Business Advice, Startup Advice

The pitch: Four ways to craft a company story so people listen

Emma Koehn /

Mynder Jenny Vanderhoek

Jenny Vanderhoek, who is shaping the brand story of Mynder after buying the child-minder booking app business this year. Source: Supplied

Search for advice on “how to pitch your company” and you’ll be confronted with more than 8 million results.

The recommendations will run the full gamut: everything from brainstorming “vivid” adjectives that describe your business to compiling background research on investors.

Whether you’re selling your business story to future partners and investors or the very customers you want to use your service, it can be difficult to know which parts of your sprawling business plan to draw attention to.

If you’re refining your pitch or writing a company backstory for the first time, here are four starting points for getting others to listen when you outline that dream project.

Describe problems, not products

Short, sweet and product-focused is the ideal pitch for US venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki, who has previously argued any company pitch should have no more than 10 slides.

He wants startups to focus on the problem they solve, the value gained by solving it, and the “underlying magic” that will make your company do this better than anyone else.

If you must use more than ten slides to explain your business, you probably don’t have a business,” he explained in a blog post on the subject.

Venture capitalist and author of Unicorn Tears: Why startups fail and how to avoid it, Jamie Pride, agrees brevity and action is key to capturing investors’ attention. 

Describe what problem you are solving. Who are you solving it for — and what makes you different? If you can articulate this in 3-4 sentences I believe that is all you need,” he says.

Focusing on the outcomes your company can secure will gain more attention than going into the bells and whistles of what you’re selling, he says.

“I think it’s better to define yourself this way, than to define yourself by describing your product.”

Think like Andy Warhol

What insights into pitching can a business get from Andy Warhol’s portraits of Marilyn Monroe? Plenty, says business storytelling consultant Yamini Naidu.

“I often think of Andy Warhol and his prints of Marilyn in this context,” she tells SmartCompany.

“He produced the same prints every time, but in a slightly different colour.”

This is captivating because it draws on Monroe’s fierce presence, but the change in colour draws out different elements. In the same way, companies should build one single origin story, but know how to change this to hook whoever is in front of them, whether it’s a potential customer or new investor, Naidu says.

“Always have a broad range of stories to tell, but make sure they all tie into the core,” Naidu says.

This means sitting down and thinking of all the ways you can communicate why your brand is authentic. However, whichever elements you choose to outline in a pitch deck or business case must tie in to an overall, authentic whole.

“Each story is a chapter in that book of your brand, company,” she says.

Consider the audience, then your story 

Storytelling is only going to help your business grow if the tale is relevant to the audience you’re talking to.

This is something Australian unicorn Canva has previously highlighted; co-founder Melanie Perkins said in January this year Canva’s pitch deck would change each time a potential investor asked a question they hadn’t thought of yet.

Every time we’d get a really tricky question from investors we’d iterate on our deck to put the hardest questions they asked right at the front of the deck,” co-founder Melanie Perkins said.

This flexibility allowed the company to add elements that may have seemed obvious to those within the business, like explaining what the status quo was for professional design, and how Canva could fix that problem.

When it comes to pitching your brand at customers, it’s also critical you hone in on the parts of the business that will convert their interest and care into cash.

This is incredibly important if you’re creating a new pitch for an existing business, as chief executive of childcare booking service Mynder, Jenny Vanderhoek, is discovering.

In March, Vanderhoek purchased the Mynder business, which connects families to potential babysitters and carers via an app, for an undisclosed sum.

She became familiar with the business as a mother herself and is now faced with communicating the brand story to two distinct sets of people: her customers and her employees.

The task is how to communicate that the business is convenient and safe because of the background checks associated with getting carers onto the platform.

However, she knows her core audience are not “going to book a babysitter for no real reason” as a trial. Instead, she’s working on ways to speak directly to clients on a one-on-one basis, as she knows it’s critical she communicates the core values of the business — and how they will stay the same even under her new ownership.

These are parents who have been loyal from the start and understand the service we provide and how fantastic it is. I don’t want them to think I’m coming in and rebuilding a brand,” she says.

In continuing to craft the business story, Vanderhoek also understands she must include the nannies and carers that work with her. Part of the new pitch will be about giving them a space to discuss the business, an inclusive online “nanny community”.

“It will be safe space for them to voice their concerns, share tips with each other, learn from each other, socialise with each other and we’ll help create opportunities for them to do that,” she says.

Show off your business through three “levels” of story

Once you’ve assembled your arsenal of success stories and metrics and identified who you’re speaking to, it’s time to check whether you’re hitting the three “levels” of storytelling that will build a strong relationship between individuals and your brand, Naidu says.

Investors and customers want to hear honest stories about how your brand is valuable, as seen through the founders, the customers and the staff of the business, she says.

“For the founders, you want to focus on that moment of insight — explain your founder story. This is about establishing the authenticity piece,” she says.

Once you’ve put a face to the business, it’s time to layer on stories with real specifics about how customers are using and experiencing your offer.

“These are ‘level two’ stories,” Naidu explains. If executed properly, they make the listener feel like they too could see benefits from being aligned with the brand, says Naidu.

“We all want to have that moment of trust and connection and we tend to do that with people like us.”

Finally, any time you’re wanting to generate interest in your business, you want to point to the team behind it to give an added level of stability.

“Level three is employee stories: who are they, why are they passionate about what they do. It’s a human-to-human touch, when there’s so much sterile, non human stuff on the internet already,” says Naidu.

NOW READ: How startup unicorn Canva turned its first “pretty terrible” pitch deck into one that impressed investors

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is a former senior journalist at SmartCompany.

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