Author: Martin Trust Center

by Dana Hwu, MIT delta v Program Manager

Each week at the MIT delta v NYC Startup Studio, we host our “Founder’s Forum,” inviting entrepreneurs and industry veterans from the startup community to share their insights and hone in on a particular topic that is essential for a successful founder. Earlier this month, Mike Troiano of G20 Ventures spoke to us on venture storytelling.

Your story should be simple, functional, and emotional.

Most founders and entrepreneurs spend a lot of time perfecting their “elevator pitch.” These are quick blurbs to describe your company to various stakeholders, including potential customers, investors, or partners.

Mike’s first piece of advice?  Keep it simple.

If you (the founder) can’t recite your pitch from memory, no one else will be able to either. Everyone on your team should have it memorized and consistent. The first 15 seconds are especially crucial as this is when people naturally gauge relevance. If they are not intrigued in these first moments, they are less likely to participate in conversation for the next 15 minutes. This means “prioritization of ideas,” and details should be subordinated in the narrative.

Start with “why.”

Founders are generally inclined to start with “what” and “how,” deep-diving into their product or service and what their company does. However, people listening will not care “what” it is until they know “why” it matters to them. The “why” is all about your venture’s purpose, cause, or belief. “Why” should someone want to keep listening to you, and what is in it for them?

If you want to change what someone does, you need to change what they feel, and not just what they think.

Adding emotion to your story is essential. When it comes to decision-making, emotions tend to “short-circuit” the logical thoughts that keep us safe. Emotions also help us make decisions quickly. You may think humans are inherently rational, but appealing to emotions is what inspires action.

Craft specific elements of your story and use a framework to put it together.

“For [target] who are [segment], [brand] provides the [category] with [distinction] because of [proof].”

  • target – your actionable universe of buyers
  • segment – key, predisposing attribute of buyers; separates the likely from the unlikely buyers
  • brand – a name you call yourself, foreshadowing your story
  • category – a competitive frame to place your universe of buyers into, and a shortcut to help the listener understand what your product is
  • distinction – what makes you unique
  • proof – perceived evidence of truth; if it’s not clearly perceptible by your buyer, it is not proof

A couple of examples of good stories that Mike shared are:

  • “For drivers who value automotive performance, BMW provides luxury vehicles that deliver joy through German engineering.”
  • “For people around the world, Coca-Cola is the soft drink that is the real thing since 1886.”

Move someone from indifference to interest.

Communications discipline is important. Once again, don’t get too complicated, and try to use the same articulation with all parties and through all channels, such as on your website, business card, newsletters, social media, and pitches. This prevents dilution of your messaging. If your product is more complex, it may be more important and effective to incorporate the problem your company is solving into the narrative, leading with the pain point. Watch your audience and tailor to what works.


Mike Troiano is a venture capitalist who brings nearly 25 years of executive leadership and marketing experience to bear for entrepreneurs. He is ranked in the top one percent of the most influential people on Twitter (@miketrap) and hosts the popular Boston startup community podcast, #AskTrap.