I attended a public presentation last week for a local development project called CentrePointe. The presentation was led by Jeanne Gang of Gang Studio Architects. For those that live in Lexington you know the history and controversy. For those that aren’t familiar with the project it is a proposed major private development in the heart of downtown Lexington.
What struck me about the meeting was the importance of story telling. Gang did a masterful job of drawing the audience into her world of contemporary design. She explained the genesis of Gang Studio’s design response for the project and its origins in central Kentucky’s equine constructs and natural landscape. Those stories provided context for what I’m sure many people in the audience would question as an ”appropriate” design for Lexington. The overall mood of the room seemed upbeat and supportive of the design and project in general, a stark contrast to the venomous opposition that surrounded the project just a year ago. Yes, the design is different but so was the way the project was explained to the public. I’ll claim the story is as important as the design in winning the audience.
I practice my own story telling too. A local tech group called IN2LEX that I’ve been involved with recently hosted an entrepreneurial conference in Lexington called the Startup Advantage Conference. I picked up a couple of our speakers from the airport and took them to the Gratz Park Inn, a local boutique hotel in the heart of downtown. For those that haven’t had the pleasure of flying into Lexington it is a spectacular landscape. There are beautiful thoroughbred horse farms for as far as the eye can see. The picturesque rolling terrain, white fences, and star equine athletes are unique to Lexington and make for great conversation on the ride from the airport to downtown.
Over the years I’ve learned some of the reasons Lexington became the center of the world for thoroughbred horses. During the Revolutionary War wealthy horse owners on the east coast moved their prized possessions inland to prevent their theft by the British. The rolling natural terrain surrounding Lexington is perfect for exercising the leg muscles of thoroughbreds and the natural limestone underlying the bluegrass is good for bone strength making central Kentucky a perfect spot. My little bit of knowledge about the history of “why” the thoroughbreds are in Lexington makes the 20 minute ride from the airport to downtown fly by and gives my passengers context to accompany the natural beauty they see when they arrive in Lexington. I’m “selling” Lexington in a very authentic, unassuming way.
I think storytelling is one of the most important aspects of a startup. Stories about what value your product offers and why anyone should care become the primary means of interfacing with potential customers and garnering much needed feedback as you measure the accuracy of your assumptions. Refining a good story or stories as backdrop to your shiny new product or service will help take the edge off what might otherwise seem confusing when first encountered.
I’ve been telling stories every day over the past year about my new startup Punndit. The stories have evolved and through practice are getting easier and more exciting to tell. Context matters, and a good story, be it to sell a building, a community, or a new product, is key to moving your vision forward.