Today’s episode is really awesome. It’s with a friend of mine named Lyn Graft. He is the author of Start with Story. Now Lyn is one of the top experts in the world on storytelling for entrepreneurs. He is the founder of a company called Storytelling for Entrepreneurs, but even more than that, over the last 15 years, Lyn has filmed and captured the stories of over 500 of the world’s top entrepreneurs.
This includes the founders of LinkedIn, Starbucks, Dell, and Whole Foods. He has actually produced more than 800 videos focused on entrepreneurs and startups and he’s personally dedicated 20,000 hours to studying and practicing entrepreneurial storytelling—and it doesn’t stop there.
Lyn is the co-creator of CNBC’s American Made. He is of course a producer, but he is also a seasoned entrepreneur himself who’s founded multiple companies. This episode is so great for entrepreneurs because Lyn is going to teach you how to create the best story for your business.
See, Lyn believes that your founder story is the key to fueling your company’s success. I mean think of some of the biggest businesses and the most successful founders of today—they all have incredible stories. So this episode is going to be a guide for entrepreneurs to create the best story for their business. If you’re an entrepreneur and you’ve been told, “Hey you need a story,” this is the episode for you.
Lyn Graft: Me and my best friend started a company and we were raising capital. We had this artificial intelligence that sticks in all of these but twenty, right in the late 90s. We were frustrated trying to raise capital, and advisors were giving us all kinds of advice. We just couldn’t figure it out, we couldn’t get our pitch deck together, whatever.
It was a Monday night, and I was frustrated.
I remember there was a meeting that night. I decided I wasn’t going to go, but I’m like, “I will just get out of my apartment and go check it out.” They usually had a good speaker. I didn’t know who it was.
I get there, I arrived late, I don’t know who this person is. It’s a full auditorium, about 250 people here in Austin, and the guy walks up on the stage. I don’t know who he is, and he’s kind of short like me and he is older and he is a little bit balding and he brings up a duffel bag and he starts speaking.
I don’t know who he is, mind you, so he starts speaking and he pulls out a t-shirt out of the duffel bag and he talks about, “This is my first company. We had this amazing technology, we never could get it to work. That company failed.” He puts that down, grabs another t-shirt, “Second company, great technology, we got it to work, nobody cared.”
So we’re all just laughing…kept going through the sequence and he gets through to the 6th t-shirt.
And at this time, this is like six failures in a row. He gets to the 6th t-shirt, shows it to us, and every time he shows a t-shirt he is showing the front of the t-shirt so you see the name of the company. We didn’t recognized any of these names and he gets to the 6th one and he goes, “This is a great technology, great product, great market, great timing, great company, raised $20 million, and it failed. It was a lot of partnership and business timing, everything…but it just didn’t work out.”
And at this point everyone in the audience is going, “Wow!” and I’m like, “Who is this guy? He’s failed six times, he’s got to be somebody big.”
So he pulls out the last t-shirt number seven out of the duffel bag, pulls out the t-shirt and he hold it up and he goes, “This is the 7th company” and this time when he holds it up, he doesn’t hold the name of the company so I still don’t know who this guy is or why he’s famous and beat up. So he holds it up, “Great company, great idea, great technology, same team, and the funders that just backed this from the last company lost $20 million—they backed this fund.”
Turns around, and it is AOL.
At the time he launched it, it was the most successful internet company ever. Time-Warner ended up buying them, huge success. It was Marc Seriff, was the founder’s name. I went back home after that night and I was so pumped and I was like, “Man if he can do six figures, I can make this thing happen.”
We just have this infusion energy, a common best friend, and we just talked about it and were like, “Yeah!”
Long story short, we worked in the next two weeks on a pitch deck, ended up raising what became $100,000 from this angel investor, he raised and wrote a check for us, and it was one of those moments where the story invigorated me in a way that it’s hard to explain.
It is like this juice of adrenalin that flows that caught the goose bump moment from the story perspective. This was 20 years ago, and I still remember what he looked like, the duffel bag, the t-shirts.
The story is a little nebulous, but the feeling is what I remember. That is the essence of storytelling and that famous saying, “People may forget what you did for them but they’ll never forget how they made you feel.”
That is really the core of storytelling.
You Need a Story
Charlie Hoehn: Can you lay out what are the problems that you see now with entrepreneurs?
