Turnaround #2

On storytelling.


I’ve been walking around giddy with excitement all of last week because I really like what I’m doing these days. I’ll talk about that sometime here. But not now.

🏋I managed to workout 4/6 days last week. That’s one day of running and the rest of the days in the gym struggling with weights. I get to do this if I’m up early.

🎧On my way to work, I heard Tim Ferris interviewing Seth Godin. I liked Godin’s take on education: we need to teach our children how to think, lead and not memorize things.

My talk at Accel Launchpad last week went alright. I’m not much of a speaker, but in a workshop kind of setup, I do alright on the days I’m not hungover, I think. I spoke about storytelling. More like a 101 on storytelling and I answered some questions. Here’s a quick overview.

Pic: From my talk on storytelling earlier this week. Selfie or it didn’t happen right?

💥Why does it matter if you have a story or not?

In 2011, Girish Mathrubootham, the co-founder of Freshworks, was pitching at a conference. Anand Daniel, a VC from Accel Partners was also in the audience. At the time, Freshworks was building helpdesk software and there we dozens of others in the space. Girish was one of the 10 founders talking on the stage.

Cut to 2018: In this interview, Daniel says, “I still remember!”

That’s the power of good story telling. It’s easier to convey and get people to relate to facts if there’s a story and some context around it. Good stories help you stand out and get noticed. Good stories stick. Presentations don’t.

Matthew, the founder of Typito, made some notes on the talk. Take a look here.

📢What makes a good story?

I like to say that anything above or below the normal makes a good story. Almost all journalism students are told: If a dog bites a man, it’s not a story. If a man bites a dog it’s a story. This is not a bad way if looking at it.

But good storytelling has a lot more to it. It usually has a central character, some sort of conflict, a message, a plot that ties everything together and a journey.

For instance, in the pitch that Girish made, he was the character with an underdog story. And the journey is how he discovered that customer support was broken and the message is: big clunky enterprise software sucks.

When should you tell your story?

There’s no right or wrong here. But I’ve learned from some thoughtful founders that it’s best to stay away from talking to the media in the early days. Your product will likely change between the time it was covered and the launch.

The best time to talk about your story in the media is when you have some kind of product market fit or ahead of a launch. That way, it won’t corrupt your data, or take away attention from building. Until then, it’s useful to seek out journalists in the space, and build a relationship with them. Be selective about this though.

📖What books do I recommend?

Elements of Eloquence: My latest favourite. This book by Mark Forsyth is for people who want to write better. It’s about rhetoric and really answers for you why phrases like “To be or not to be,” work. My writing has mostly been functional. Or rather, I actively shunned form. But Forsyth’s book changed that for me.

On Writing: My all time favourite. This book by William Zinsser is a bit wide ranging and accessible. It tells you why certain pieces turn out to be memorable.

Mind you, good writing is not a necessary criteria to story telling. But a good story or a narrative is essential for everything else.

📖What books have been recommended to me?

The Dream society: Talks about how 21 century marketing will evolve.

Storytelling: Bewitching the modern world: Another book on storytelling.

These two go on my list of ‘yet-to-read’ books.


Grammarly: Great tool to get the basics right.

I also recommend the Hemingway Editor.


Now we’re not exactly in the story telling territory. But it’s important to measure your efforts around storytelling especially in the context of content marketing, or your corporate blog etc, analytics is crucial.

Google Analytics is powerful but also not that useful if you don’t know how to configure it or read the data.

✍It’s a good idea to setup author based analytics for your blog/ content portal. This will give you the ability to track which author’s post is doing well. This also tells the author if a post worked or not and implicitly signals if the author needs to work on it. Here's how we set up author analytics at FactorDaily. You can even create a leaderboard of sorts if have a large team of content writers.

🦉 This audience explorer analytics dashboard is incredibly useful. It will help you track Casual Visitors, Prospective Loyalists, and Brand Lovers. We’ve just rolled this out for some of our blogs. I’m still learning how to use this well.

📅 Understanding data is not just about tools. It’s about Data+Tools+Processes. Most of us forget to put in place a process to digest the data. Setting aside time to discuss data during your content meetings is a good start.


Do not forget to edit and refine your thoughts. While editing, you’re not only looking for typos, but also biases, political correctness, clarity of thought, brand safety and so on.

Also, I really love Substack. What blows my mind is that this newsletter had a 75% open rate last week. That is unlike anything I’ve seen before.

Who reads this anyway? Here’s what I found out. Not bad for starters.

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