How you tell people about how you started your business can be critical to the success of your new venture.
Eric Schurenberg, editor of Inc.
There are said to be only a handful of plot lines in all of world literature--as few as seven or as many as 20, depending on which comp-lit professor is counting. Though the canon of business-startup tales isn't exactly literature, I count at least three standard narratives. There's Rags to Riches, in which a founder takes an ordinary business and drives it to greatness by sheer entrepreneurial fire in the belly. (Think Sam Walton or, more recently, Gary Vaynerchuk.) Then there's We Built It. They Came, in which the founder creates something to please himself or herself and finds customers lined up at the door. (Think Howard Schultz or, more recently, Mark Zuckerberg.) Most common, perhaps, is We Saw a Need. We Filled It. That's the one that applies to our cover subject, Sara Blakely, who found she didn't like how she looked in white slacks and invented Spanx, a product that solved the problem--for herself and millions of other suddenly slimmer women.
Whatever your company's founding tale, you ought to recognize it as the asset it is-- a point Inc.'s Adam Bluestein makes repeatedly in his feature, which can be found here. Your story defines, for customers and employees, what you stand for. ("Since the beginning, we've been so fanatically dedicated to value that you can always count on us for everyday low prices.") It provides an emotional connection with your audience and a link with employees as the company grows. ("We started out to create sophisticated coffee and a cozy place to hang out; that's what we still deliver.") If your story subtly conveys your passion for your company and your own resourcefulness, your founding legend can melt the hearts of even steely bankers and VCs. Literature is fine, but it can't raise Series A funding for you.
While we're on the topic of founding stories, it seems appropriate to pull out Inc.'s own. In our 10th-anniversary issue, founder Bernie Goldhirsh wrote about trying to find information to help him run his own small business, Sail magazine, and finding nothing that spoke to him. "That's when I knew I had to start this magazine," he wrote. He then talks about Inc.'s approach:
[It would see entrepreneurship] as a means of creative expression. An entrepreneur uses the elements of business to create a company much as a writer uses words to create a story. Then, as a business grows, the company builder can set up an environment in which others can find fulfillment through the expression of their creativity and intelligence. That belief has always informed the magazine.
That was in 1989, but the vision still holds. Inc. is, and has always been, about your company's story--however it began--and about helping you make it unfold successfully.
ERIC SCHURENBERG is the editor-in-chief of Inc. Before joining Inc, Eric was the editor of CBS MoneyWatch.com and BNET.com and managing editor of Money Magazine. As a writer, he is a winner of a Loeb and a National Magazine Award. @EricSchurenberg