The Intelligent Workplace

The Intelligent Workplace

Episode 26

Startups, sell your story if you want to sell your business.

​Chris Adams
Digital Strategy Consultant, Speaker & Author
Orbit Media Group​​

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When preparing for my podcasts, I like to have a solid plan for where I want to steer the conversation. But, every now and then I come across a guest like Chris Adams. A guest with so many different stories form their career, that I am not sure which one to ask about first.
 
Chris Adams is an expat American living in Australia and is the founder of the Orbit Media Group. But, that doesn’t even begin to tell his story. Chris has worked with companies such as Amazon, Facebook, and Comcast. He’s a keynote speaker at technology and entrepreneurial conferences, and a children’s book author. One of his books, Dan the Biggest Dump Truck was even turned into a short video narrated by Hugh Jackman. So when I say that I had many ideas for where to take this podcast, you can understand why.
 
Chris has a bachelor’s degree in English Literature and Mass Communication and a master’s of Fine Arts in Professional Writing. He combines his love of the written word with his passion for startups by assisting them with the art of corporate storytelling.
 

This conversation ducks and weaves between entertaining anecdotes, real world advice, and insights from Chris’ time in the world of start-ups. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did?

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Chris Lukianenko:           

So welcome to The Intelligent Workplace podcast, Chris Adams.

Chris Adams:                    

Thank you Chris. Very nice to be here.

Chris Lukianenko:           

Mate, talk about spoiled for choice of what we could cover today. You have certainly packed a lot into your career. Why don’t you give us a bit of an executive summary of it?

Chris Adams:                    

Certainly Chris. I mean, it’s really, I think the best description I’ve ever heard is a number of people have said, “Well, you just tripped and fell into all the right places at all the right times.” Which is lovely. But I think it comes down to just really loving to say yes.

Chris Lukianenko:           

That’s cool.

Chris Adams:                    

And looking at challenges. I mean, I didn’t know how to run a movie studio, but I said yes and that worked out okay. And went from studying English literature to tech startups to movies and the ASX. So it’s been a wonderful journey and I think I’m fueled a lot by curiosity and challenges and-

Chris Lukianenko:           

Nice.

Chris Adams:                    

… look, lots of failures and lots of successes and agony and ecstasy along the way. But it’s been really fun.

Chris Lukianenko:           

You’ve got a file to learn and then take-

Chris Adams:                    

Oh absolutely.

Chris Lukianenko:            .

.. on to success. Yeah, absolutely. Look, as I said in the opener, so many options for where we could take this interview today, but I’m really interested in exploring the world of startups with you if that’s all right.

Chris Adams:                   

You bet.

Chris Lukianenko:           

Nice. But before we get to that, I just want to quickly touch on your writing of your children’s books, because to me that’s really, really interesting, like a bit of a tangent. How did they come about? And were you writing them for your kids or maybe for some other reason?

Chris Adams:                    

I was writing them for my son. So I mean, with my background you can probably understand that I’m an avid reader.

Chris Lukianenko:           

Yep, yeah, yeah.

Chris Adams:                    

Always have since a kid just read voraciously. And so when my son was born and it was the nighttime bedtime story time we just plowed through every book from Good Night Moon all the way through.

Chris Adams:                    

At a certain point, I started just telling him stories and we would make up stories together.

Chris Lukianenko:           

Oh nice.

Chris Adams:                    

It was really organic. It wasn’t like, okay, we’re going to sit down and make up stuff. But we started on this theme because little boys love trucks. So we started making up stories about big trucks. My first book was about a giant fire truck and we just told it to each other over and over and over and over again. And the story just iterated. And it was really funny because he would say, “Daddy, tell me about Sam, the biggest fire trucker. Tell me about Dan, the biggest dump truck.” And I’d start the story. And having done it so many times, I was keen to kind of embellish and make it better. And he’d go, “No, no, that’s not what happens.”

Chris Adams:                    

And luckily it was one of those things where I started talking to my friends in technology and in media and in publishing and in charity and in celebrity about what I was doing. And it kind of came together, this idea about kids helping kids. By the ability to teach your child how to read and how to end then with technology each of the books that sits on interactive iPads and things like that. I mean you can color in on the pages, you can send them to your grandma. Like this kind of idea of a digital refrigerator-

Chris Lukianenko:           

That’s awesome.

Chris Adams:                    

… where you can take all of the illustration color out of any given page. You can color it in yourself, save it, and then send it to somebody who can print it. So one of my dearest friends named Eric Wise at ISBX in the States really loved it and said, “Hey, let’s make an iPad app.” So we made this incredible iPad app and then I got the idea, why don’t we partner with children’s charities. And so the idea was that by teaching your child how to read, you are helping kids in need. So we partnered with the Starlight Children’s Foundation around one of the books.

Chris Adams:                    

And then when it came to Dan The Biggest Dump Truck, I’ve been friends with Hugh Jackman for a long time. His kids had read my book, I was at his house one night having dinner and he introduced me as Sam, The Biggest Fire Truck. He’s like, “This is my friend Sam, he’s the biggest fire truck.”

Chris Lukianenko:           

Oh that’s great, that’s awesome.

Chris Adams:                    

And I was like, “No way.”

Chris Lukianenko:           

That’s awesome.

Chris Adams:                    

And I just started talking because I had narrated that book. And they’re like, “Oh my God, you’re totally Sam.” So we sat down and read the book and they were listening to me talk and then swiping the words and having my voice come out of the iPad. And then his son turned to Hugh and just said, “Daddy, why don’t you do one?” And so I looked at Hugh and I was like, yes. Got him.

Chris Lukianenko:           

Just slipped a little father to his son and said, “Thank you very much.”

Chris Adams:                    

Yeah exactly. And so he said, “Do you have another one?” And I said, “I do.” And so he and I have been involved with Global Citizen, which was formerly the Global Poverty Project for a long time. And he and his wife were very involved in World Vision. Deb’s on the board. So long story short, we did the book, he narrated it while he was doing Wolverine. So he had this incredible recording studio that he could do it.

Chris Lukianenko:           

Oh nice, yeah, yeah.

Chris Adams:                    

And then we made it a all the proceeds benefit Global Citizen and World Vision. Again, two charities that are world-leading in helping children in a variety of ways.

Chris Lukianenko:           

Fantastic.

Chris Adams:                    

It really just been kind of a theme, book that I made up with my son, partner with a charity, put it on an iPad and get a celebrity narrator that is keen about helping children.

Chris Lukianenko:           

Brilliant. I have a feeling tonight we’re going to jump around all over the place with this interview.

Chris Adams:                    

That’s fine.

Chris Lukianenko:           

I’m loving it.

Chris Adams:                    

Good.

Chris Lukianenko:           

What a great story to open up. Oh, thanks mate. So why don’t we bring this back to the topic at hand, which is startups. And how did you find yourself in this position working with these startups? Were you involved in your own at some stage in the past or did you feel like you had a really nice mix of skills and experiences that you felt would be useful with your clients?

Chris Adams:                    

Well, it’s interesting because the major companies that kind of highlight my resume or my CV or my LinkedIn page, when I joined them they were functionally startups. I was involved at Amazon very, very early. I was involved in Facebook very, very early. They were well funded but they were startups and so I kind of tripped and fell into this world of the internet where I was helping out some of the biggest companies in the … Now the biggest companies in the world to penetrate basically Hollywood.

Chris Adams:                    

Whether it was like … So when Amazon was music movies and books, I was tasked with the music and movies bit. So here I am, a 25 year old kid right out of graduate school trying to be a filmmaker and all of a sudden I’m running around to all the studios and networks and record labels-

Chris Lukianenko:           

Oh wow.

Chris Adams:                    

… knocking on the door and going, “Hi, do you want to … We can sell DVDs and CDs on this thing called the internet.”

Chris Adams:                    

But really my job was to try to convince the largest media companies in the world to try out this new thing called the internet. And it worked out pretty well. And as a result of that I really got into the startup ecosystem and whilst I had a bunch of ideas and whilst I have over my career taking the helm of a couple of startups, I found over time that what I really, really enjoy is helping founders grow.

Chris Adams:                    

The strategy and the tactics, the storytelling, the messaging, the positioning, everything that a startup … Startups are hair on fire. Every decision is critical. There’s this kind of zero to one phase. Two to infinity is relatively easy. That’s called a company, but a startup is zero to one. And so you look at inflection points and that really resonated with me.

