When he started MakerBot in 2009, Founder Bre Pettis came across a lot of savvy people who simply didn't believe there would ever be a market for desktop 3D printing. In fairness, he had practically invented the term himself. But just six years later, MarkerBots have found their way into thousands of homes, schools, startups and even Fortune 50 juggernauts.
What flipped the switch? Pettis, a former art teacher, points to how much time he spent telling stories about MakerBots and the people who love them. He told stories to customers, investors, prospective employees, and many other audiences -- all with one goal in mind: To spotlight the impact he knew the products had on real people.
He talked about a hospital that saved $60K in a quarter printing its own supplies; startup founders free to iterate at the speed of thought in their own space; an elementary school student who commandeered his teacher's printer to make himself a prosthetic hand.
There's power in a good story. And it's power that any founder can and should wield. In this exclusive interview, Pettis shares lessons he learned from years of startup storytelling -- how to craft a foundational narrative, what makes content intrinsically shareable, and why traditional media coverage is more attainable than you think.
Find Your Manifesto
A startup's story needs to be a shapeshifter. You need a version that will convince people to give you money, another to persuade star talent to join your team, another for those first customers taking a chance on you. These stories live in different places and have different purposes. One may never be written down, one may only be emailed to select people, one may live at the top of your website in the form of a video. But they should all stem from the same core.
In order to get any of these versions right, you need to start by identifying this central narrative, Pettis says. Why do you do what you do? Why does it solve an important problem? What change will it make possible? Why is your product the one to watch?
You need to really consciously set up the way you're going to be in the world.
This doesn't mean locking yourself in a room away from the world until you've got something bulletproof. "You can get really good at telling your story through networking," he says. In MakerBot's early days, he would spend nearly every night out at events talking to people about what the company was doing and why -- over and over and over again. He didn't just recite the same thing either. He paid close attention to the points that seemed to resonate most. Eventually, they became the skeleton of his narrative.
Pettis is a big advocate for establishing what he calls 'rules' right from the get-go. You might also call them values or tenets, but they're essentially statements of what you believe in and care about. And you should get them down on paper.
"Right as I was starting MaketBot, I co-created the 'Cult of Done Manifesto' with Kio Stark. Later, when we were getting ready to sell the company, we created 'The MakerBot Way' to really distill what the company was and how to stay true to that," he says. Your brand vocabulary may evolve as you grow, and product descriptions are almost certain to change. But these touchstones that remind you of your early convictions and intentions will help you shape stories that consistently reflect the very best of your brand.
The Cult of Done Manifesto resonated so much, that MakerBot fans actually produced art and posters relaying its points. Here's one: