard feelings but will have trouble rejecting a digital graphic that he/she created over few days.

2. Dump Off Irrelevant Ideas – Recall the time when the bulb lit for the very first time in your mind. You will remember that along with the core idea, you and others in your team may have conceptualised secondary ideas around it. Now as you have created a business plan some of those secondary ideas have become irrelevant or don’t contribute to your core idea anymore. And logic says you should not make such ideas an integral part of your storyboard as they would merely confuse the listeners and not add much value to your presentation. Of course, you can narrate them during the course of your presentation without distracting anybody’s attention.

3. Choose The Core Problem – What is the most important part of your storyboard? It’s the core problem that you are solving which is also the core idea behind your startup. Make sure the sketches and graphics that you choose the best narrate the problem and how you are solving it. It is wise to involve your core team members while sketching these ideas. You can hand out sheets of paper to individuals or small teams and ask them to sketch them out in 30 minutes. Keep these sketches anonymous and ask every individual or team to come up with a title that best describes the story.

4. Evaluate The Sketches – Once the sketches are done you need to evaluate the ideas thoroughly. You can place the sheets on a table and ask individuals and teams to give their feedback on sketches other than the ones they have drawn. Now you can take the good elements of different sketches to prepare the final one that would be a part of your storyboard presentation. Be critical in your judgment, and if you aren’t an inch satisfied with the sketches go back to the drawing board. Remember your story shouldn’t mislead your audience and if you aren’t convinced it is hard to imagine that you would be able to convince others. So work on these sketches till you are completely satisfied.

5. Repeat The Process – The above technique would help you create a page for your storyboard but you would need a lot more of such sketches to create a story for your investors. You need to repeat this process all over again and create a few more pages that would become a part of your storyboard. There are no set rules regarding the number of pages/slides that would make your storyboard but make sure it is crisp and concise. Don’t make it too long or else your listeners would miss out on the most important message.

Conclusion:

As you can clearly understand storyboards is one of the most powerful means of communication for any startup. And my experience says that their utility isn’t limited to sourcing funds from the investors. It is an equally powerful tool when it comes to chalking out a strategy for the sales or the marketing teams. The graphics can be used to highlight the customers’ problems and also educate your team on the solutions that lets you edge past competition. To sum up, good storyboards aren’t merely a function of their aesthetic appeal but how well and powerfully they deliver the intended message.

Originally published at Startupbase

You can contact me via twitter @jaykishanp

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