Chris Adams:                    

I enjoyed helping founders. I mean it sounds so cliche, but it’s really true. These people are visionaries that have dreams. And they will work tirelessly and mercilessly, but there are a lot of mistakes that can be made over time. And as my career progressed, I found that I was kind of in the saving time and saving tears business because you can pivot and pivot and pivot and you just waste a lot of time.

Chris Adams:                    

You can put your head down and just mercilessly grind. But have a lot of tears. And so in working with some of the biggest companies in the world early, I saw their growth trajectories, I saw where they succeeded and failed. I saw these incredible lightning strike moments where they kind of went, “What if we do this?”

Chris Adams:                    

And so I was able to increasingly bring that knowledge and experience to startups, many of which are household names and many of which are not. Find that being able with my literature and writing background, which is essentially language. I find myself kind of in the middle of a lot of stakeholders. You have technologists and commercial people and investors and board members and the market.

Chris Adams:                    

And essentially it’s like what every startup is making is something that’s blue or a tree or whatever. But let’s say blue, okay, and you’ve got the investors saying, “Well I think it’s Robin egg, right? It’s Robin egg blue.” And then you have the technologists going, “No, it’s dark blue.” And then you have the commercial people go, “No, it’s Royal blue.”

Chris Adams:                     And I’m like guys, “It’s blue. Can we all just, it’s blue. So let’s just go with the blue thing.” And once everybody realizes that we’re doing blue, they go, “Oh, okay. Right, good. Okay, it’s blue. Good. We’ll go there.” And so now I can’t write code. And so there’s a lot of things that I marvel in technologists and founders and all of these types of people and investors in the way they think. But where I found my sweet spot was kind of being the polyglot. I could speak all the languages, I can speak [crosstalk 00:11:20]-

Chris Lukianenko:           

The man in the middle.

Chris Adams:                    

I can speak VC, I can speak tech, I can speak app, I can speak commercial. And it was that blue thing. It’s like once you boil it down to it’s blue, well there’s a lot of people that like blue so let’s sell this thing to people who like blue. Oh, okay. So that was really the boiled down way. But I just really loved startups because that’s where there’s so much energy and passion.

Chris Lukianenko:           

Absolutely.

Chris Adams:                    

Startups are fueling a very, very significant part, not only in the global economy, but just the kind of global ideas boom. It’s bringing people together from all around the world. It’s sharing of ideas. You’ve got the Silicon fill in the blank, whether it’s Beach or Valley or whatever, all around the world.

Chris Adams:                    

And you’re seeing the workflow place change. You’re seeing corporate culture change, you’re seeing transformation change. Because startups are infusing commerce and infusing the world with a different way of thinking. And it’s accelerating. And it’s really fun to see. And it’s nice to be having cut my teeth in Silicon Valley and then spending a lot of time in Silicon Beach and now being part of the Australian startup ecosystem is really wonderful.

Chris Lukianenko:           

Nice. You mentioned Silicon Valley. Are you a fan of the HBO show and where you perhaps asked to be an advisor with all of your passions?

Chris Adams:                    

Look, I mean, you’ve got to love the show, because in a lot of ways if you’re on the outside, it’s fascinating because you kind of go, “Wow, is that really the way it is?” If you’ve been on the inside, you go, “Yep, that’s exactly the way it is.” So I look at it, it’s almost like a documentary.

Chris Lukianenko:           

Yeah. Which of the characters do you align to the most?

Chris Adams:                    

Oh look, I mean, I bounce around. I think that I always kind of look at any given character that’s a Maverick I’m always fascinated with. There’s always your curmudgeon, there’s always your crazy investor. I mean they nailed the archetypes really, really well. Because if you look at the major characters season to season and all that kind of stuff, I mean a lot of those people are based on real people. And there’s been a few people that I kind of went, “Yep, I know that guy.”

Chris Lukianenko:           

Russ Hanneman perhaps?

Chris Adams:                    

Yes, but that came to mind. It’s awesome, it’s lovely.

Chris Lukianenko:           

Yeah. Nice, nice. So you’ve been involved with quite a few listings, especially on the ASX with these startups. What’s been their number one need or pain point that you’ve really dialed down and helped them with?

