A great product isn’t enough. Why your startup needs a STORY

Here is how a ‘story’ comes into play

Last night, I was out with three of my closest friends. After a few drinks at some random pub, getting dinner on curry row, and hitting up a roof top party, we decided we needed to take the night to someplace a bit more low key. We all agreed that we wanted it to be a wine bar. I decided to take them to The Immigrant.

Now, there are literaly HUNDREDS of wine bars in the city, many highly rated on Yelp. The Immigrant was not even within the vicinity of where we were and yet, that was still everyone’s place of choice. Why? Because I had a story to tell them about this particular wine bar. It wasn’t much. I just said “its this awesome wine bar, they have a reasonable selection, but its run by these two guys that run it like they OWN the place. They really go out of their way to make sure you’re happy.” That story was enough for my friends to get back on the FDR and make the trek.

What does it mean for startups?

It means that having a character, a story, a personality is SO much more important that your idea, and your product. It seems like there is SO much emphasis on these nitty gritty details about your business plan, term sheet, acquisition strategy, people are forgetting the single thing that will get people to use your product: A STORY.

I drive a BMW because I buy their story of a joyful driving experience. I use Twitpic over the million other photo sharing services because I think Noah Everett is a great guy and has a great story. I use 37Signals products because I buy their story that says simple tools can help you get shit done. And finally, my friends all agreed to go to the Immigrant because they bought the story of choosing the place where the owner is serving you and REALLY taking care of you.

The moral of this story

Now the important thing is, just telling your story isn’t enough. You have to actually back it up. I wouldn’t keep using 37Signals if their tools weren’t actually simple. And similarly, my friends wouldn’t have had a good time if they didn’t get the experience my story promised. A great story will attract people to your storefront, but a great product is what will make the sale.

As for The Immigrant, when Jason (who indeed turned out to be one of the owners) saw us trying to get in through the door in the crowded place, he ushered us in, and lead us to the back where there was plenty of room. He shook my hand and said “its been a while!” and then proceeded to take care of my friends. When we asked him about the crowd, he said “yeah, we’ve been open for 2 months and its starting to get real busy.” That’s no surprise. That’s a great story and a great product in action right there.

The moral of this story? Its okay for you to create the 100th Twitter client or iPhone app of the same genre, just make sure you have a compelling story to tell. That is what people want the most.

  • I disagree here. The product and the personality should be one and the same. The story is from you as a user who was influenced by the product/personality. Had the product not been good you would have had no story and wouldn’t have brought your friends to the wine bar.

  • Charles

    “Its run by these two guys that run it like they OWN the place”? That’s it? It sounds like you made the extra effort because of the product/service, because the story is not compelling at all. And if you use TwitPic because of the story, then I’m afraid you’re the only one.

  • No offense James and Charles, but customer service and story are HUGE. You can hide behind your screen if your app is good enough, but your brand will do so much better if there is a face and a cool story behind it. The equity that builds is what will keep you relevant long after your app bites the dust.

    I bet if Jason opened a second wine bar or even a new restaurant and told TK about it, he would be more than willing to try it out.

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  • @James – The product helps create the story, but you (the creator of the product) sometimes need to help define the story for people. By and large, people suck at creating a story for themselves, unless you’ve got something really unique (1 in a million) and a great story gets written for it on its own.

    @Charles – the product was wine, wine you can get anywhere, in any wine bar. The service was the story, it wasn’t just a great waiter, it was the type of service you’d get from someone that owns the business, someone that truly cares.

    @Steven – high five.

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  • Sahil

    Have you been reading “All marketers are Liars” By Seth Godin?