Your Story – In Four Chapters

Donna Griffit, founder and CEO of, has spent the last decade helping companies “not be boring.” Sharing her experience at one of this year’s Envestnet | Yodlee Incubator bootcamps, she said does it by helping turn messages into memorable stories, then helping clients tell their stories in a compelling way. For the companies at the Incubator bootcamps, she gave some pointers on preparing for the moment of truth – the in-person pitch to investors. Most startups, she said, should be able to tell their story in four chapters – following a brief introduction:


Of course you need to introduce yourself, but once you’ve done that, where do you take your audience? Presenters often feel compelled to introduce their team next, but Griffit advises to wait on that. Instead, lead with your big vision. What is your reason for being? People will more likely remember what you aim to achieve than what your company or product actually does. This theme from Griffit reinforces what Deirdre Davi said at a prior bootcamp: that Why is more important than What or How.

Chapter 1: The Problem

Start by talking about the problem you are trying to solve. Convey an experience that demonstrates that you have felt the pain. Good stories have heroes and villains; identify the villain you are going after. Prime targets include poorly designed products, declining loyalty, waste in the system, missed opportunities, or simply human boredom.

Chapter 2: The Solution

Once you’ve articulated the problem as vividly but concisely as possible, describe your solution as simply as possible. Then reveal the secret sauce that makes your solution unique and bulletproof. To illustrate what you mean, get to a demo as quickly as possible. Showing is always more powerful than telling when it comes to products.

Chapter 3: The Business

This is your chance to give the audience a sense of how far you’ve come in your development. You can talk about the product prototype, testing and research you may have done, prospective customers you have talked to (or real ones you have signed up), and any financing you may have already secured. You can also talk about the competitive landscape – and most importantly, what makes you different, what sets your company apart. Explain, too, how your company will make money – always a key question.

Chapter 4: The Vision

At this point you’ve impressed upon your audience that you have a big idea for solving a real problem. But you’re not stopping there. You’re asking them to sign on for a journey and they’ll want to know where it leads. Show them that you’re not only solving the problem at hand, but you’re setting the stage to capture an even bigger opportunity in the future. At this point, to mix a metaphor, you can roll credits. Introduce the team, but don’t dive into each person’s biography. Simply communicate as quickly as possible why each person is on the team and what each brings to the table. Finally, end on an inspirational note. Don’t just say “The End.” Script a powerful closing. Griffit also conveyed some valuable presentation tips as well. Among the more important:

  • Make your slides look as good as your product.
  • Presentation does not equal documentation. Save your detailed data and charts for a printed leave-behind or send-out. Keep your presentation crisp and simple, focused on “one big idea that grandma can understand.”
  • Prepare for Q&As. Write down every question you can anticipate and have an answer.
  • Avoid verbal fillers – “um, ok, you know.”
  • Turn the butterflies in your stomach from nerves into excitement.
  • Practice makes perfect.

Knowing that the big pitch won’t be the only opportunity to tell your story, it pays to have several versions. Can you condense all four chapters down to one minute? You should certainly try. It might surprise you now much more powerful your story becomes the shorter you make it.