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Still Talking Features? 5 Steps to Getting Your Startup Story Straight

Tamar Yaniv, Co-Founder and CEO of Preen.me, recently guest blogged for us, sharing her amazing insight on storytelling for startups:

I recently spent a morning at one of the top accelerators here in Tel Aviv, doing a lightning round of storytelling with 12 startups. “Give me your 60-second pitch. Go!”.

After 60 seconds X 12, this is where I was at:

  • About one-third gave a pretty good, to the point pitch.
  • Another third needed a lot of help but I understood what they do.
  • The last third I mostly looked at blankly, not even able to grasp at a single straw to guess what they do.

The reason I was embarrassingly blank is that the fine entrepreneurs in the last third spent 60 seconds shooting a bunch of features at me. And for the life of me I could not configure those features in my brain to create any kind of narrative that would bring them all together and explain what the company does.

Now I know you’re in the trenches. I know you spend all day working on the product, staring at analytics, relentlessly working out bugs. I know you barely see sunlight. And that’s why you may not be able to see the forest for the trees.

Or in other words, you can’t see the benefits for the features.

So as someone who knows nothing about your startup, let me be painfully but necessarily blunt: no one cares about your features. They care about the benefits. About how it makes their life better, how it makes them happier. It’s about them, not about you. Your potential investors/customers/partners are accosted left, right and center, all day, every day, with people and products vying for their attention. You literally have a handful of seconds to convey why they should care about yours. And they will care because of the benefits, not the features.

Getting your story straight is the difference between –

“We organize all your files so you can access them better” to

“We streamline your life so you can spend more time on what’s really important”.

Get it? We haven’t said anything about features, or about how, but we have made your motivation to check us out crystal clear. We make your life easier. We give you more time with your family. We give you more time to surf. We give you more time to learn a new language, to learn how to make pasta – whatever. We’ve given you a proposition in which you get to fill in the blank with whatever is significant to you. That’s how we take a benefit and allow the audience to personalize it, so that it resonates with them and with what makes them tick.

If you’ve convinced your audience of the benefits, (the “why you want this”), you will be able to delve into your beloved features (explaining the “how we do it).

Let’s use an example of Fictional Baby Startup to see how we get there. This was them before: “We have created an algorithm to give you a better way to buy baby products.”

This was them after: “When you’re about to have your first child there are so many areas of anxiety and stress, and finding the right baby products is only one of them. It shouldn’t be. We help you pinpoint exactly what you need, and get it to you in no time flat. So you can focus on the joy of your new addition (and getting some sleep).” Can you hear the sound of relief that help is on the way?

This is how you get there:

1. List the top 3 features of your product and the corresponding benefits of each. Each feature should have a clear benefit associated with it, which is where your customer value will come from. (If you can’t find the benefit to a feature you may want to rethink the feature) Example:

Feature: Find exactly what you want |  Benefit: Satisfaction
Feature: Find it fast | Benefit: Saves time

2. Put it together in a way that is personal, that your audience can identify with. Example: “When you’re about to have your first child there are so many areas of anxiety and stress.” You’ve now transported them to the emotional place you’d like them to be in. In this case, it’s a place of stress, worry and indecision. They need help. Luckily, you’re here.

3. Add social proof and benchmarks. Example: “Companies like X and Y use us”, “We are the fastest/most efficient/etc”.Both of these allow your audience to “anchor”, in two different ways. Social proof, such as a well-known company or an X number of people using your product, gives your audience a sense of security: “If they’re using it, it must be OK”. A benchmark, such as number of users compared to a competitor, allows them to get a quick understanding of the landscape. Both social proof and benchmarks provide context within which the audience can quickly assess your product.

 4. Is it generic? Example: Do all your competitors save their customers time? If you’ve ended up with something that is similar to what everyone else in the market is saying, go back and find where you have a competitive advantage. This is where your value statement and subsequently your story should stem from. If the basis isn’t crystal clear, the story won’t be either.

If you’re having trouble finding that edge, ask your customers why they love your product and how they are using it. You might be surprised.

 5. Rinse and repeat. Think you’re done? I have news for you. You’re never done. The story of your startup is a living breathing, entity.

To work, your story needs to be consistent over time and across mediums. But you also need to recognize when it needs tweaks and adjustments (or a revolution). Because, as you well know by now, in startup land the only constant is change.

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