Chris Adams:                    

That’s a great question. Look, in the whole recent boom, the mining, the GFC, and then the kind of mining industry crashed here. And look, this is a country that’s based on digging holes in the ground and putting houses on top of them. I mean, that’s the [inaudible 00:14:10], right?

Chris Adams:                    

But I found it really fascinating that the stockbroking and investment banking world was sitting there in kind of 2014 going, “Wow, we have all of these distressed shells that were exploratory mining companies. What are we going to stick in them because we have investors that have put a lot of money.” And it’s all about liquidity in the market and so tech became really interesting because it was something that they had a previous experience with. But then Australia kind of cooled on investing in tech from a stock market point of view for a long time.

Chris Adams:                    

There were certainly companies like SEEK and others that came up, but they were really B2B marketplaces had great analogs in the U.S. and around the world. But all of a sudden you had this Wild Wild West where the entire investment banking world was looking for companies to backdoor list into mining shells, which was a good idea because the biggest problem traditionally in this country when it comes to startups in the past was access to capital.

Chris Adams:                    

There are VCs and there’s private equity and there’s syndicates and all those things. But with the enormous focus on liquidity, the zeitgeists really didn’t abide to, “Well, we’re going to invest in a private company out of our superannuation and it’s going to be five to 10 years before we get our money back.” That’s just not the psyche of a lot of the … 80% of the bell curve of Australian investors.

Chris Adams:                    

So all of a sudden there’s an opportunity for people who are using technology and getting on Facebook and all those types of things to actually participate. Now the good news is the capital flow, the bad news was there was a lot of terrible bets. And really my, where my job sat is working with a particular investment banking firm to help them filter.

Chris Adams:                    

And they could look at, from a corporate back office point of view they could look at the numbers and the revenue and the projections and the legals and the accounting and the audited books. But they didn’t have a sense of the founders. They didn’t have the sense of is it a good product or a bad product? Is there a market fit? Does it work?

Chris Lukianenko:           

Yeah, smoke and mirrors.

Chris Adams:                    

But and I think the thing is, is that if you look at the resources, it’s like they know the gold’s in the ground, right? They know the coal’s there, they know the iron ores there. So you drill and drill and drill until you hit it. But you know it’s there. It’s not going anywhere, right. So there was this mentality that if we keep sinking holes we’ll get it. But in tech, they just didn’t understand product development cycles. They didn’t understand partnerships. They didn’t understand the fact that you, a lot of technology, particularly on the consumer side is about monetizing users and the data they provide as opposed to somebody buying something.

Chris Lukianenko:           

Yes, sure, yeah.

Chris Adams:                    

Look, good strong companies did well. There were some companies that just spectacularly blew up. But where I found a lot of my work was working between the board of directors, the investors, the bankers and the founders on the difference between working in your business and on it. So a lot of startups are incredibly passionate, very energetic people who just work 20 hours a day making their product better.

Chris Adams:                    

So they’re not particularly tuned to things like investor relations. In press releases with tech are very different than ASX announcements the idea of governance and compliance. I mean, I don’t know how many ASX announcements that I was involved in writing or particularly rewriting. A founder would go to the CMO and say, “Hey, we’ve got this new version of our product, let’s get it out there, let’s get people to talk about it.” And they would write a very typical tech crunch, mashable, Mumbrella press release.

Chris Adams:                    

Well when you are dealing with 2,500 shareholders and AIESEC and the ASX, kind of spruiking doesn’t work. [crosstalk 00:18:31].

Chris Lukianenko:           

I can understand that.

Chris Adams:                    

I mean, there was always the idea of more and more raises, more and more placements. And a lot of that was driven by not necessarily the company needing money, but the market requiring more liquidity. So there was incredible tension. And ultimately from, there were again many successes, many failures, which is normal. But I think that the market got very weary and you saw kind of in 2018 a big correction-

Chris Lukianenko:           

Yeah, absolutely.

Chris Adams:                    

… and a big shift. It was like, “If you’ve got an app we’ll list you and then all of a sudden we don’t want to touch you.” Now that were driven by nothing more than appetite. Investors just got tired of it. And to be really honest, founders of startups got tired of it. They went, “Geez, I’m spending all of my time preparing board papers and going to board meetings and being on investor relations calls. When am I going to build the next version of my product?”

