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How This Millennial Entrepreneur Helps Businesses Unlock Their Potential Through Storytelling

How This Millennial Entrepreneur Helps Businesses Unlock Their Potential Through Storytelling
Image credit: Courtesy of Derek Simpson

I had the pleasure of interviewing Celinne Da Costa, a Brand Story & Life Design coach for visionary entrepreneurs who want to master the art of storytelling so they can deeply connect with their audience, create captivating content that grows their business, and transform their brand into a legacy.

Since leaving corporate America to design life on her own terms, Celinne has helped her 6 and 7 figure clients become confident leaders with powerful stories, influential brands, international media coverage, and thousands of raving followers.

Celinne’s work has been featured in major publications around the world, including Forbes, HuffPost, and Business Insider. She’s visited 50+ countries and now travels full-time while running a 6-figure business.

Thank you so much for joining us! What is your "backstory"?

Ever since I was a child, I was wildly imaginative. I spent countless hours writing poems about the meaning of life (needless to say, I was pretty weird), burying my nose in fiction books, composing songs, you name it. I was endlessly curious and open to experimenting with just about anything.

When I moved to the United States (I’m originally from Italy) at the age of 10, my creative nature was temporarily cast aside in favor of a more structured approach to success. I completely lapped up the idea of the American Dream: I worked so, so hard to master English, study at one of the best universities, and get a prestigious corporate job so I could measure up to the idealized archetype of the successful immigrant who “made” it despite all odds.

At the age of 23, I found myself working in one of the best advertising agencies in New York City. I had it all, or so it seemed: the sexy job, the handsome American boyfriend, the apartment in the heart of Manhattan. But still, I wasn’t happy. I was trying so hard to become the socially accepted version of “successful” that I became completely disconnected from myself, the people around me, and the work I was investing 60+ hours of my week on. I felt like I was living a placeholder life.

After 3 years of this grind, I couldn’t bear it anymore. I wanted to carve out my own life, not what was prescribed to me. So, I decided to quit my job, buy a one-way ticket out of the United States, and give myself 6 months to design a life according to my dreams.

Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

I’d say the most interesting story is how I fell into this career to begin with. The moment I decided to change the trajectory of my life, something magical happened: I reconnected with my creativity. So instead of being yet another millennial who quit their job to travel the world, I created a social experiment in which I challenged myself to circumnavigate the globe by couchsurfing through human connection. This meant that anywhere I wanted to travel, I’d have to find someone who was connected to me somehow (friend, friend of a friend, stranger I met on the road, etc) to host me.

The intention was simple: to design my life on my own terms, and to do so by doing what I loved... people, travel, and writing. That’s how I fell into branding and storytelling as a career. From the moment I left New York City, I started telling stories about my journey, the people I’d meet, the challenges I faced, and the bigger societal implications of breaking away from the traditional definition of success. I used my advertising strategist background to strategically disseminate my message online.

I was soon invited by Forbes to document my journey, and my brand skyrocketed from there: during that journey, my social media following grew massively, I was featured in several large publications, and invited to share my story by companies around the world. Before I knew it, entrepreneurs were approaching me and asking me how they could also create a powerful brand and tell stories to deeply connect with their audience and amplify their influence. Before I knew it, I had a business!

You help entrepreneurs create brand stories that grow their business. How does storytelling translate into revenue?

Since you can’t “touch” or quantify it, storytelling is the first marketing strategy that gets overlooked by businesses. I can’t stress enough how lethal it is to neglect developing your brand and your story right off the bat, especially if you are looking to scale your business in the long-term.

The most successful companies on the planet have created successful brands (think Apple, Tesla, Google, Virgin) by balancing emotion with just the right amount of information: a great story is easy to understand and simplifies big ideas in a way that sticks in people’s minds. Even more, it surprises, delights, makes audiences think and feel, and motivates them to act in ways that data cannot.

Let’s put it this way: strategic storytelling will differentiate you from the market in a powerful and unique way. When you stand out against a sea of competitors, people will find you. If they connect with your story when they do, they’ll want to buy from you. When they learn to value your brand, they’ll be willing to pay a premium for it. When people understand what you stand for, they’ll follow you even if you change product or services. Do you see where this is going?

Storytelling should be a crucial part of your marketing, and you need to do it right. Data can persuade people, but storytelling touches their hearts and emotions (and as we know, emotion is more powerful than reason when it comes to decision making!). Your brand story creates a profound bond with your audience that will turn them into paying customers, loyal fans, and advocates for years to come.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I currently launched my second book, If Hearts Could Talk, which is short stories/journaling prompts hybrid about reconnecting with your humanity and living a meaningful life. I will also be relaunching my Brand Story framework course in mid-January, continue to privately serve entrepreneurs in crafting their story, and hopefully line up more speaker events in which I can share the power of story and human connection.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

It’s hard to make a list! I've sat at the feet some of the most amazing storytellers around the world - Balinese healers, Burmese guerilla fighters, Amazonian tribal chiefs, Guatemalan shamans… all people who command a room and get others to listen. I've learned when it comes to reaching your target audience and influencing them to take action, you have to speak to their hearts. That begins with telling your story.

