Title: Storytelling: The Indispensable Art of Entrepreneurism
Author: Rudy Mazzocchi
Publisher: Twilight Times Books
Format: Paperback, Kindle
Purchase at AMAZON
The value of any new venture or sound new idea needs to be developed out of the nothingness of silence, ignorance and darkness. It ignites and illuminates the world only when the great storytelling entrepreneur lights the flame. “STORYTELLING: The Indispensable Art of the Entrepreneur” shows, with startling clarity and practical know-how, the process by which wealth and other things of exceptional value can emerge into the world literally out of nothing—nothing, that is, but the Art of Storytelling.
STORYTELLING takes you on a journey which reveals how the development, progressive modification and adaptation of your story is the golden thread and foundational core management practice which ties together all the others: building, focusing and motivating your management team, navigating through troubled times or excessive growth, maintaining positive momentum with investors and Boards of Directors and positioning the venture for a potential exit.
Award-winning author and entrepreneur, Rudy Mazzocchi, exposes his greatest secret of success and provides an enormous amount of “experienced-based” illustrations and nuts-and-bolts practical advice. He reveals how to create and evolve the story of your new venture in a way that energizes and breathes life into what may have started out as just an idea.
Everyone can benefit greatly from reading this book—whether or not you envision yourself as an entrepreneur. STORYTELLING: The Indispensable Art of the Entrepreneur applies universally to ventures of all types and is an essential element in the fulfillment of any dream—dreams which depend upon capturing the interest and sustaining the highly-motivated commitment of others.
Nearly thirty years of doing this and my leg was still nervously vibrating like a jackhammer. I rolled the laser pointer in my fingers like some gambler would roll a poker chip, over and over in my fingers. While contemplating the two glasses in front of me, one with vodka, the other water—both brimming with ice—I rehearsed my opening comments in my head. A long draw on the vodka provided a warming sensation that calmed the jumpy leg. The second speaker was wrapping up his presentation. Within minutes I’d find myself at the podium!
It was a tough, intimate crowd of approximately thirty highly-specialized and wealthy surgeons with a sprinkling of spouses and administrative personnel. Due to the content of my presentation, I would be the third and final guest speaker that evening, sandwiched in between the cocktail reception and dinner—a “symposium” held each quarter at their exclusive country club. My audience was already fidgety, as the prior two stories had been cluttered, complex and confusing. The three of us—all early-stage CEOs—were there to solicit funding for our ventures from this wealthy group of physicians, but any sympathy I had for my two predecessors evaporated as I advanced my first slide. Immediately differentiating myself further, I stepped to one side of the podium and then took a single step towards the congregation before me.
My heart rate gradually returned to normal as I presented my enticing bait to this hungry audience. Key words would hook many of them, but I held back just enough to relieve the tension on the line. It was important not to come across as being too pushy—too slippery—like many of those faceless salespeople who littered their busy offices during the week. I had something special to provide… it was not only a revolutionary product, but also an invitation to embark upon a journey only a select few might be privileged to take with me… an exciting excursion that could provide them with something to supplement their current wealth.
Following my talk, there was a coronal discharge that filled the room, like the buzzing of electrical lines; many pushed aside their tempting desserts to join me near the massive fireplace in the adjacent room. They’d heard my story and understood its value; appreciated what was needed and asked if they could participate.
As I waited for the valet to bring my car around, I calculated the commitments I’d received during the past hour… at least $900,000. Over the next ten business days, that dinner presentation pulled in a total of $1.4 million—in the bank, with stock certificates issued and mailed out to seven new qualified investors!
To be an accomplished entrepreneur, you must be able to tell your story properly. The twisted road to success—your success—will be filled with enlightenment, dread, exuberance, fear, joy and desperation. Without exception, the journey will be long and any deviation from the path may well place you in danger. If it’s of any comfort, when you do wander off that yellow brick road, you won’t be alone, but the longer you stay there, the tougher it is to get back on track without starting over. This book is based on personal experiences and designed to provide you with certain “guardrails” to help you stay on that path… and to avoid those damn flying monkeys.
Remember the story of the Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum? How many times did Dorothy tell her story to others along her treacherous journey to the Emerald City? Her mission began when she explained herself to Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, after her house took out the Wicked Witch of the East. She refined her story when meeting the Munchkins, and it became stronger and more powerful each time she encountered a new companion—the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion. Dorothy then put a different spin on things when telling her story to the Wicked Witch of the West. How many times did she have to explain herself to whomever would listen—convincing others to help or join her on the journey? By the time she reached her key objective, her story to the Wizard was fine-tuned, well-rehearsed and crystal clear. Not only did she achieve her goals and those that defined her journey, but others who believed and supported her story along the way were provided a handsome return for their efforts.