Chris Adams:                    

And so in the shift away from tech back into resources, that really opened the floodgates for a proper VC culture to emerge in this country. So you saw, there was the black birds and the blue skies and those that had been there for a while and are wonderful firms, but all of a sudden VC money started coming in. There was a change in government tax rules around your superannuation and you can invest in all those things. And that’s really helped the tech sector and the startup culture here grow significantly.

Chris Lukianenko:           

One of the things I’ve sort of been thinking about here is this whole idea of taking investors along for the ride when they don’t necessarily understand the tech they might be investing in. And obviously part of that is telling a story, which is a beautiful segue of mining to one of your other passions, which is writing. And obviously you found a way to incorporate that into your startup work with your corporate storytelling. How important do you feel it is for startups to tell those stories?

Chris Adams:                    

It’s vital. I mean, it’s absolutely vital. And again, it goes back to that kind of sitting in the middle of all the stakeholders is that if you’re in a really mature, robust environment, like let’s just say Silicon Valley, there’s a shortcut. The language has spoken enough and there’s such a concentration of people on all sides, like all around the table that it’s, the timelines are truncated. But when you have this vast investment community in Australia that is used to liquidity and the only kind of tech they’ve ever invested in was kind of biotech or med tech, right? Oh I’ve got this machine and it allows you to see cancer cells a lot clearer and a lot faster. I need X amount of money to build enough to meet the orders that I’m getting.

Chris Adams:                    

Well that’s not really an app, right? So where I think, and this is from the giant corporate stands to the little startups anywhere in the world, is the ability to communicate who you are, what you do, why you do it, how you do it, and what’s important about it to any given stakeholder is critical. And what I advise founders and startups and also talk to investors about is that … Like the investors hate jargon and the startups are obsessed with it, right? So startups come in and are wide eyed and they’ve had 15 macchiatos and they’re black … They’re jumping around and all over the place they’re fiddling with their phones and they’re doing all this jargon stuff.

Chris Adams:                    

And the investors are like, “Just tell me what the hell you do.” And so the way that I kind of figured it out is that if you were at a barbecue, you were invited to a barbecue at a night. And you get, you’re sitting in the corner with a beer and somebody says, “Hey, this is Marcus, Chris.” And what do you do? You’ll tell your story beautifully at a barbecue or a footy game, right? Or at the pub, “Oh well I have this app and it’s really cool and it does this and that and that.” That’s what you need to do. Tell your story like you would tell somebody you just met at a pub.

Chris Lukianenko:           

Yes.

Chris Adams:                    

And if you can focus on being relaxed and authentic and just saying, like you don’t know if you’re ever going to see this person again. You’re not thinking about are they going to give me money? You just telling a mate of a mate what you do. And yet when it comes to sitting in a boardroom or on stage or on a conference call the investors in this and you know, investors are the same way. So what do you do? “Oh well, I had a big family business and we exited and now I’m just looking to invest. And I invest in this, this and this. And what I really love is that.”

Chris Adams:                    

But investors get in front of startups and they feel that they need to ask all of these really probing hard questions because they’ve heard a podcast or read an article.

Chris Lukianenko:           

Sure, yeah, yeah.

Chris Adams:                    

I think that we as humans know how to tell stories implicitly.

Chris Lukianenko:           

Yep.

Chris Adams:                    

Whether our colleagues, our friends, our family, our partners, our children, everything. We are constantly telling stories. When your kid wants chocolate for breakfast, you can say no. Or you can tell them a story about how that’s not terribly a good idea. And some of the best parenting is about telling stories.

Chris Lukianenko:           

Absolutely. Oh yeah.

Chris Adams:                    

So we all do it naturally. But there’s this funny inverse proportion when nerves come into play that people bought a lot and they suddenly fall back on either trying to be really clever or freezing. So a lot of what I do with between investors and startups and board members and all the rest is say, “Look, let’s just boil it down to blue guys.”

Chris Lukianenko:           

Nice, I like that.

Chris Adams:                    

People like blue, so it’s blue, right? What can we do with blue? So many things. Well why blue? Because it’s great.

Chris Lukianenko:           

Do you find though sometimes you’re hit with a bit of resistance when you talk about the audio storytelling with-

Chris Adams:                    

Absolutely.

