Starting a business has an inevitable element of storytelling to it. First of all, it all starts with an idea, just like a novel does. The idea is an answer to this question: “What if?”
Here are three examples:
• What if people could . . . ?
• What if cell phones could . . .?
• What if an app could . . . ?
The difference between a new business and a novel, of course, is that the new business has to be completely non-fiction. Any element of the idea or the plan that is wishful thinking is a threat to the venture. That’s why the “deck” you’ll send out to potential investors needs to be as airtight as possible. Because anything that requires too big of a “leap of faith” to believe runs the risk of making investors far less likely to invest.
That’s why I spend some of my time consulting to people creating these decks—because as both a novelist and former bestselling NY Times non-fiction writer and Newsweek Fellow, I resonate at a very deep level with any image or language that suggests the writer or creator has veered toward fiction from fact. And those are the places where entrepreneurs need to lean into their decks to explain more about how (exactly) milestones in product development will be accomplished, why (exactly) the proposed marketing of the product or service will work and when (as exactly as possible) revenues will begin and begin to grow.
Entrepreneurs need to be careful to stay with non-fiction, because they are, inherently, artists. They are creating something that did not exist before. So the temptation to be expansive, to the point of unreality, is a real risk. A prediction based on data is A okay. A dream based on creativity and hope, without data, invites cynicism. And it’s often tough for the “author” of the dream (the entrepreneur) to tell the difference.
Yes, a lot of this sounds psychological. As someone who practiced psychiatry for more than 25 years, I’m sure I tend to focus on matters of mind a lot more than others might. But that is also because I have learned that people unconsciously assess ideas at multiple levels.
Here are just five:
1. Is the idea inherently powerful?
2. Is the idea unique?
3. Is the idea presented with confidence?
4. Is the idea presented with candor?
5. Is the path to profit very credible?
If you need help making sure you address all five questions, don’t hesitate to involve someone outside the circle of innovators and creators who came up with the idea or who stand to gain from it. A well-intentioned cynic, on your side, can be invaluable.