Dorothy was a storyteller supreme. The storytelling necessary to become a successful entrepreneur is not much different. In the beginning, along with the idea—the vision—the story we tell is all we really have… and yet it is the most important tool in our bag. If not told properly, we are doomed to constantly deal with evil flying monkeys and the possibility of utter failure.
Definitions and Disclaimers
You most likely are reading this book because you have a precious story of your own to tell. Many of us with creativity, drive and ambition will have something of supreme value we wish to promote. (Let me re-phrase that to read “something of supreme value we must promote, we are driven to promote.”) Our audience could be small and well-defined, or massive as all mankind. Storytelling is very personal to me. I believe it to be the most important element of the true entrepreneur that represents our vision—our dreams. And the process we use to tell that story needs to encapsulate the faith we have in our belief and commitment. We owe it to ourselves and our audiences not to screw it up!
My cup runneth over with confidence from years of success and failures and everything in between. However, to better appreciate the perspectives and suggestions I’m presenting here, it’s important to understand a few of my key definitions as they are used throughout this book. I have also included a brief disclaimer section below to address and repudiate any elements of my story you might believe to be questionable.
WHAT IS A TRUE ENTREPRENEUR?
This is probably one of the most over-used and misunderstood terms used in business. It’s like calling someone a “loving-husband” or “workaholic.” It means different things to nearly everyone I’ve discussed this topic with, and the majority of those who carry the title of entrepreneur have either christened themselves with it or had it assigned by those hoping to achieve such a title.
Merriam Webster defines an Entrepreneur as one who organizes, manages and assumes risks of a business or enterprise. That’s basically it as far as a dictionary definition goes! In contrast, one of the Big Four accounting firms, Ernst & Young, has pioneered and continues to sponsor the prestigious Entrepreneur of the Year Award. Here is their definition: the Entrepreneur is the creator of great ideas who strives to make them a reality.
Since I’ve been fortunate enough to have been labeled an entrepreneur by a variety of different people, I’ll take the liberty of expounding on my own definition as well. A true entrepreneur is not just a person with a vision, but someone who acts on that vision, regardless of the criticism, and despite the potential risk or loss of personal assets. A true entrepreneur acts on that vision to create something that may never have existed if such action were not to be taken.
An architect is not an entrepreneur unless he acts on his vision to build what he’s designed, with his own money, sweat and perseverance. Likewise, an author is not an entrepreneur unless she acts on her vision to write that story, have it published, promoted and sold with her own money, sweat and perseverance. In addition, just as with the category of loving-husbands and workaholics, we can drill down deeper into a subset of such a definition of the true entrepreneur.
THE INVENTOR/FOUNDER ENTREPRENEUR
I believe this describes the ultimate entrepreneur. Remember the definition above? A true entrepreneur is not just a person with a vision, but someone who acts on that vision, regardless of the criticism, despite the potential risk or loss of personal assets. A true entrepreneur acts on that vision to create something that didn’t exist or wouldn’t exist if they didn’t take such action.
The person who looks at a problem or shortcoming requiring a solution, whether a product or service, with the realization that there’s not a current solution for a reason, overcomes conventional thought and identifies a solution through discovery—making it a viable reality. The Inventor/Founder Entrepreneur goes a step beyond, actually taking action to create a new solution, researching its novelty, and usually filing a patent application to protect it, in attempt to secure its value and control its commercial use. Here’s the person who writes that first check, usually without asking the spouse, to file the application for patent protection. Unfortunately, this same person may not know how best to proceed. Although they are the one person in the world most passionate about the story, their understanding of the legal requirements for starting a new enterprise is most likely well beyond their realm of knowledge or expertise. So, in preparation for this new journey, those striving to become true entrepreneurs for the first time will need to learn some legalese, or at least be willing to shell out the money for a good corporate attorney. I’ve learned the hard way that the richer the story, the more important it is to have all the necessary legal protection.
THE START-UP ENTREPRENEUR
The start-up entrepreneur differs from our previous description in that he could be the inventor of the new product or service, but in many cases he is not. Start-up entrepreneurs are more business-oriented and have either partnered with the inventor or possibly “licensed” an existing patented idea for the purpose of building a business and commercializing the product. (From this point forward, I will use product or service inter-changeably throughout the remainder of this book.) These people will often times make the biggest of sacrifices early in the process; leaving or jeopardizing their existing “day job,” working without a reliable salary and putting personal savings at risk. This is the true hard core entrepreneur.
THE PROFESSIONAL MANAGER
An individual hired by an organization to manage, fix or grow the business is often referred to as a Professional Manager. We can safely assume that “manage and grow” are intended to be used in harmony here. Why would any organization hire a professional manager to manage without the intent to grow? These individuals are provided a guaranteed salary, incentive package, health benefits, vacation pay, and the promise of continued employment as long as they perform as their job description indicates. Unfortunately, when some organizations survive and grow under challenging circumstances and/or rough economic conditions, this individual is often credited with being an entrepreneur. This is incorrect. This person falls way short of our definition above. I’ll refer to the Professional Manager again throughout the book. The true entrepreneur relies on these Professional Managers to accomplish key objectives once the business is up and running.