Chris Lukianenko:           

… because you know there’s all these pressures around, raising funds and shipping product. Telling the story can sometimes just be seen as a nice to have, but it’s actually a little bit more important than that.

Chris Adams:                    

Well I think that there’s been quite a shift lately and it has a lot to do with access to information and social media and all these other things, podcast, all these things. I mean people are gravitating towards stories again because remember, this has been the primary method of information dissemination since human beings develop language.

Chris Lukianenko:           

And now we’ve got so many extra tools-

Chris Adams:                    

Yeah exactly.

Chris Lukianenko:           

… and means to get to tell even better stories.

Chris Adams:                    

We’re seeing stories in our everyday life. The rise again of great journalism. The whole backlash against fake news and all these types of things is that storytelling used to be this kind of hippy dippy. Like, “I don’t want that. It’s kind of cultural change. It’s soft.” Well, if you’re talking about a customer that has so many choices and such a small attention span and is, like think of just as one demographic, millennials, right? Say what you want about millennials, they just have the most amazing BS filters.

Chris Lukianenko:           

Yep, absolutely.

Chris Adams:                    

You can’t really advertise to them. You can’t really be clever, they don’t necessarily value, again, this is stereotype, things. They value experiences. All these things that we’ve read are true. So when you’re looking at raising money, selling the product, getting a customer acquisition, all those things. How do you tell a story that is true and powerful and simple and clear?

Chris Adams:                    

Because they have, well all of us, consumers have so many choices, right? We just don’t want BS. I want to buy a pair of shoes, right? Well, do they fit? Do I like them? Do they look good? All right, simple. And I think this resurgence of simplicity. Now simple is the hardest thing in the world to do.

Chris Lukianenko:           

Yeah.

Chris Adams:                    

Right? So that’s why I think there’s been this backlash against jargon and against flash. And so the importance of storytelling is critical, because you have to be a storyteller now. I don’t care whether you are selling industrial equipment, an app or avocado toast. You have to be able to tell a story about how, why. Right?

Chris Lukianenko:           

Because if you don’t, they’ll just go elsewhere.

Chris Adams:                    

Right, there’s avocado toast everywhere.

Chris Lukianenko:           

Because there’s so many options.

Chris Adams:                    

Options everywhere, right? And everybody tries to dress it up and put parsley on it and radishes and all those types of things. I just want some avocado toast. Do you have it? Yes. What kind of bread do you have? Multi-grain. Is it real butter? Yes, thank you. I’ll have some.

Chris Lukianenko:           

Sold. So do you have a killer story or a killer example that allows your clients to believe in your vision with storytelling?

Chris Adams:                    

Look, I think that I just, I’ve been involved in so many moments that have become amazing stories. Like some of this stuff, my career is just absolutely peppered with these moments where your heart changes, or your eyes pop open, or you shake your head, or you laugh out loud. Amazing inflection points where, I was there, I was part of it, or I initiated it. I received it. That rather than, again, it’s how do I be simple and as opposed to sit there and try to convince clients, partners, startups, et cetera, board members that you need storytelling. I find that if I tell stories about things that really happened in a clear, simple way that have profound meaning that they can connect with, they go, “Yeah, yeah, let’s do that.”

Chris Adams:                    

Right? So it’s not selling. It’s just simply saying, “Well, Facebook did this. I was there, and it worked out okay.”

Chris Lukianenko:           

Yeah, it did. Something I was thinking about in the lead up to this was the fact that stories are pretty much the retelling of an event from the past. But how do you tell a story in a startup if you don’t have a past?

Chris Adams:                    

Unbelievable question. So I think it’s important to know your audience, right? Your investors know that your revenue projections are basically the best you can do.

Chris Lukianenko:           

Yep.

Chris Adams:                    

Okay. They know that it’s plus or minus a million, right? They know it’s finger in the wind. They know that your valuation is finger in the wind. They know that your track record is nothing. What they want you to do is convince them that you are the person that can see this through.

Chris Lukianenko:           

Yep.

Chris Adams:                    

I always say to startups people invest in five things. People, people, people, product and places.

Chris Lukianenko:           

Yep.