Lyn Graft: So the jelly falls in a number of categories. If you’re an early entrepreneur, you don’t understand the power or you don’t have a story or you think you don’t need one. Those are the most common in the early stages. As you progress, people start telling you, “You need a story.” Ao it depends on where you’re at I think.
Charlie Hoehn: So this is common advice that VCs are giving entrepreneurs—you need a story?
Lyn Graft: All the time. VCs are a prime example because a lot of first time entrepreneurs, especially raising capital in the fast growth tech, don’t think they need a story. They think they need a great pitch deck and a great team and a great idea and a great concept—what they don’t understand, and I think with raising capital it is all a number’s game and those things that they’re very focused on and that’s true—but at the same time, these are people that you’re talking with.
These are not machines.
So when you pitch an idea, an investor deck, when they leave that night of course they are going to look at everything thinking about the slides and numbers, but they’re going to remember the story that you told. They are going to go back, and they are going to tell their spouse, their wife, their husband, their partners within the firm, other people, their friends, “Hey what do you think about this idea?” and they’re going to relate a story that you told them.
If you don’t have a good story, the probability that you are going to be remembered goes way down.
The story is really critical just from a memory standpoint.
Charlie Hoehn: Right, I remember reading it. It’s like eight times higher.
Lyn Graft: Yeah and so basically, I’ve researched this a lot. People remember something 20 times more, I have never been able to back that up but I have talked to neuroscientists and they’ve said, “If I tell you a fact or a piece of information, you activate one to two parts of the brain that interpret these analytics type things, but if I tell you a compelling story, I am going to trigger six to seven parts of the brain to become more active.
So that means all these chemicals start flying around the brain and you have a higher probability of remembering the story, simply because a lot of synapses are firing triggering chemicals in the brain, which causes you to remember more and feel what the story is about as opposed to just the facts and the figures.
It’s really super important from a founder standpoint, regardless of what stage you’re at, to have a great, compelling story. They’re going to remember you more.
This is what I tell founders all the time: the reason you tell a story is for emotional connection. That’s it. That is the core essence of what it comes down to.
“If you can make a connection with somebody, it becomes personal.”
It is no longer this third party type thing that is agnostic. It’s like you have reached them on an emotional level and now, hopefully you are going to convince them to listen to what you have to say and here what your value proposition is.
And then it is either going to matter to them or matter to someone they care about but those like those guys do a great job telling me nobody cares about your book. They care about what your book will do for them and that’s true with a startup and a product offering. Same exact thing, but when you incorporate a story with your product or service that has an emotional connection to the audience that you are talking with even if they don’t have that need themselves, they mean to somebody that does. Or they know there is a market potential that has a drastic need for everything.
So you are using that story as the bridge to get to that person you are talking with, this emotional bridge. Now, you have a relationship with them. It is the same reason that we buy from our friends who do business with our friends, is that it is personal. You make sure that I call you up, “Hey Charlie, can you give me a ride to the airport?”
If you don’t know me, you’re not going to give me a ride but if we have this personal relationship, if I ask you for a ride no way you’re going to give me a ride. Strangers won’t do it unless you’re Uber and I am paying you.
What is Story?
Charlie Hoehn: So what are the types of stories that you recommend to entrepreneurs for them to start to figure out, “Okay this is framework we are going to use.”
Lyn Graft: Have you seen the South Park story framework?
It’s hilarious, you’ve got to look at it online. I can’t remember it exactly but it is like, “but if” or something it is like the super simple every South Park episode breaks down this particular formula. I can’t remember… “if, then”… I have to go back and look at it, but I remember reading about it.
Charlie Hoehn: One of my favorite episodes was when they had Mel Gibson, do you remember this? He is just like pooping everywhere. He’s just bouncing off the walls, he is just a nut and I just loved the line where they’re like, “Man, Mel Gibson is f***ing crazy but damn it, he knows story.”
Lyn Graft: 100% true of all the science. When I started speaking about storytelling and teaching it, you find very quickly that whenever you teach something, you have to learn it in depth. So I am sitting in there trying to learn.
I have been a producer for a while, and I figured out along the way. I had a natural gift for story so I have been able to wing it for a while and produce videos, but when I started getting on stage and talking about it and speaking about it and coaching, I had to go to another level.
So dove into the historical origin of stories, and I got to all these frameworks. Read The Hero’s Journey by Joseph Campbell and read a number of other things, and I got lost because they are using terms and phrases that—I was not an English major. I did not know what denouement was, or a lot of terms, or the shadow figure. It’s basically the ending climax.
