Before Scott Belsky had a product, he had a brand. Belsky is founder of Behance, an online portfolio company for creatives that he later sold to Adobe for an estimated $150 million. Today, Belsky is Adobe’s Chief Product Officer and a venture capital investor.
Belsky developed a “narrative” before building the product. “Our narrative was that technology needed to empower creative people to make ideas happen,”
Belsky writes in his new book, The Messy Middle. The narrative guided the team’s decisions on which features they should include, which features they should avoid, and how they should design those features to support the brand story.
In a recent conversation with Belsky, he told me that transformative leaders often write the brand story before the product is even developed.
It’s a great strategy for entrepreneurs and business professionals in any field.
For example, Belsky told me about Garrett Camp, the co-founder of Uber.
Belsky was an early investor in the company. Before Uber was a product—or a company—Camp was working on the narrative. Camp begin to imagine an experience where everyone could call up a private driver, something only reserved for wealthy elites at the time. He imagined it as a superpower that ordinary people would have at their fingertips, literally.
The story evolved into Uber’s first tagline: Uber is everyone’s private driver.
“I think it helped the whole ride sharing industry take off,” Belsky told me. “People felt like they had access to something that otherwise would not have been available to them.”
Build your narrative before the product.According to Belsky, “Most entrepreneurs jump in and build a product. They’ll spend months, even years, building an MVP (minimal viable product). Right when they’re about to share it with the world, they realize it doesn’t resonate with consumers. People don’t understand why it helps them and why they should use it instead of something else.”
Belsky recommends that entrepreneurs avoid this problem by starting with a story before the product is built—paint a picture of what the world will look like when the product is finished.
Belsky goes further and recommends that entrepreneurs build a private web page for the product. It should answer the following questions:
· What inspired the idea?
· Why does it need to exist?
· Why is it relevant?
· How does it make the future better?
“A product experience is all about communication,” says Scott Belsky.“Building the narrative first is like setting a North Star.” Knowing your product story changes how you build the product and how you market it, too.
An entrepreneur must be able to help a team, investor, or partner visualize the future. Being able to recite a narrative—tell a story—about a future customer and how the product will solve a real-world problem is a powerful exercise that few leaders do in the early stages of the development process. “It’s very powerful and most teams don’t spend a lot of time on it,” says Belsky.
As I've written in previous columns, humans are wired for story. Storytelling is not something we do; storytellers are who we are. We process our world in narrative, communicate in narrative and prefer our information to be delivered in narrative form.
Bringing an idea to market in the form of a product, company, or initiative is hard enough. Give yourself an opportunity to stand out by crafting the story before building the product.
I am a keynote speaker, bestselling author, and communication advisor for leaders at the world’s most admired brands. I’ve written nine books that have been published in more than 30 languages. My new book is Five Stars: The Communication Secrets to Get from Good to Great. I...
is the author of Five Stars: The Communication Secrets to Get from Good to Great. He is a keynote speaker, Harvard instructor and wrote “Talk like TED” and “The Storyteller’s Secret.”