Chris Adams:                    

Right? And places is time, right? So you can have a great product at the right time with crappy founders and people won’t invest there. You can have a good product in a crowded market with extraordinary founders and people will. Ultimately, we don’t necessarily want to invest in things. We want to invest in people. We want to invest in movements. We want to be part of something. And it’s one thing if you bought some pre-IPO stock of whatever company and it went 10X. Well then your story is, “I made money.”

Chris Adams:                    

But if you invested in a startup early and you got to know the founders and you’re joined in on the monthly calls and you went and visited the office and you checked in with the salespeople. I mean, you’re not meddling. What you’re doing is you’re asking questions, you’re sharing ideas and maybe it’s because you’re an advisor of the company. You are involved, right? You’re part of the story.

Chris Adams:                    

And I think that it’s why we love movies. It’s why we love books, because we can immerse ourselves, we identify. But when you can actually join the movie, be in it, right? It’s one thing to watch Star Wars and go, “Gosh, yeah, when I was younger I was like Han Solo.” Well it’s another thing to be in it.

Chris Adams:                    

And so we love participating. We want to be part of the story because we want to be able to tell a story to our buddies, not just, “Hey, I invested in this thing and I made five X my money. Everybody’s like, “Good for you.” But if you can tell a story that you spent two years being involved and you were there at the moments and you went to the AGM when something really profound happened and you asked questions about the investor updates and spent some time with the founders and all that kind of stuff. Then you’re not only invested with your money, you’re invested with your heart and your mind and your soul.

Chris Adams:                    

And we crave to be part of stories. We all want to be a hero, right? We all want great adventures. And so it’s really exciting to see how people are certainly participating with their wallets, but they’re also starting to participate with their minds. Because startups are one of the few places where you can invest your money, but you can also be part of the story. You can’t do that with Suncorp.

Chris Lukianenko:           

No, no, no.

Chris Adams:                    

Suncorp, they’re a great company. But pick any giant, multinational, multibillion dollar corporation. You can buy stock in your superannuations, you’re really not part of what they’re done.

Chris Lukianenko:           

No, no.

Chris Adams:                    

But with the startup you can be.

Chris Lukianenko:           

Do you feel like a great story can be the catalyst for a successful cap raise or maybe a hit product?

Chris Adams:                    

You bet. Absolutely. One of the greatest stories ever told is Nike’s, “Just do it.”

Chris Lukianenko:           

Yes.

Chris Adams:                    

It’s just so simple. It’s with those three words, it’s the single greatest story in the history of modern advertising, right? Because yes, there’s a call to action, but that’s not the story, right? The story is, is that that coach or that parent or that teammate or you buy in your head, it’s that voice in your head. Just do it. I’m going to go run. I’m going to jump, I’m going to throw, I’m going to whatever.

Chris Adams:                    

And there’s always a moment in the life of any athlete, whatever level you are, where someone said to you, “Just do it.”. And all of the doubt, the fear and the pain, it all goes away. So are Nike sneakers materially and technologically better than Asics and Adidas and New Balance? I don’t know, because I don’t wear Nike’s.

Chris Lukianenko:           

Okay, fair enough.

Chris Adams:                    

But let’s just say that if you objectively took them all apart and looked at them from a materials and technology and a manufacturing point of view, let’s just say they’re all kind of plus or minus 5% the same. Why does Nike have the overwhelming market share? Because when you put on their shoes, you feel faster. You are in your mind, right? Their gear makes you faster, better, stronger, quicker.

Chris Adams:                    

Because that story of, just do it. And you think, and it’s iconic, but it’s not an advertising strap line. It is a story of life and passion and struggle and grit and determination and confidence and all those things. And they just put it on a t-shirt and you’d go, “My god.”

Chris Lukianenko:           

It just flows into everything they do. Even the most ridiculous commercials, like when they made the world turn their opposite way from running on the earth. It’s just that it works. Absolutely. And what about inversely? Can a lack of storytelling with the most amazing product, I mean, you can set yourself up for failure?

Chris Adams:                    

Oh, of course. I mean, and I think that one of those things that happens. I mean, if you think about a company like Kodak, they had wonderful, amazing stories. The color of our life, right? Kodachrome, they had a song. I mean, Simon & Garfunkel wrote a song about a camera brand that became one of the bellwethers of the 60s and 70s and all these things. Because it’s this color of our life, and their story never changed. So all of a sudden you have digital coming in and they go, “Nah, it’ll never work.” And they told lousy stories.