See I can’t remember what it is from that standpoint. They’ll come back to me, but I was having a hard time trying to understand concepts and frameworks. The Hero’s Journey is 12 to 13 steps. That is a lot, and I got frustrated with myself.
Here’s a guy who does story for a living—so I literally just threw that out the window. I’m like, “I’m not going to do that. I am going to go back to the origin of what I learned just listening to the person hearing a great story and what was it for me,” and there was this magical moment that happened.
Over the course of while I am trying to figure this out, I went back and watched a lot of interviews and talked to successful founders asking how did you learn about story, blah-blah-blah—none of them had taken formal training in storytelling. They were not talking about the Hero’s Journey or The Shadow Figure or Gustav Freytag’s formula. It wasn’t their habit. I’m like, “Well what the hell?”
“I was a little bit lost at that point.”
I’m like, “If I am going to teach this, I need to have a framework or something so I can put it in the book.” It just hit me one time. I am listening to a person tell a story, and it reminded me of something that stuck out in my head. It was Howard Shultz, and he talked about how he had gone to Italy and it was a really amazing story, read his book. His first book was an amazing book about how Starbucks was built and what it came down to as simple as anything, it is an experience that has something of meaning related with your business.
So I will repeat that, it is an experience that has a meaning related to your business in one way, shape, or form and what I mean by that is it sounds so simplistic and duh but really, I started going back all these stories that made and everybody had some experience that happened to them that led to a triggering event in their life that set them down this path to create this amazing company and for Howard Schultz and Starbucks it was because he was walking the streets of Milan.
He was working for a coffee bean company in Seattle. He had gone to a conference in Milan, Italy, and in between going to the conference where he was staying he walked down the streets there and he got to see this coffee culture. At the time, we didn’t have a coffee culture in the United States. You had cafés and you had restaurants, but there weren’t any coffee bars except for a couple here and there. He’s like, “Wow” there’s this amazing place what he called “the third place.”
You had home, you had the office, you have this third place that everybody would go to, and that was this coffee bars. You would hear the baristas and the smell and aroma of just amazing coffee type things, and you hear all the espresso machines and the grinding of the beans and it was this romantic experience that he just lived right there in that moment.
When he relates the genesis of Starbucks, it was that moment.
When he went back to the United States, talked to his partners at the coffee bean company, he goes, “We need to open a coffee bar, and this is what I saw. It was the experience I had in Milan.” And that is what the core essence of the story is. It is an experience that has something of meaning that’s related to your business, and then you build your story around that and you can take whatever framework you want. But in essence, that is what it comes down to.
The Impact of Story
Charlie Hoehn: Do you think that Howard Schultz was able to drive Starbucks on that story to whether it was to get funding, whether it was to expand, and did it allow him to relay that vision to everybody else quickly and be able to make that happen?
Lyn Graft: Let me give you an analogy. So computers existed before Steve Jobs happened. You had PCs that were there, and what Steve Jobs was able to do was he created a very different experience with technology. Just like computer thing, my iPhone here, I mean we’re surrounded by Apple products and the aesthetics and the user experience—everything around was really due to his vision and his ability to take everything that happened to him and craft something gorgeous and amazing that you want to use.
There were computers before that weren’t they? So somebody obviously would have come along and then another computer, there were coffee shops before Howard Schultz and there would have been coffee shops without Howard Schultz but he talks about very specific. I remember we were sitting in his headquarters filming him and Ingrid, my best friend was the host.
On camera host, I am the producer for the show we’re doing for CNBC, and it’s the question he always gets asked: why coffee? You could tell he gets asked this all the time just by the look on his face. He said, “You know I love coffee, but it could have been anything. It just what happened to me in that moment…What people need to understand is that Starbucks was never about coffee. Starbucks was about this experience.”
Everything surrounding what happened when you went into a Starbucks, from the names on the board that he chose, the sounds that you hear, the machines, the cups that they served it in, the smell and the types of coffee, everything was hand selected so that when you go into a Starbucks, it is an amazing experience. Also, it’s the same experience no matter where you are in the world. There are subtle differences now but almost all of them use the same experiential touch points.
“When customers go there, they know exactly what to expect.”
That’s why those Italian names were they were they were. They weren’t big-small-large. It was grande, lattes, mocha-mocha something along those lines, and when Starbucks launched, you knew you were in a Starbucks.
Nowadays, you can’t tell any coffee shop starts selling those same names, but it’s because his vision and his ability to relate that experience going back to story and his ability to articulate that experience and he told this flat out.
It’s what he used to raise money. It was what he used to raise capital for everyone within his company. There was so much he was able to do with that story that experience that he had in Italy, bringing that coffee culture to the United States was a massive undertaking, and he was able to do it. Now they have 30,000 stores around the world.
I mean it is default, defacto part of our lifestyle now.
What Makes a Storyteller
Charlie Hoehn: You mentioned Apple and Steve Jobs and one of the things that always stood out to me about their journey was the fact that Steve Jobs went to Pixar and then came back to Apple, and after that Apple took off like a rocket. Pixar is arguably the best storytelling company on the planet.
I recall reading that Steve Jobs learned story from Pixar and brought that super power back to Apple and was able to launch products to new heights.
Lyn Graft: I don’t do a lot of research on Steve Jobs because everybody does, and also, he’s a once in a generation type of genius. I try not to spend a lot of time on folks like that from teaching others how to tell story, because you’ll never be Steve Jobs. There will never be another one like him. He is one of a kind, and his storytelling ability in the early days was always great if you like him.
If you didn’t like him, you hated him, but if you like him, you loved him.
I wouldn’t say that all the entrepreneurs I’ve filmed had always been a great story, but almost all of them learned to become good storytellers. If they wanted to stay at the helm of the company, almost 90 plus percent have developed the skillset to craft and weave a good story.
Elon Musk, a lot of people say he’s a great storyteller, and I would argue he is not. He stutters, he’s not the best communicator in the world.
But he is such a genius and he has such a vision and way to captivate you into what he’s doing. He appears to be a good storyteller, but just go back and watch the videos. He is an introvert type person.
I don’t really use him as an example because I have a difficult time learning from him, but at the same time, he is able to craft a vision that’s so big and so just moonshot style that it makes you in awe.
Charlie Hoehn: Of course. Mars shot.
Lyn Graft: Mars shot, yeah that is a great analogy. Mars shot. He is bigger than the moonshots—he’s the Mars shot.
Get Their Attention
Charlie Hoehn: Yeah. So I am curious now—what makes for a great story?
Lyn Graft: There’s three things that your story has to do. Number one, you have to get their attention. If you don’t get your attention in the first part of your story, you’re going to be fighting an uphill battle the rest of the way.
These are going to flat out ignore you or you are going to fight just to get your attention back if you lost it. So it really has to grab the attention in the early stages, first and foremost.
Charlie Hoehn: So let’s pause there. How do you grab their attention?
Lyn Graft: It really depends on your style in which your story is. Some people tend to go right into a heartbreak wrenching moment, which is a great strategy to be very vulnerable, but when you’re vulnerable, that is almost a hacking way to get someone’s attention. You talk something about “I lost my job” or “I was fired for some reason” “I went to jail” and immediately, you are grabbing their attention because you are going to a place that’s a vulnerable state.
And vulnerability is a way to magically make that connection we talked about earlier because someone is just being transparent.
That is something that would be very personal, but at the same time, that is a way to quickly get someone’s attention. Another way to get someone’s attention is to do crazy outlandish things. So we were talking before the interview about Gary Vaynerchuk. Gary Vaynerchuk is one of the magicians at his.
He is loud, he is bombastic, he says very controversial things all the time. He cusses online, he dresses his own style. So there is another way that you can get someone attention just being out there.
Both of those require a certain type of personality, a level of confidence or comfort in yourself to be able to say that. So it is not always the best route but those are two very effective ways to grab someone’s attention right away.
Make a Connection
Charlie Hoehn: So what about the so-what factor. Let us say we have gotten their attention.
Lyn Graft: So let me go back to the two points. So the second thing that you need to do is you need to make a connection. In one way, shape, or form, you have to be able to connect to your audience. You can do that right at the beginning to getting their attention or you could do that in the second stage.
So getting their attention, I mean making a connection is all about the essence of storytelling, which is figuring out a way to bridge to them emotionally.
And there are a number of ways to do that, again being vulnerable is one way to do that. The second, what you are really trying to do is figure out a way to make it meaningful to them.
I will give you an example of recently my dog, you have seen me talk about him. You have met him, Fetty G is his name. Fetty G is amazing, and he’s gotten up there in years. He’s 13 years old right now and he is one of the passions of my life. He has gotten arthritis.
