When I started Tidemark, I began with a marvellous vision for the company. In my mind, the intricate and powerful details of the story fit together like a Beethoven symphony, but when I told the tale to investors, I sounded like a tone-deaf drunk in a karaoke bar. What the hell happened?
It turns out that coming up with the story is entirely different than articulating the story. In fact, articulating the story can be more time consuming and difficult than inventing it in the first place.
Despite being incredibly hard, as a founder there is perhaps nothing more important than being able to convey the story arc of your vision, of what you are after and why it matters in a pitch perfect manner.
Often we have to do so with a large and diverse audience. Why should customers care about what you are offering? Are you a "must-have" or a nicer way to do something that's already done? How are you different? Why are you after this?
In Woody Allen's excellent To Rome with Love, Giancarlo, a proud father whose day job is that of a mortician, sings in the shower and Jerry, a retired — and critically reviled — opera director played by Allen himself, feels inspired to bring Giancarlo's gift to the public. Jerry convinces a reluctant Giancarlo to audition in front of a room of opera bigwigs, but Giancarlo performs poorly in this setting.
What Jerry realises is that Giancarlo's talent is tied to the comfort and freedom he feels in the shower, and in a particularly funny and smart series of scenes, Jerry and Giancarlo decide to stage the opera Pagliacci, with an incongruous shower present in all scenes. Giancarlo receives rave reviews. We are all, of course, perfect singing in the shower - or car - by ourselves.
Short of bringing the shower with us every time we talk about what we are building, what are some of the things that can help remove the karaoke effect?
Here are some things that I found helpful:
Embrace solitude and precision
In a recent New York Times interview, Jerry Seinfeld talks about his creative process seeking perfection. He will nurse a single joke for years, amending, abridging and reworking it incrementally, to get the thing just so.
Freedom to pursue the improbable
Freedom to pursue the improbable removes the uncomfortable feeling that nobody gets your story. As Aaron Levie, the CEO and co-founder of Box, passionately talks about in his blog post, "Be on a mission that doesn't suck," working on something that is ambitious, improbable, and fundamentally thrilling will keep you cranking day after day, constantly refining and seeking what matters.
Strive for a clear, concise and quotable foundational story as the glue that holds and inspires the management team, the various teams inside the company, and your early customers.
Practice makes perfect
There is no other way around the "10,000 hour rule" that Malcolm Gladwell introduced with his book, Outliers.
Telling your story isn't just about marketing. It's about leadership. Great people will only want to pursue great visions. If you can't articulate your potential greatness, you will never hire and motivate the kind of people who will make it happen. Anyone up for a rendition of "Dream On" by Aerosmith?