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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

Tech startups: Get back to good old storytelling

Differentiation has always been helpful, but now it is imperative.

Tech startups: Get back to good old storytelling
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One and a half billion dollars. That’s how much the SaaS training platform, Articulate, raised recently for its series A. When it comes to funding stories, that’s a serious mic drop. But it’s just one deal among a record $156 billion raised last quarter.

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The startup tech world is magma hot right now, with venture capitalists jockeying with one another to fund coveted companies. And once they do, everyone rightly wants to talk about it. Publicity is a major part of the startup cycle. So-called funding stories help newcomers and their products get known, exposing them to other investors and potential customers. To an ousider, it can seem like a dog chasing its own tail, but for years, it’s worked.

But something seismic has happened in the industry: The media outlets that used to fervently pursue these funding stories have become overwhelmed by the endless number of new deals. The reporters can’t keep up. One journalist told me they see up to 45 funding announcements an hour coming in via e-mail. And he can only cover three stories per day, so assuming an eight-hour day, the chance of breaking through from pitch to story is less than 1% (.83%, to be exact).

Perhaps even more importantly, many people seem to be wondering if the funding numbers are all that interesting anyhow. Consider a recent tweet from TechCrunch reporter Frederic Lardinois. He noted that he’s turning down loads of enterprise and dev tools’ funding stories because “there are just too many of them to keep up.” Even more interestingly, Lardinois adds: “I mostly care about the tech behind it all. I don’t care much about the financials at all.”

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So what’s a startup and its VC backers to do when money no longer talks?

Stand apart to get noticed. Differentiation has always been helpful, but now it is imperative. Financials are (sort of) interesting, but they neither explain the inherent technology nor its potential in the marketplace—or a greater benefit to humanity.

My advice to the hopefuls? Hone in on the narrative process. Turn your startup into a story, and learn to tell that tale long before you come out of stealth mode. When you are ready to announce your series A round, the financials should be but one detail in that pitch.

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You will want to explain your technology and its benefits in simple terms that any human can understand. You will also want to explain who the founders are, what motivates them, and why any of it (or all of it) matters to the layperson who might eventually have their lives improved by your wondrous technology.

In short: Back away from the financials. If you’re a company like Articulate with a ten-figure number attached to your press release, you can guarantee that the media will write about it. For the rest of us, we need to go back to good old storytelling.


Kyle Arteaga is the co-founder and CEO of The Bulleit Group, a communications strategy firm that specializes in sci-fi-worthy tech.

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