Arthritis has progressively gotten worse, he has also got a heart condition, so he has just had heart failure on two episodes. I am always watching him like a ghost and before he had an episode in December where the arthritis took another lump, really just aggressively had trouble walking. He was shaking at night. I was really worried to come to vet. He told me what happened, and they told me and they gave me some medicine form.
A very aggressive treatment for the type of arthritis that he has, and he reacted really bad and I was like, “Oh my god what am I going to do?” he is already on three meds before this one. So I stopped doing it and I was just almost heart broken. I’m like, “What am I going to do? I can’t have him in pain” so I called my sister and she goes, “My dog had arthritis. What I do is I make my own bone broth and I feed him chicken and rice.”
I’m like, “What?”
She goes, “Oh yeah,” I said, “I knew I fed them chicken and rice. I thought that was a little bizarre, but you are making bone broth?” “Oh yeah,” she goes, and explained what she did.
I’m like, “Wait a minute, you spend 12 hours making bone broth once a month and then you freeze it up?” I’m like, “Holy crap” prior to that, I’m a healthy guy. I focus on nutrition on a regular basis. I eat really well. I make my own green macha latte every morning. I try to eat a lot of greens. I do intermittent fasting, a lot of things to really have a healthy lifestyle.
I’ve been around bone broth for years. People talk about it to me all the time. I go to this particular coffee shop, one of my favorites, Picnic, I’ve had it there. But you know, bone broth is cool—and I don’t buy it. It’s like eight bucks per drink. When my sister told me bone broth was a way to strengthen my dog and not have him take a medical treatment. You go from the bone and build its collagen, and it would help do a lot of things.
“Instantly, overnight, bone broth is super important to me.”
I am online, I am researching, and I am trying to figure out how can I buy it, how can I make it. My sister gave me a recipe, I spent that weekend learning and making my first batch of bone broth.
So there is an example of making a connection with someone, because before that, I couldn’t care less. But if you find a product or a service and an audience, it is really important. You don’t want to be selling ice to Eskimos. You want to find someone like me that has a condition or has something that they really care about that needs what you have to offer.
When you say that, “Hey, did you know that bone broth can help your dog or people in your family that have a hard time with arthritis?”—instant connection. You’re like, “Oh I’ve got a family member, they’ve been really struggling with it,” you know?
And the bone broth is an elixir for something like that. It is just an example of making the connection and getting over that so-what factor that you are talking about.
Call to Action
Charlie Hoehn: That makes a ton of sense. Is there any more?
Lyn Graft: Well let’s get to the third point. So you get their attention and you want to make a connection. So now you get their attention, you’ve sucked them into your vortex so to speak, like this black hole. Now you’ve got to trigger a reaction.
You’ve got to make them want to do something that’s going to take an action in your favor, buy your product, download your PDF, call you on the phone, hire you guys to write a book, there’s got to be a reason that triggers some type of reaction.
That really is the so-what factor. There are a lot of infomercials, and they’re a perfect example of that. So they will start out with this – I just did this video on a before and after example. The plug for my video series startup for entrepreneurs for you guys, it is on YouTube and it is about before and after. The general premise of before and after is that you show photos or videos of what they were like before your product and then what they were like after.
So that is a way to quickly get someone’s attention. “Oh I want to lose weight,” “Oh I want a six pack abs,” or “I want a ninja blender that makes my smoothie in a minute versus everything else.”
So you are grabbing their attention, you explain all the benefits, you start sucking them in and at the end of the infomercial—what happens? “If you call now instead of paying four payments of $29.99, we’re going to give you one payment of $29.99, and if you call in the next 10 minutes, we’re going to give you two.”
So they just start layering on these reasons to cause you to take an action that is in favor in this particular case, as you are getting on the phone, you go online and you’re buying that product, subscribing to that service. The next thing you know, you got four ninjas showing up at your doorstep that you’ve got to be like, “What are you going to do with these ninjas? Who am I going to give it to? Charlie, do you need a ninja?”
So you’re wanting to have that last that closer, if you must, something that is going to trigger a reaction to do something in your favor and that is how those trifecta of a successful story are those three things.
Charlie Hoehn: All right, so state it once more, the trifecta.
Lyn Graft: You want to get their attention, number one. People ask me what is the most important part of the story, I always say the beginning getting their attention. Because if you don’t nothing else matters. You might be able to salvage it but it’s really hard.
Content, beginning or end, is usually the opinion or the disagreement, but I say it’s the beginning, attention. Number one is attention.
