Four key takeaways from my time with Boomtown Accelerator's latest class

I got the chance to work with Boomtown Accelerator's latest class over the past five weeks and it has been nothing but phenomenal. 

Each of the eleven teams are doing something interesting, and every founder has a fantastic backstory to boot. 

My work was focused specifically on startup storytelling, and while I didn't spend a ton of time with each time, I was able to help each team craft their mentor pitch and prepare the rough story arc for their pitch, which will be happening in seven or so weeks. 

Here's four key things that stuck out:

One: The self awareness of the founders was impressive. Nobody was cocky. Nobody told me they figured it all out. When I worked with each founder to help edit their pitch they were receptive and wanted to push themselves past good enough. They weren't guarded, or narrow minded, or shy to voice their opinion. It says a lot about what Boomtown is doing and the environment they're creating, but it also reminded me humility is not dead when it comes to early startups. 

Two: Storytelling isn't hard. What is hard is identifying what to say. Every team had fifteen different ways they could talk about their company and even more for their products. The challenge we had was identifying which one mattered, and then helping them put that into a story. If you're a founder you know this already, but if you're starting out don't get blinded by the sex of storytelling. That's the easy party. 

Three: AI is huge and it is still super hard to explain. Like VR, AI makes sense to some, conjures up bad images for others, and just confuses the heck out of most. There's two different AI teams and they both are having some trouble figuring out how to frame their product. I'm not sure how they'll do it, but come demo night it should be interesting. 

Four: Everybody is trying to figure it out. Sounds cliche, and it probably is, but the reality is nobody has any real idea yet how it's all going to shake out during the first few weeks of the program. Some teams came in with a product and traction, while others were profitable and some just had an idea. Every team was engaged, willing to push themselves and in the span of a week they were changing ideas and implementing learnings. 

Startup accelerators aren't for everyone, but for founders who are a good fit, they can be pivotal to success. I'm looking forward to seeing how the teams progress and following up here with some thoughts on their pitches come demo night. 

How we measure the ROI of business storytelling

Measuring your return on investment is a big part of what we do at Rack Focus. 

Here's how we approach it.

Every business starts with clearly identifying what they think storytelling will help them achieve. We focus on current challenges, upcoming challenges, and where things are good.

Each of these segments then gets broken down into specific needs such as 'aligning sales teams and increasing sales,' 'improving employee engagement scores,' and 'aligning leaders with the current business strategy.'

From there we explore the ways strategic stories might help solve these problems. We aren't creating the stories yet, but we are starting to uncover what information needs to be included. 

A strategy forms from this process, and we begin implementation. For some goals we provide workshops, while other times we focus on individual projects as a consultant. Our goal is always the same: make sure you are telling the best story possible to the right audience. 

During and after our work, we help each business define a timeline and KPI's to track success. 

A great example of how this plays out is the work we did with Travelport's internal accelerator program. 

At the end of the program each team was required to give two pitches. The first was towards investors and needed to show how their business was just not a cool business, but a fundable opportunity. 

The second was to a public audience at the closing night party. 

We identified what each pitch needed to do, how to structure each need, and how to roll that into the weekly cadence already in use by the program.

We had weekly check-ins to monitor teams' progress, and as we got closer to demo day, we did one-on-one coaching.

The end result was a series of pitches that exceeded expectations and also attracted some seed funding.  

To learn more about the work we do and how we can help your company contact us here

It is not about storytelling. It is about communication.

Two weeks ago (over a phenomenal bowl of noodles) in Denver's rising LoDo neighborhood, I overheard two founders talking about their fundraising efforts. 

The founder to my immediate left had just botched a pitch and was frustrated that the VC's weren't seeing what was so clearly an obvious investment. 

His partner, sitting across the table and trying hard to be supportive, suggested maybe the story was wrong. Were they telling the right stories to investors?

I thought he could be right, but I also wondered if the businesses just wasn't sound. 

Either way, the interaction was an example something that I'm hearing more of today:

Storytelling is the simple fix to getting what you want. 

Except it's not. 

When working with organizations I make sure to be up front that at its core, storytelling is about communication. It just so happens it's one of the most effective ways to communicate, but it's not the only way to communicate, and sometimes it might not be the most effective. 

Workshops start first with identifying what each team member is trying to communicate, and then helping them look at different story structures that could help them. 

Everyone from the C-suite to the newest JR hire needs to communicate, and if an organization is full of strong communicators, the bottom line is sure to show that. 

The trick, though, isn't finding time for a workshop, but making sure that what's learned continues to be used well after the lights are turned off. 

What we have found is that communication is like any learned skill -- it needs to be done over and over before it comes naturally. Providing employees with the chance to to practice is important if your company is going to reap the benefits. 

Using Storytelling With Emergenetics

Organizations using Emergenetics are providing their employees with valuable insights that will increase productivity and team engagement.

We help organizations take the next step and add storytelling curriculum to their Emergenetics findings. 

According to Emergenetics there are four main core areas people think in:

  1. Analytical
  2. Conceptual
  3. Structural
  4. Social 

They also break apart how you think, and how you behave against the rest of the general population. The end result is a snapshot of how you process information and turn that into action.

How Storytelling Relates

Once employees have their Emergenetics profile, it's a great time to talk about how storytelling can help them communicate to their team. 

For example, here's how I would approach storytelling in relation to two quadrants.


According to their assessment, analytical thinkers are logical problem solvers who are data driven, rational, and learn by mental analysis. This means stories about the future with no data and no clear path forward might not be the best way to approach these thinkers. 

Many times these thinkers need stories that frame the data presented in a way that doesn't undermine its value, but instead enhances its meaning. For example, if you're a leader trying to help an analytical thinker solve a difficult problem, communicate with stories that have the data as the main character. The other way would be to tell a story that's logical by structure and doesn't rely on the need for the audience to accept unknown truths and suspend belief. 


Conceptual is on the opposite side of the spectrum. It is defined by imaginative thinking, enjoying the unusual, relying on intuition about ideas, and learning by experimenting. 

Conceptual thinkers love the big hairy ideas that are messy and full of holes. They want to suspend belief and take a 500-mile view before zeroing down in on what's really important. 

If you're a manager who is working with conceptual thinkers, your story is going to be filled with a lot of 'what ifs,' and 'here's the promised land.' 

Analytical thinkers would probably react to the story as skeptics and demand data to support your beliefs. 

Where It Gets Complicated

Most Emergenetics users are not driven by only one way of thinking, but rather two or three ways. 

For example, my Emergentics profile is Analytical 28%, Conceptual 32%, Social 32% and Structural 8%. 

A leader wanting to communicate with me would do best by playing to my three main methods of thinking and not focusing on the structural part of the story. 

A great story might start with the unknown, require me to accept a vision through relating and being socially aware, and then finish with data supporting a clear direction forward. It would be a waste of time for the manager to give me guidelines and take the tone of being cautious about the big unknown idea.