Good Foundation Stories Start Strong Companies

March 15, 2014

At first glance it may be difficult to figure out what a tech giant like Google shares in common with the women’s feature-smoothing undergarment line Spanx. Although they may seem like completely different operations, both companies share one crucial element: they each have memorable founding stories. With Google, founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page hammered out their first search engine while holed up in a friend’s garage. Meanwhile, Sara Blakely demonstrated the power of Spanx by using a pair of form-fitting white pants. She would show up wearing them to meetings with department store buyers and demonstrate how different the pants looked with and without Spanx.

“I wore those white pants for three years to sell Spanx,” Blakely says. Her persistence paid off as Spanx eventually grew to become a $250 million brand. Meanwhile, Brin and Page didn’t do too shabby for their hours logged in the garage, as Google is now one of the largest companies in history. Not only do humble origins like these give valuable experience to entrepreneurs, it also provides them with an essential narrative as they build their brand. After all, Google is certainly not the only company who likes to brag about toiling in a garage: Apple and Hewlett-Packard have almost identical origin stories. “I’m hard-pressed to think of a company that doesn’t have an interesting foundational story,” says Paul Smith, an author and former director of market research at Procter & Gamble. “People want to be part of something bigger than themselves. A nameless, faceless corporation with no real purpose, no story, is not an inspiring place to be.”

Besides being a potent tool for startups, foundation stories can be a great way to keep the original spirit of a company alive long after the actual founders have left. They can also be the influential factor in luring venture capital cash. In fact, many VCs see themselves as investors in stories just as much as companies. For instance, Steve Jurvetson is an angel investor extraordinaire, having been the driving force behind companies like SpaceX, Tesla Motors, and Hotmail. Jurvetson is always sure to bring cameras to early meetings with company founders just to make sure they don’t miss anything valuable. “I say, ‘You’re going to want these when you’re in the Fortune 500,’” Jurvetson says.

 

Questions:

  1. How does a company’s “story” help with building the firm’s brand?
  1. Does a good company “story” inspire other budding entrepreneurs?

 

Source: Adam Bluestein, “How to Tell Your Company’s Story,” Inc., February 2014. Photo by Jane Doan.

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