As for the Professional Manager who is hired to “fix” an organization, this individual gets a glimpse of what entrepreneurism is all about, but still falls short of being what we’ve defined as a True Entrepreneur. This is the “hired gun” — the person who comes in at the direction of the Shareholders and/or the Board of Directors to fix what is wrong. I agree that it takes an entrepreneurial spirit to turn-around a struggling company, but an old man with a youthful spirit doesn’t make that old man young! So, too, a Professional Manager with an entrepreneurial spirit does not add up to being a True Entrepreneur. The Professional Manager is not deeply at personal risk if there is a failure.
ART — WHAT IS THE ART OF ENTREPRENEURISM?
We all might agree that Art relates to creativity. By definition, it also implies something that one practices—such as the Art of Fly-fishing, or the Art of Medicine. Since it’s just practicing, no one should really judge whether it’s right or wrong, but people do take liberties to criticize how well we accomplish what we practice. Being judged as good or bad by any audience is a given.
While it is true that most forms of Art have a definitive beginning, they often have no ending. The Art of an artist evolves with time and practice. As with any practice, it’s on-going, for as long as one strives to continue – changing, but not necessarily always improving. Such is the Art of Entrepreneurism — with one exception. The telling of the story needs to improve during the entrepreneurial journey or it will fall off the cliff into the abyss. Yes, the echoes of such an unimproved story might be heard again and again, but without any impact, without any value, without any credence.
It’s critically important to realize that, just as we should recognize that one man’s Art may be another man’s trash, we should expect such a great distinction from most existing art forms when comparing them to the Art of Entrepreneurism. The “Entrepreneur’s Art of Storytelling” has direct, visible and often immediate consequences that exist in the real world both of success and failure. Yes, we could probably also debate the definitions of success and failure, but my definitions have changed over time and most likely will not be equivalent to your definitions. Suffice to say, these consequences do not just exist in the mind of the entrepreneur… they exist in visible, concrete reality.
I’ve reached the conclusion that one cannot become an entrepreneur, in the truest sense, without experiencing a dose of failure first-hand. Actual failure, the threat—and even the fear of failure—can alter the way we deal with components of our story… and even to the way we present that story. The lesson here is to forbid failure or the possibility of failure from preventing your continuing the practice of your art. Cherish it, learn from it, and use it to become a better entrepreneur.
Okay, here goes. Let’s face it… by description, telling a story is usually perceived, by many, as just that… telling a story. Unless we’re reiterating a factual event for whatever reason, telling a story involves events that have not happened yet, could have happened, should have happened, or may never happen. By the time my stories reach the point of actually being true, I’m usually on to telling another, now-enriched tale that is necessary to pull my listener into the next phase of a bigger story. Some may consider me, and many other entrepreneurs, as bullshit artists. I like to believe it’s “storytelling” and an indispensable element of any successful entrepreneur. Unfortunately, many unfamiliar with the art will think it as proverbial bullshit nevertheless. Herein lies the true ART of Storytelling.
How do you spin a visionary tale of a new ad-venture that has not yet happened, but could, and should happen, yet has a high chance of never being realized? It’s similar to trying to explain your dream or fantasies to a stranger—they are real, exciting and meaningful to you but difficult for others to appreciate. Even when you get your story across, why should they care? At some point it will most likely start to fall apart with you being the only one still believing your own story. How do you keep them at the campfire, sitting on edge, waiting for your next words? Why should they continue to listen? We’ll explore this further in the bowels of future chapters.
Back to the disclaimer: I have no formal business training, therefore no M.B.A. (people seem to still be collecting those), and no one has given me the right to write such a book… but if I could be so bold… I’d like to think I’ve earned it. And now that you’ve purchased this book, I’m hopeful you’ll learn more about the importance of storytelling in your entrepreneurial journey from my experiences, suggestions and annoying clichés. Many may seem obvious, but several of those points need to be restated and reinforced.
Storytelling: The Indispensable Art of Entrepreneurism
As you can read in my extensive biography at the end of this book, I prefer to be considered a “start-up C.E.O.” I’m also a founder of companies, an inventor, angel investor, entrepreneur (see definition above), award-winning author of medical thrillers (fiction, fiction and more fiction), board director, advisor, consultant, father, son, third-husband, biker, rugby player, and… yes, perhaps at times… a bit of a bullshit artist. However, I hope by the time we finish this book together that you’ll have a greater appreciation for my desire to be considered another great ‘Storyteller.’