Two, make that connection. Make them care about whatever it is product or service or offering that you have that can benefit them or someone they care about.
Third and the final one is the trigger or reaction that cause them to take an action in your favor, whether that is buy product, subscribe for a service, come to a meeting, whatever. You got to have those three things.
Storytellers in Action
Charlie Hoehn: So we have our three elements of the story nailed or in progress I should say. So always in progress, attention, connection, call to action.
Lyn Graft: Call to action, trigger reaction. The CTA is overly different. This is more you want to trigger something in their brain, in their heart to cause them to do something.
Charlie Hoehn: What is the best one you’ve seen of that? What is the most memorable one?
Lyn Graft: Most memorable, well the one that I always talk about is the P90X founder. P90X generates $400 million a year to this day.
So Tony’s ability to convince you that you need to spend 90 minutes to transform your body—and I think that is a long time, and it is a hard core thing. He met a famous infomercial person when he got started, and that’s one of the ones that I think anything in the infomercial category where it is not cheesy…it might seem like he’s in love with what you see, but that is how he is.
“He’s got this great ability to captivate you.”
I would have contend the number one person in my world that I study from natural standpoint that has that ability is Tony Robbins. I didn’t understand the power of Tony Robbins until I went to one of his events.
I have read his books, listened to his DVDs, watched him online, a lot of different things but his ability to get you to care and to take action when you are in the moment at his events is unsurpassed and some people don’t necessarily like his style but I loved it.
I remember specifically, I went to his UPW conference. It was the 40th in Dallas, and it is full on for four days, 16-17 hours a day, all day, incredibly challenging. He speaks about two full days that time, and he goes nonstop.
He gets on stage 10 to 12 hours without leaving the stage. No bathroom breaks, no food breaks, nothing. He drinks water constantly.
Charlie Hoehn: He just have a catheter, how does that work?
Lyn Graft: I don’t know, and I remember this, this is one of the most – there’s a lot of things that were great about that session. It was transformational for me because I was drinking the Kool-aid, I was full on.
“I wanted to experience why he was so good.”
The first day he’s speaking, he was probably three hours into it, four hours, I had to go to the bathroom and I was like, “I didn’t want to go to the bathroom” I didn’t want to miss a moment of what he was saying.
I didn’t want to leave that experience. I went running to the bathroom. It was a huge conference at the Dallas Convention Center and it was 5,000 people. I am running to the bathroom going there, and I am not the only one. There were people literally running from their seats to the bathroom and came right back. He didn’t leave the stage once.
He has this unique ability to connect with you on an emotional level to make you care about what he’s saying because it’s all he does.
He tells stories over it and over and over. His own personal story and experiences, personal stories, his client’s personal stories. Huge mega star type people such as Oprah and Bill Clinton and other people that he’s worked with, athletes, world leaders and then everything he went through.
He had an incredibly challenging childhood. He was beaten by his mother and raised by alcoholics. His father and father in law were really bad to him, and it required him to quit being the president in his school.
It required him to quit his first job that he ever got. He just had this really traumatic experience growing up, but his ability to relate all of those things that he went through to you so that you care and you can see yourself in those stories and how you can change your life and bring about massive transformation if you take on a certain principles, it was second to none.
It was like oh my god, I get why gospel leaders can cause people to do crazy things and he has that reverence about him. To make you want to change your own life.
Obviously this goes back to selling his products, going back to his events. They’re not cheap, but at the same time, I’ve recommend it to other people, and to this day they say it was one of the best events they have ever gone to and I still remember all four days and I incorporated it. After that event I have incorporated it into my life. There are a lot of things that he taught me and I still am doing that today.
Charlie Hoehn: So he’s the best storyteller that you know right now.
Lyn Graft: No, I will contend that Howard Schultz is the best storyteller I have ever been around just from the pure essence of taking one particular experience and relating that into the vision that he built, especially as it relates to entrepreneurship. His ability to take that vision and grow that idea that concept of this third place and turn it into one of the largest most well-known brands in the world is the pinnacle of entrepreneurial story telling.
Whereas Tony Robins, there isn’t anyone better at making you care about his stories and weaving that back into your own life so that you care about whatever you are growing and want to transform yourself and get on whatever Kool-aid he’s drinking.
Taking Existing Stories to the Next Level
Charlie Hoehn: How do we get started in making a great story if we are already down the path? We have published a book, we have our company, how do we make sure our story is great and gets us to the next level?
Lyn Graft: Yeah, I mean it is always a little bit tougher for authors because they spend a lot of time amassing that amount of information, but at the same time, it works really well. I will tell you why.
When I started going out and getting my chops as a producer and a director, it was my responsibility a lot of times to come up with questions that the host would ask or that I would ask. I was not on camera talent, but I still asked the questions so that the host would ask him.
In order to develop questions, and it is almost when you develop a show for television for prime time or you are making a video for a website or for Dell or Microsoft, you pretty much need to know the story before you ever bust out the cameras. You are not doing it on the fly. Sometimes you are, but most of the time if it’s for prime time, you need to do your research.
“I would build these dossiers on entrepreneurs.”
I read their books, every article I could find, I listened to whatever to watch on social media that they are putting out there. Then I would amass it into a Word document and I would organize it into a chronological history of their life.
I am looking for specific life moments from childhood to primary and secondary education professional career, to the job, how they got started, and then up to where they are now. So I built these dossiers, sometimes 90 pages on a Word document and then I’d read them and then highlight it and then pick out the things that stuck to me. Things that are interesting to you as an individual or typically interesting to your audience.
That is how I would start, and that’s a similar process to what I recommend people doing when they get the story going from scratch.
You want to build this inventory of assets that is kind of a historical background. I call it the chronological history, or chrono history is my nickname for it.
And that chronological history takes you through those three stages, childhood, and early life of primary school and then college, right after that into professional career.
And then third phase is your first startup and how you got to where you are at, or maybe multiple startups. Those three phases, I recommend starting with that type of breakdown because you are able to see as a third party looking at your own life if it is written around storyboard or anything.
You are able to see those inflection points, and if you go back to what is my definition of a story as it pertains to an entrepreneur, it’s the experience that you had that has a direct meaning to what you are doing now as a business. What was that trigger event?
So if you look over your life, you can expand it out to a lot of things that led up to that, or there might be one particular moment, and then you start going from there and having that inventory of assets, that chrono history will start getting all the assets that you’re going to need to build your story.
And then you want to from the second step, after you have done that, you want to start going through and picking the best assets. The analogy I like to give is when you are cooking. When you want to make a great meal, great chefs will tell you it all starts with the ingredients. You don’t want a ton of ingredients, you just need the really good ones and you want to have a good set. You want to have some good cooking tools. You want to have some great spices.
You want to have all the necessary things right at your fingertips, so when it comes time to cook, you’re ready along those lines.
“Building that chrono history is the first step.”
Now you are cherry picking from that and you’re picking out the best items from that chrono history, just looking through, “Okay that’s good. I am highlighting it” I am marking next to it, and then you’re rolling that up and you’re like, “Here are the top ones from that” and that becomes the skeleton of your story as it relates to that experience.
That is that next level, and then you use a framework. It’s got three parts, beginning, middle and end, and then it has five components. In the beginning it’s where it starts, the trigger point, the backstory if you will. And then you have some moment that happens that sets you down the path. Something happened in your life. That is the beginning.
And then you get into the connection, the middle stage, where you are facing a bunch of challenges and your obstacles and everything along those lines. And then you get to a turning point. Something happened, maybe you came up with an “aha moment” after going through all of those obstacles or you came up with an idea or product that you are selling that is great.
And then you go with the ending, and the ending is all about getting back to triggering a reaction. How you bring it back and convince them to work with you.
You use that framework to organize all of those cherry picked assets that you’ve taken from your original chrono history and then you start assembling your stories. Those are the three primary exercise you get there. There is a lot more to it to make a great story, but if you do those three things, you are going to have a great foundation to create your story from.
Changed by Start with Story
Charlie Hoehn: Can you share one or two of your of favorite, I don’t know success stories of people who came to you, you transformed their story and they went on to do what they wanted to do.
Lyn Graft: There is a number of people that I have helped over the years, and some I am not able to share but those are my favorite ones. There is an individual that she was really having a hard time getting her story out there, and it had to do with the fact that she was not comfortable sharing her story. She wanted to get people’s attention, they have to remember her, but at the same time, she didn’t want to share what made her story really interesting.
As I was referring to earlier, when something’s interesting. If you are talking to someone on a one on one level, a lot of times they are going to sweep stuff under the rug that they don’t want to talk about. You are like, “That’s it. That’s what I want to know about.” So I was coaching her through something like, “That’s what you got to do. You got to share that moment, you got to lead with that.”
“That is going to get people’s attention.”
