Myth and hyperbole: Behind the start-up story

Myth and hyperbole: Behind the start-up story
In the murky grey fog of modern marketing and sales, the theme of authenticity can shine through like a sunbeam. At every stage of the business life cycle, brands are desperate to appear as genuine consumer allies in a world of corporate entities out to take your money. Entire marketing budgets are spent contriving authenticity, espousing myths and hyperbole to cover the tracks of shrewd capitalist endeavour. We see it all the time in advertising, it is the true wolf in sheep’s clothing. It’s not a strictly regulated financial institution we’re seeing on a particular television advert, it’s a jaunty tune and a cartoon critter. If you read any of the great business biographies of recent years, you discover icons of business yearn for the days when the seeds of their ambition were germinating and it was all to play for. They look back with great fondness at the days when they took on the world with their ideas and built something. As consumers, hearing about this time in a company’s life is far more compelling than hearing about the corporate megalith they eventually became, which is why companies are so keen to tell us their ‘start-up story’. These tales of man against the world connect to us on a deeper level, where we live vicariously through the courage and success of others in pursuit of wealth and freedom. startup, story, entrepreneur, success, business, journey, career path, social media, brands, marketing, brand management A common critique is that these stories omit the banal and insipid detail of starting up, leading to a misinterpretation of what it is to found a company. The myth of it being a 24 hour a day slog with 2.5 hours of sleep and constant activity is perhaps the first to dispel, the reality being more of a stop and start affair with long grey periods of inactivity and frustratingly imperfect progress. Frequently questionable deals have to be done and compromises have to be made in order to move forward and get to the next stage. These details, it is fair to say, are conveniently forgotten when recounting the journey to eminence. startup, story, entrepreneur, success, business, journey, career path, social media, brands, marketing, brand management Take for example of a well-known start-up story is that of Innocent Smoothies, the well-known fruit smoothie company founded in the UK in 1999. The response from consumers to the brand was immediate and it went on to be a huge success. Their published start-up story reads as follows:

“We started innocent in 1999 after selling our smoothies at a music festival. We put up a big sign asking people if they thought we should give up our jobs to make smoothies, and put a bin saying 'Yes' and a bin saying 'No" in front of the stall. Then we got people to vote with their empties. At the end of the weekend, the 'Yes' bin was full, so we resigned from our jobs the next day and got cracking.”

Innocent play so astutely on the theme of authenticity and a connection to customers in this piece. Brands like Innocent are fuelled on the idea that they are just like you, almost as if they are not businesses at all. No mention of the plans to become an international subsidiary of Coca-Cola and gradually cash out of the business. startup, story, entrepreneur, success, business, journey, career path, social media, brands, marketing, brand management Every business driven by a sense of mission eventually faces financial decisions that challenge the public persona of their brand. Many small brands that become big still wear the mask of their smaller, more palatable selves in this way, neatly concealing the corporate back end of logistics and compliance reports. A case in point, in the pet food category, large brands are buying smaller players, as a way of affecting a cosy, friendly and authentic image in an industry driven by sentimentality. It would be erroneous to blame the brands for using this to their advantage. Following the internet revolution and subsequently the social media revolution consumers are now connected to the companies they buy from like never before. startup, story, entrepreneur, success, business, journey, career path, social media, brands, marketing, brand management Social media is not a frivolous platform, as Erik Qualman, author of Socialnomics explains “The ROI of social media is that your business will still exist in 5 years’ time”. The theme of authenticity is no longer a quaint marketing tool, it’s an essential attribute of every brand that has successfully conquered these new mediums. Social media is a deeply personal connection from companies into the pockets of its customers, and the customer hasn’t taken that fact as lightly as it is assumed. With more choice than ever, customers are fickle and unforgiving of brands that try to pull the wool over their eyes. The challenge that remains is that which has always existed; how to remain authentic while telling a good story.