It was 1975 and a couple of friends sat in a garage, building computers that would be the first computers in a long line produced by a multi-billion dollar company. Can you name the company? Of course you can. It's Apple.
Or do you recognize this story: From the cramped space of his college dorm room, a kid spent hours coding and developing a network for people to share information and photos online. It would become a website used by more than one billion people? Obviously this the story of the birth of Facebook.
A great origin story is the holy grail of branding. Nailing this story allows it to be told, retold and recognized by customers, potential customers, employees and stakeholders even with a single sentence. The problem? An origin story can be a complicated thing to define and tell. The journey from concept to implementation to success is rarely linear. And all the charming ups and downs of starting a business can make the narrative just plain messy.
If you know the origin story is essential and yet are struggling (or still struggling) with it, here are some simple guidelines to make the process easier.
1. The origin story must be true.
First and foremost, the story must be true and it has to be real. It might be tempting to pull together a sexy origin story that makes your business seem like an overnight Cinderella story. But embellishing the details will come back to bite you. Stick to telling a true story.
2. Focus on reducing confusion.
Though telling a true story is mandatory, this does not mean you have to include every date, detail and minor decision. The story should not be a history lesson or a play-by-play. Too many dates can be confusing (at best) and boring or forgettable (at worst).
The reason so many origin stories never make it past the "about us" page, is because the founders feel limited by the chronology of how it actually happened. But an origin story that is nothing but a long list of what happened at three months in and then one year in and then three years in, isn't necessarily going to hold anyones attention.
For an origin story to really serve the brand, it must be clear, concise and compelling. Focus less on exactly how it started and more on why it started. The key to accomplishing that is next.
3. Choose the most vivid moment.
The key to an irresistible origin story is to focus on a specific moment in the beginning of your business. Perhaps it was the moment when you knew your idea or plan was going to work. Maybe it was the moment inspiration struck. Maybe it was the first time you saw your work in action--when someone used your app or you saw your product on store shelves. Maybe it's the moment you realized you just solved a problem or provided a needed product or service.
Focusing on a vivid moment alleviates the challenge of trying to include every date and detail and even helps to reconcile seemingly incongruent dates. For example, if you wrote your first line of code in 2002 under the company name, but didn't truly launch the company as it is known today until 2009, you could say -- "We wrote our first line of code in 2002, but the story really started on a wintery day in 2009 when..." and then tell the story of that moment in 2009.
4. Use specific details.
Just as great speeches use detailed imagery, so should your story. Whatever the moment, share specific details in your origin story. Talk about the setting, the characters, what you were feeling. These details will draw your audience in and help your origin story remain vivid in their memory.
Lastly, once you find your origin story, tell it. Again and again and again and everywhere you can. Tell it in interviews, tell it on your website, tell it to your employees and every pitch you ever make. Only by telling it will it take on a life of its own and someday people will be able to identify your company with just one line of your story.