When you’re raising money, you’re telling a story. So who are the best stories and storytellers? Greek mythology, the Bible, George Lucas, and the Wachowski siblings.
Star Wars and The Matrix are both modeled on Joseph Campbell’s wildly influential book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. In The Hero, Campbell outlines the monomyth, or “hero’s journey,” archetype that is used in countless religions and mythologies around the world. Campbell distills the journey of archetypal hero into three major acts -- the Departure, Initiation, and Return -- each comprised of a number of smaller elements like the hero’s call to adventure, his lowest point and his ultimate victory. Besides the above-mentioned movies, this formula has been used in thousands of storylines,
But the monomyth mirrors the process of life: childhood, adolescence and adulthood, which we all go through. Ben Dattner, an organizational psychologist, observed that, “The monomyth is pervasive because it is compelling, and it is compelling because it's pervasive. People around the world for thousands of years have been taught by their respective cultures to recognize the monomyth and to find it personally meaningful at a visceral, almost innate, level.”
Hundreds of books, movies, and television series have been written utilizing this structure all over the world, because it resonates with people at a deep, subconscious level. It provides a clean circular path (the initial separation and eventual return) with a solid beginning, middle and end. You can use it to get investors to give you money.
Below I break down the monomyth structure of Star Wars, and how it can help you raise capital. For those that aren't familiar with the iconic movie, I also threw in some Matrix references.
Departure: a message from princess Leia
Every hero’s journey starts with a call to adventure: the hologram from Princess Leia.
For example, Adam Ghetti started Ionic Security (ffVC company) originally because he was using Facebook for business purposes, and didn’t like the idea that Facebook could see all of his communications.
This is followed by the refusal of the call. (Neo won’t climb out the window.) You’re a successful person with a high opportunity cost, and wouldn’t leave your good job without a really good reason. But your startup idea is so compelling that you feel obliged to do it.
So, this first section of your pitch should end with your moment in the belly of the whale (the Star Wars trash compactor), that time when things got so rough that you almost hung up your keyboard for good and went back to your safe 9-to-5 job. This trough is the perfect jumping off point for the second -- and most important part -- of the hero’s journey.
Initiation: lightsaber practice
The next stage is the road of trials, what Eric Ries of Lean Startup fame calls the montage. This is the work that took your company from a good idea to something live. It’s the training sequence that culminates in Luke becoming a Jedi and Neo’s sparring practice with Morpheus, the long days of coding. It’s when your crazy idea becomes a fundable minimum viable product.
During this period you meet with the goddess, and likely also the Mentor or Oracle. Luke Skywalker had Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi; Neo had the Morpheus and the Oracle. You have the initial experienced potential client who said, “This is a real problem, and I’ll pay for a solution.” Or perhaps an advisory board member who said he always wanted to do what you envision, but didn’t have an opportunity to do so. Or the VC whose ego you flatter and therefore help to win by saying, “You’d add enormous value to the company; we think your experience helping to grow [Indiegogo or another very successful company] is very applicable to our business.”
You’re also tempted away from the true path; your old boss offers to rehire you with a raise in salary, just Luke is tempted by the Dark Side. But you resist temptation and atone with the father;your old boss invests in your company. And your resisting of temptation helps convince an investor that you’re dedicated to the cause.
Return: destroying the Death Star
The next stage is crossing the return threshold. You raise some initial capital, win some initial clients and are fully committed to building the company to victory, because your early wins validate your thesis.
In your pitch, emphasize your startup’s product/market fit, statistics that showcase high levels of user engagement and most important, revenues. These examples not only show potential investors what you’ve done, but what you’re capable of doing with funding. Use the past tense, not the future tense, in your pitch.
At the story’s end, you destroy the Empire, you kill Agent Smith, you IPO. You are the master of the two worlds.
Thanks to Lola Kolade for help in researching this article.