33. Story, not Essay


7 billion people, 80% are farmers…

I’VE WORKED WITH DOZENS of entrepreneurs born and raised in dozens of different countries. One similarity between all of them is that they were all taught how to write a proper essay in school. The same three-part structure that my children were taught in their American schools. Essays, essays, and more essays, with very little instruction in how to write a great story. Unfortunately, essays make for terrible stories.

Crafting a compelling story requires ignoring most of the advice of your English teacher (and every other language you’ve studied). A great story does not begin with facts. It does not build toward a conclusion. It most certainly does not begin by telling the audience what you are going to tell them, nor ends telling them what you’ve already told them. All those help build a good essay, but none will help you with your story.

To demonstrate this, let’s look at the first draft of the pitch from Paniel Meat Processing, one of my fledglings, with a founder born, raised, and educated in Rwanda. The company has a great story, none of which is evident from the first draft of his story:

Hello, my name is Herve Tuyishime. I am from Rwanda in East Africa. In my country we are 13m people, 90% living by agriculture 60% under the poverty line. In rural areas 70% of these farmers own at least one livestock: goat, sheep, pork, rabbit or cattle.

Facts, facts, and more facts, totally appropriate for a school essay or Wikipedia article. Nothing here that makes the audience lean in and want more details, despite almost 12 million people living in poverty.

In the first draft, this essay style continued:

In developed countries meat consumption is around 80 kg per year, it hardly exceeds 32 kg in Africa. This deficit in animal protein consumption is still high in Rwanda where meat consumption is just 7.5 kg per year. Nevertheless Rwanda is an African country with climatic advantages, which make an ideal framework for agriculture, the major sector of its economy.

Did you notice the appearance of a second problem? Not only do we have yet-more facts in this paragraph, but the essay is now talking about both poverty and hunger.

I won’t bother including the third paragraph, as it introduces a third problem, access to markets. You know by now that isn’t going to make the story any more interesting.

The fourth paragraph finally introduces a solution:

After realizing how people like to eat meat and they do not have access to meat products regarding their income levels I started Paniel Meat Processing to produce affordable and accessible meat products to everyone who want to consume meat.

In this paragraph we also finally step back from raw facts and reintroduce Herve as the “I” founding the company and presenting the story.

The next few chapters will demonstrate how to get from this essay into a captivating story-like pitch. That whole process took just one week and one day. I flew down to Fledge Peru on a weekend, met with Herve on Monday and a week from Tuesday Herve presented a great story on stage at the Fledge Demo Day.


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