7 Ways Growing Your Startup Is Like Writing a Novel
The most innovative entrepreneurs look outside of their markets and beyond their competitors. They don’t work within traditional boundaries or allow themselves to be confined by precedent. They search for new product, marketing and sales ideas across a wide variety of fields. They differentiate themselves from the competition and reap their just rewards.
Every time you see an ad on YouTube or television, think about its effectiveness and if it could be applicable to your business. The next time you walk into a store, pay close attention to how they price and display their products or how they word headlines in their weekly flyer. Every time you read a book you should be thinking of ideas that you could implement into your business.
Over the past year, I have had the pleasure of reading three excellent novels that have shaped my thinking as an entrepreneur. The novels are part of a trilogy called The Uncommon Series by Eliot Peper.
The Uncommon Series is in a new genre called startup fiction and follows a pair of entrepreneurs who found a tech company but get caught up in an international conspiracy along the way. We learn some of the inner-workings of a startup from idea to seed funding and all the way through to IPO. Since the author was an entrepreneur-in-residence at a venture capital firm, and has worked at and started multiple startups, Peper knows what he’s talking about.
The success of The Uncommon Series is closely tied to Peper’s background and experience as an entrepreneur building businesses. I asked Peper whether there might be anything entrepreneurs could learn from a novelist.
The results surprised us both. It turns out that writing and business-building have more in common that we think. After some back-and-forth, we distilled it down to these seven lessons.
1. Start from first principles.
The blank page is a demon and a muse. It forces you to be creative and build a good foundation. Ignore the fire hose of Internet advice on building companies and make decisions based on actual human behavior.
Reading about writing doesn’t make you a writer. Writing makes you a writer. Reading about entrepreneurship doesn’t make you an entrepreneur. Building a business does.
2. Everything comes down to people.
We might pick up a book because of the premise or cover but we remember it because of the characters. Characters that feel and act like real people are the core of any good story.
Companies and institutions often appear monolithic from afar but the reality is that they’re nothing more than collections of people trying their best to work together. Your people are individual humans, not slots on an org chart or Slack profiles.
The more humanity you bring to management, the stronger your company will be.
3. Grit beats intelligence.
We all love conquering the world from the safety of an armchair. Everyone has dozens of unfulfilled business ideas and unwritten book concepts.
Doing is the only way to learn or accomplish anything. Stop complaining about your job. Stop day dreaming. Stop blogging (unless blogging is your business). Start making something useful that improves people’s lives.
4. Put your customers’ interests before your own.
Novelists and founders often make the same mistake: we care so much about what we’re making that we assume others should too. Nope. People choose what they care about for their own reasons. Don’t talk features or plot points. Instead, talk about the problem you see in the world and why it’s important. Your story doesn’t matter. The story-of-your-story does.
5. Pain is more compelling than success.
Internal and external misfortune are the emotional core of any good tale. Overcoming seemingly impossible obstacles is far more interesting that a milk run. Don’t brag about how awesome you are. Share your deepest fears and missteps. The more scared and vulnerable you feel, the more others will resonate with you.
6. Stay humble.
Authors and entrepreneurs both tend to have big egos. We think we’re important enough to have something to say or to change the world. But the fastest way to making real impact is listening, not talking. Don’t drink your own Kool-Aid or try to be the smartest person in the room. Less hot air keeps your vision clear.
7. Enjoy the process.
If it’s not satisfying in itself, you’re better off finding something that is!