What advice would you give to someone looking to create a powerful brand story?

With all the big data and technology driving our lives these days, we fundamentally crave connection. Authenticity. Rawness. We want to be reminded of what it means to be human. That’s exactly what storytelling does - it reminds us of who we are, and it inspires us to action.

My advice is to be unafraid to look within. Creating a powerful brand story will require you to dig deeper than most people would, to face your vulnerability, and to sit with uncomfortable truths. Do the hard work now, so that you can set up a strong foundation for your business and feel good about your work in the long run.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I believe that everyone on this planet has an important story to tell. That’s why I use my platforms to share as many inspiring stories of people around the world as I can, as well as stories that - even though they may be about my experiences - are much bigger than that: every piece of content is crafted with the intention of offering value and touching on human truths that we all go through.

My vision is to create a community and environment where people feel comfortable about speaking up, owning up to their story, sharing their deepest fears and greatest wins without judgment, and most importantly, taking action towards the life they desire. If I’m able to influence even one person to step up into the epic story they’re meant to be living and create big impact as a result, then I know I’ve done my job.

I know this is not an easy job. What drives you?

Results. It is truly incredible to witness what people are capable of accomplishing once they are connected to their vision and understand the WHY hidden underneath what they do. I’ve witnessed clients skyrocket to multi 5-figure months, scale from 6 to 7 figures, get featured in huge publications, and attract thousands of followers in a matter of months once their story “clicked” and they got clarity on the bigger vision driving their business. Seeing their story make a dent on the planet is what motivates me.

Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?

My favorite book of all-time is The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. I read it the first time when I was 15 years old, stuck in the American suburbs and feeling utterly alienated and alone, and it reminded me that we all have a purpose in this life (at least I believe). This book completely shifted my perspective on life by teaching me to fall in love with the journey rather than the destination, and to take action towards my dreams because they’re bigger than myself.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I’d love to start a movement where people are unafraid to connect with each other. And by that, I don’t mean texting your friends and meeting for coffee every once in a while. I mean, how often do you sit with someone and truly listen to what they have to say? Out of all your daily interactions, how many have you putting your phone away, without distractions, and actually being completely present with that person? We don’t do this enough, and that’s what I hope to encourage… those pure, present moments of human connection where we let down our masks and take the time and energy to truly see each other for who we are.

What are your "5 things I wish someone told me when I first started" and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Patience, patience, patience: my generation is quite addicted to instant gratification, and I don’t exclude myself from that. My older mentors have told me this so many times, and finally I am starting to listen - when building something great, you have to be patient. Success doesn’t come overnight, and the type that does is not fulfilling. You can build a successful and meaningful life block by block, what’s important is that you’re paying attention to the foundation.

  2. Love the journey, not just the destination: there is a lot of hustling and fast pacing in entrepreneurship. But, the fun of being an entrepreneur is the process and growth along the way! It’s so important to enjoy each and every step, regardless of the end goal.

  3. Charge your worth: I did so much work for free or cheap in the beginning, and I excused underselling myself with the desire to help people and “work my way up.” I’m all about charity, but it needs to come from a place of abundance and not scarcity. It’s so important to acknowledge your worth, and charge for that. This is your energy, your life force, and when you feel appropriately compensated for it, you will show up 100% and do your best.

  4. When challenges strike, ZOOM out: especially when I started my business, I would majorly freak out every time I hit a roadblock (I’m still not immune to this, to be honest!). I tell this to my clients all the time, and I am finally starting to take my own advice - when challenges cross your way, zoom out and look at the big picture. Most times, you’ll see that the “problem” you are facing is actually just a blip and easy to solve.

  5. Be relentless in your solutions-finding: in my first corporate job, I had a manager who would scold me for coming to her with problems and not solutions. As a business owner, I finally understand how important it is to approach every problem with a solution. Always, always believe that there is a solution waiting to be uncovered.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)

Dear Jay Shetty, I have a huge crush on you. Haha. For real, I really respect his mindful philosophy on life and his role in inspiring millions of people into thinking deeper, connecting with one another, and making self-development a priority.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can follow along on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @celinnedacosta. I write daily stories about life design, human connection, and branding, as well as post photos from my adventures around the world!

Thank you so much for this. This was so inspiring!

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