Before starting your business, get your sob story straight


Why do start-ups capture our hearts and minds so completely? On paper, as I’ve mentioned before, they aren’t very successful and generally come with a great deal of risk attached. Money would be better invested in other ways or in different businesses, yet for many of us there is an allure with chucking all our cash into starting something from scratch which we simply can’t resist

One reason for this is there is something of a rags-to-riches story surrounding start-ups which we seem to lap up. Almost every start-up has one and it often becomes the stalwart of their marketing literature. I remember receiving a mailshot from The Cambridge Satchel Company, which as many people will know was started by a mum-of-two, Julie Dean. On their small glossy postcard was the story behind her company and how it was started with just £600. If you go onto her website, it explains the motivation behind Julie’s company was to send her children to a better school.

This feels straight out of the X-Factor/Britain’s Got Talent playbook and I for one am getting a bit tired of it. For instance, there is no way you can start a multi-million pound company on £600. Secondly, to use your own kids as capital in a sob story for your company seems a little crass.

Long are the days of utilising your marketing to simply inform people as to why your product or service is better than everyone else’s. I would like to point out that I am very much in favour of socially-responsible businesses and we were ourselves hugely inspired by Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen restaurant. Yet, my problem lies with a sob story being used from a marketing standpoint. Even when a start-up doesn’t have one, they will always emphasise their struggles and humble beginnings. When you read about Innocent, they never mention their lives at private schools (though they always bang on about meeting at University), and the guys who started Airbnb talk about their business beginning in the living room, not so much about the $7.2 million cash injection they got in 2010.

So if you want to create a great product or service, be my guest but spare me the humble beginnings, rags-to-riches, sob story. Because in the end, it only devalues those businesses who are genuinely ethically motivated and socially-responsible – and these are the start-ups we should be talking about.


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