Any company can create a really compelling, completely fictional story. Ask Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos, or Jeffrey Skilling and Enron.

And as Holmes and Skilling learned, there is a lot of risk to telling a fictional story.

You might:

  • Be widely scorned by a previously adoring public.
  • Get to experience the real-life version of a Buzzfeed quiz that attempts to identify which character on Orange is the New Black you most resemble.

Writing a non-fiction story for your business is not only absolutely necessary, but when done right, non-fiction can make for just as compelling a narrative. Don't believe me? Read Truman Capote's In Cold Blood or Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's All the President's Men or The Final Days.

All page-turners. All non-fiction.

Here are a few tips on creating the most compelling (and true) company narrative possible--one that will help you reach the audience you're looking for.

1. You probably won't change the world--and that's okay.

I have never read a book that began with the words, "This book is going to change the world." Yet I have come across countless startups that begin their story with some version of the same statement.

Really? Getting a different cheese/t-shirt/box of snacks in the mail every month is going to change the world?

I'm not sure about that.

Thankfully, changing the world isn't necessarily what I, the customer, had in mind when I signed up to get a box of cookies sent to me in the mail.

A few businesses and startups will truly change the world. Most won't.

When you tell your company story, stay away from broad statements about changing the world, and remember...

2. A great story is told in the details.

Startups in particular can have big visions backed with little detail. For example, I knew a founder who claimed that his startup was going to eliminate one of the largest social networks in the world.

How was this going to happen?

The founder couldn't say, exactly--but it was going to happen.

Here's the thing: Romeo and Juliet is a tragic love story. So are a lot of cheap romance novels.

The difference between Romeo and Juliet and those novels is in the details.

A word. A phrase. A pause.


If your company is going to take down a dominant competitor, it won't be because of a broad and ultimately meaningless narrative about changing the world.

Here's the difference:

Narrative 1: "We are going to change the world by being the (Uber/AirBnB/Apple/pick a thriving company) of (toilet paper/shaving cream/microwavable breakfast food/pick a thing)."

Narrative 2: "Consumers spend an average of (time frame) considering (major purchase of some kind) before (making a decision or taking a specific action) and we can deliver value by (doing something no one else is doing.)"

Narrative 1 is full of the type of bland generalities that, in the end, usually add up to a whole lot of nothing.

The company telling Narrative 2 stands a much better chance of attracting a value-added audience, including investors and customers.

3. A great story makes some people weep--and makes others curse the day the author was born.

Great art--including great stories--repels nearly as many people as it attracts.

The same is true for companies.

I have friends who would never, under any circumstances, own an Apple product. Growing up my dad was a Chevy man, and would not have been caught dead in a Ford truck.

And yet, Apple and Ford have done pretty well for themselves.

If your story is the story for everyone, it will be the story for no one.

Don't let the fear of alienating a specific audience cause you to tell such a vague and meaningless story that you alienate all audiences.