Every entrepreneur needs an origin story and should learn how to tell it.
An origin story answers the questions, "Where did the idea come from?" and "How did the company or organization get started?
Origin stories act as inspiring road maps that remind an organization and its people where they came from, who they are, and where they're going.
One origin story that checks all the boxes is the creation of Lin-Manuel Miranda's smash-hit musical, Hamilton. Now that the Broadway show is streaming on Disney+, the story has been repeated in countless blogs and articles.
Using the Hamilton origin story, here are the six hallmarks of an irresistible story.
1. It's a story.
Hamilton's origin story begins when Lin-Manuel Miranda picked up a book to read on vacation. It was Ron Chernow's bestselling biography of Alexander Hamilton.
A good origin story is just that--a story with a beginning, middle, and end. It's not a list of bullet points.
2. It's mystical.
Miranda said that when he read the first few pages of the book, Hamilton "walked" into his brain.
According to one interview, "Historical characters started jumping off the page, shouting at him in rhyme and verse.... Miranda couldn't shake the ghost."
Origin stories don't need to have a mystical quality, but it helps. We love myths and magic and we like to think that maybe--just maybe--an idea was inspired by something unexplainable.
3. It has a humble beginning.
Nearly every great story has an arc that starts modestly.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, Miranda's musical "began, humbly enough, in a hammock. That's where he was lounging on a 2008 jaunt to Mexico, engrossed in Ron Chernow's 2004 biography Alexander Hamilton."
From hammock to global phenomenon--the story arc is irresistible.
A humble beginning makes a successful outcome all the more delicious.
4. It's suspenseful.
Suspense is where you can have fun with an origin story.
In 2009, Miranda was invited to the White House to perform a song from his previous Broadway hit, In the Heights. Instead, Miranda chose a song from his latest brainstorm.
Everyone in the room--including Barack and Michelle Obama--laughed when Miranda said Alexander Hamilton "embodies hip-hop." But Miranda wasn't joking.
Would the audience accept it? Would they like it?
"If you want to see me at my most afraid, you can watch that video," Miranda recently told Jimmy Fallon. "I know that Hamilton is a bad elevator pitch. Rapping founders? I think the audience really thought it was a joke." But once Miranda finished the rap, the audience knew it wasn't a joke and rose to their feet in an ovation.
Suspense adds a little tension to a story.
5. It's surprising.
Miranda was right, of course. Hamilton did sound like a bad elevator pitch.
Few people would have predicted that a hip-hop musical based on America's founding fathers would turn into the one of the most successful shows ever.
Part of the story's appeal is the novelty of the idea. It's fun to tell because it still sounds so unlikely. People love tales of underdogs and unlikely heroes.
6. It's short.
After Miranda's nervous 2009 performance at the White House, it took him another six years to write the musical. That part often gets left out of the origin story.
There are certainly fascinating details about how he wrote the songs, what inspired the music, how the cast was chosen, etc. But that's the messy part. Good origin stories cut to the chase.
Origin stories must be truthful, of course. If yours is made up, then your listeners will lose their trust in you. But regardless of the details, listeners want a short, nicely wrapped package with a bow on it. Give them a story that's interesting, inspiring, and irresistible. The better the origin story, the more likely they'll want to share it.