That is going to help people connect with you. I gave her a story and I talked to her with Carley Roney, the founder of The Knot. Carley Roney, she’s got this amazing business, The Knot, the largest wedding online organizers where they do a $100 million public company.
When she first started with The Knot, she had four partners to try to figure out that idea. They are at a coffee shop in New York City and they came up with an idea when the internet had just taken off.
And she had just gotten married to her husband. The four of them said, “Oh you know what? You guys just got married, why don’t we do an online company to help people getting married?” and she said, “Oh no, no way am I going to do that” and they’re like, “Why?” “Because my wedding was a disaster.”
She said the wedding was held in the summer in New York City and one of the hottest on record summers at that time. They only had six weeks to plan it, they were a mixed race wedding. There wasn’t a lot of wedding planners that knew how to handle that type of thing and they didn’t have a big budget and they didn’t know New York City and it was a total disaster.
They were like, “Oh that’s too bad” or whatever. So she went home that night and she thought about it a lot and she goes, “You know, I don’t want women to go through what I went through.”
“I want to help women avoid the mistakes that happened to me on my wedding day.”
So she came back after a couple of days to her four partners and she said, “You know what? I think that is a good idea. Why don’t we create an online platform” because magazines were still big at the time.
The web was just getting going. She goes, “And help brides avoid the fate that happened to me and give them all the tools they need no matter where they’re at, how much time they have, what their budget is, whether they’re mixed raced or whatever—we are going to have everything.”
And that idea led to The Knot. Now, it is a $100 million company and it was all because she was willing to become vulnerable and share something very personal to her and she just flipped it. Instead of being embarrassed about it, she goes, “I want to help other women avoid what happened to me” and when she talks about that, she makes an instant connection with brides to be, because what is one of the most important days to a woman?
It’s the day they get married. And husbands as well.
So she’s able to instantly bridge that gap and make that connection with them when she tells that story, and that is the same thing that I talk to my friend. She’s done very well since she’s been able to come out with that story.
Connect with Lyn Graft
Charlie Hoehn: Two final questions, the first is what is the best way for people to potentially either follow you or connect with you, say thanks for writing the book that sort of thing?
Lyn Graft: Definitely, so I’ve got a website called storytellingforentrepreneurs.com. I recommend going there. There is a video series that we launched on YouTube that shares a lot of the same things we’re talking about here. I try to break them down to two to six minute mini apps so that you could learn about a particular topic. We just launched it, we’re about five, six videos in and when you buy the book, let us know.
That is my big moniker. I am trying to push that as much as possible, because it does start with story.
I am so appreciative for Scribe. You guys gave me that name, and I love it. It just really speaks to what I always recommend with people because there’s a lot of things you don’t control when it comes to starting a company, but story is one of them. You get to create it, you get to massage it and manage it and it gives you the ability to control the narrative.
So go to storytellingforentrepreneurs.com. I am also Lyn Graft on Twitter and on Facebook, on Instagram…but mostly, Storytelling for Entrepreneurs is where you are going to find information about the book as well as the video series and a lot other content that we have coming out to support the basic principles.
Story is your MVA, your most valuable asset as an entrepreneur, and I want to give you everything you need to create, tell, and share your best story.
Charlie Hoehn: Nice and I will attest to that, you have a lot of cool stuff coming on that site.
Lyn Graft: Yeah, I’m psyched.
A Challenge for Listeners
Charlie Hoehn: Give our listeners a challenge, what is the one thing they can do from Start with Story this week that will have a positive impact?
Lyn Graft: We’re all great critics, we really are. A lot of us don’t think we are, but you make decisions every single day about what news you consume, what you are going to wear, what path are you going to drive to work, what are you going buy or sell, who you talk to a lot of times. So we are always making decisions.
As you look at your own story, if you will, your own history, everything you’re doing, find the one thing that sticks out the most.
What is that one nugget or something that has happened to you that you’re always thinking about, either in a bad way or in a great way, that’s usually the extremes of what you’re at…or that people are always asking you about.
You’re going to find that your people around you, when you start yapping, you could just start vomiting out information.
There are certain things that people remember about you that it’s always going to be associated with what you’re doing. If you can find that kernel, that is usually a great starting point. Figure out that memorable moment, catastrophe that happened, something that won’t leave your mind.
Start there and just start building. Ultimately, you’ll find there’s a high probability that that’s going to make its way into your story. If you don’t have that, start looking for it in a very diligent way and do whatever that takes to make that happen.