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Launching a startup is about more than just building a product. It's also about how you tell your company's story, because throughout your startup's life, you're going to explain what it is you do and what problem you solve. Whether you're talking to investors, potential team members, and prospective customers, being able to captivate your audience is one of the most important skills you can have as an entrepreneur.

The article, "Startuptelling: Startup Storytelling the SMART Way", was written by , Co-Founder & Managing Partner of Gateway Incubator and Entrepreneur in Residence at the Oakland Founder Institute. It has been republished with permission below.

I recently returned to Silicon Valley from an amazing whirlwind trip through Europe where I had the opportunity to work closely with early stage startup entrepreneurs in Athens, Lisbon, and Berlin. It all culminated in sharing the stage with some other incredible traveling entrepreneurs; such as Ziv Gillat (Founder of Eye-Fi), Adriana Gascoigne (Founder of Girls in Tech), Eren Bali (Founder of Udemy), and many others at the Valley in Berlin conference.

As I traveled from city to city giving talks to aspiring entrepreneurs, there was one common theme I heavily addressed during each keynote. Through my involvement with the Founder Institute and educating international founders, I've discovered that early-stage entrepreneurs lack the ability to engage, inspire, and sell, which is basically an ineptitude to tell a story.


Whether you're an entrepreneur, wantrepreneur, or simply working on "the startup of you," you need to be aware of a problem plaguing the global professional world. People are having the most difficult time conveying their ideas to their audience in an inspiring manner. In the startup world, we refer to this as the pitch, but it's as simple as answering the question, "what do you do?"

The root of the problem lies in the approach. You can't just tell people what you're doing. There is no structure there. Then there is the old saying in Silicon Valley, "Don't tell me. Show me." But this only works if someone knows what they're looking at and why they're looking at it. So, how do we get people to truly understand your story?

It's really quite simple.

Ben Larson is helping the next generation of aspiring entrepreneurs in Oakland. Apply to the Oakland Founder Institute today!


Storytelling is a very powerful tool when engaging your audience. It involves adjoining various unique elements into the explanation of "what you do." I've created a simple framework for you to consider the next time you pitch your product or self. This is storytelling the SMART way.


When you set the stage, you are preparing your audience for the story they are about to hear. You can influence their vantage point, their disposition, and their level of empathy for your customer. Perhaps they are your customer. Here are a few examples of how you can set the stage:

  • Immersion: "Imagine you are walking down the street. You do this every day. And you encounter..."
    You've essentially placed your audience in the story and are building the narrative around them. When done effectively, you can then speak directly to their personal needs.
  • Empathy: "Meet Jane. Jane is a teacher. Every day, Jane has to..."
    In this situation, you are introducing the audience to Jane's world and making them understand Jane's position through empathy.
  • Volume: "There were 250 million vehicles registered last year in the US, in which 90% of the owners reported..."
    This is kind of a brute-force method where you are putting a large market size in front of the audience, then hopefully indicating a significantly large problem that you will be addressing.

Regardless of the tactic, your goal here is to immerse your audience into the world in which your story exists. You want them to feel the problem you are addressing. That being said, hopefully, you are addressing a problem, but that's a completely different discussion.


After effectively engaging the audience, you then have the ability to guide the conversation. If you're pitching with a slide deck, you should be leading your audience along so that each following slide is answering a question that you've deliberately placed in their head. That's why we often start with the problem statement after setting the stage. Usually, the next logical slide is a solution. How you accomplish that solution is typically your product. So on and so forth.

Ensure that whatever information you are presenting is building up anticipation for what you are presenting next. Part of this is being careful about the information you choose to present. Irrelevant information could lead the audience off on a tangent, in which you then lose control. Manage the expectations of your audience by being very deliberate about the information you present and the questions you want them asking in their head.


This is very obvious. You embed a question into the mind of your audience, and then you provide an answer. Simple enough? Do this properly, and everything flows perfectly.


Continue this process of presenting information, embedding a question, and then answering the question. This will help you find the most logical way to navigate your presentation and present yourself as a very polished speaker.


When you've effectively driven the conversation, you've placed yourself in a very powerful position. You've answered the questions you've wanted to answer as a part of a flowing narrative, and any loose-ends would be questions that intentionally drive the dialog after your pitch. Before you get to additional questions, however, there is the conclusion of the story.

It is at this point you want to end strong; emphatically. You confidently conclude the conversation with a concise statement that reiterates your inspirational goal, and you ASK for the audiences involvement. If it's an investor, you ask for money. If it's a potential team member, you tell them to jump on the rocketship. If it's a customer, you ask them to buy it now. Here's an example:

With the SMART storytelling framework, you will be able to engage and inspire your audience, and sell your product or services more effectively than ever before. I encourage you to give it a try, and let me know your thoughts below.

There is one last thing. The story is half the battle. The other half is you.

If you'd like even more expert startup advice, then apply to the Oakland Founder Institute today!

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