I read a book recently which told a story without a happy ending. It was a story about a businessperson who started up a health business in the USA to try to disrupt the blood exam industry.
The idea was to manufacture a small piece of equipment that could give instant blood exam results with only a single drop of blood from the finger. The business idea was brilliant, but given that the potential customers were patients, it needed meticulous attention during implementation as well as delivery. Not getting it right would mean lives being lost.
This story ended in disaster. The only reason it wasn’t worse was because the founder of the company made a decision to buy standard blood exam equipment from approved suppliers, and used them as a plan B when its own manufactured equipment was not producing satisfactory results – it failed the vast majority of times, diagnosing individuals wrongly.
This is an interesting story to read. But my first reaction was to think to myself:
Would there be anything wrong with this story if the business was not related to the health industry? What would have happened if there were no lives at risk?
For every business, there is always a story and a storyteller. A business cannot exist without one or the other. A good businessperson must visualise what the business will look like in the future, and break down that vision into the sequence of events that build up the business.
The businessperson must be able to narrate the sequence of events in what we call a “story”.
A story is a sequence of real or fictional events. If the businessperson is convinced that the new business will work, he needs to tell his story well enough to convince new employees, bankers, suppliers, lenders, investors, the Government, and any other party involved or affected by his business.
We have heard countless stories from successful company founders describing how their initial idea for their company became something else. I don’t want to be an extremist now, but I am sure there are cases where the company founder had not even visualised the result.
I also have seen cases where the company founder created an initial story for his start-up just to raise finance. One of these examples is in the fintech industry, which I have been working in for 12 years. I knew as soon as I heard the initial story – it was not an idea that could be physically delivered.
There are two critical elements to any company’s storytelling:
- Materialisation: Can this business be done?
- Founder skills: Can this business be done by the company founder?
Once a story has been told, we never know how it will end. There is no recipe for delivering successfully. Each story ends differently. And the imagined sequence of events always changes during the implementation phase.
There is always an element of the delusional in the storytelling process. How can we distinguish between real and fictional events? When a business creation fails, how do we analyse the storyteller? Were the storyteller’s goals not reachable? Was the story being told at the wrong time? Timing is the most important element when you start up a business – especially if the business is disrupting an industry.
Or was the storyteller simply a liar?
It’s difficult to judge, but there is only one real fact: there is no business without a storyteller.