Chris Adams:                    

Blockbuster Video. Kodak. Blackberry. Okay, these are companies that were built on unbelievable stories. Convenience, movies in your home, The Color of Our Lives, all of these things. And they didn’t evolve their story to meet the increasing demands or evolution of customers. And they started saying things to the market, particularly through advertising. They stopped storytelling and they started marketing and advertising and they imploded overnight. Like overnight these companies were gone. They have great products, amazing products that had been around for either decades or hundreds of years, right.

Chris Adams:                    

And all of a sudden because they stopped telling, they stopped writing their story, there’s always a new chapter. Look at Star Wars.

Chris Lukianenko:           

Yes. It’s almost getting [crosstalk 00:36:01] in a day.

Chris Adams:                    

You have to continue to tell your story because people who love your product, service or whatever are always interested in where you’re going. It’s that future. It’s back to the conversation about how do you tell a story when you don’t have a past. Well, talk about your future. So where’s Kodak going in the future? Oh, nowhere.

Chris Lukianenko:           

Nowhere. Do you know what? It’s almost like you’re reading my session notes here today. Because my next story, I kid you not, was how do you plan for ongoing stories with your clients? I mean, as they begin their life cycle and they hit their milestones, there are plenty of opportunities to tell stories. But do you need to sort of take them on that journey and tell them, it’s a bit like a TV series of episodes and you have to plan them out and put them into action accordingly. How do you take them on that ride?

Chris Adams:                    

It is. So let’s use your analogy, it’s perfect. In a television series, take anything, take Game of Thrones or take, I don’t know, take something that’s fictional, whatever. Multi episodic series that we all binge watch on Netflix. The first thing that happens is that the creators and the writers write what’s called a Bible, and the Bible is the whole thing, right? For five or 10 years.

Chris Lukianenko:           

Oh really?

Chris Adams:                    

It’s every character.

Chris Lukianenko:           

Wow.

Chris Adams:                    

It’s every character. Now it’s not the individual scripts. It’s not each episode in the-

Chris Lukianenko:           

You’ve got the cliff notes, is it?

Chris Adams:                    

Well, it’s essentially they call it a Bible because it’s the beginning, middle and end, the whole thing. So if you look at any great multi episodic series, like Game of Thrones is a good example. But also it’s not because it was books. But anyone that’s fiction. They have five years up their sleeve, right?

Chris Adams:                    

Then they start working on each episode and so, and a movie is the same way. You start off with all the backstories of the characters. You come up with the characters and you have this arc, beginning, middle and end. You have the hero and has the professional and personal professional private life seems, and then there’s an inciting incident. Then there’s the first act break where the goals that the hero had … Luke Skywalker, right? All he wants to do is go to the Academy.

Chris Adams:                    

Oh, I’m going to go this year. Well, we really need you with the moisture [inaudible 00:38:17]. Oh, all my friends are there and then [inaudible 00:38:19] show up. And then his parents, uncle Owen and aunt Beru get killed and then he has to go to Mos Eisley, meets Han Solo and off he goes. The hero’s goal is always changed at the inciting incident where they go in a different path and then there’s, the second act is all about complications, each one greater than the next.

Chris Adams:                    

Ending in the climax, which is always, with the help of the mentor and the sidekicks along the way to get through the complications, they end up battling the antagonist, the bad guy, and it’s an existential battle to the death. And then there’s resolution, right? That is the Aristotelian model of Western dramatic structure. Startups are like that. When you’re talking about where you’re going, you have to factor in change. You have to factor in complications. Because if you just say, “We’re going to be huge.” That’s the death of any startup.

Chris Adams:                    

So where do you see yourselves in five years? “Oh, we’re going to be huge. A 100 million customers.” Okay, let’s say I believe you. How are you going to get there? So if you go back to the Bible and television and the script and the arc in film, you got to know. Now maybe the complication at the middle of the second act, an hour into the story is you think it’s going to be this, but it’s actually that. It doesn’t matter you’re prepared for a fight, that you’re prepared for a challenge, okay?

Chris Adams:                    

You reverse engineer your exit. This is what I tell all my startups. Who do you think is going to buy you in five years? And if you just say Google, Amazon, or Facebook or Apple, right? Okay, why? Now let’s say that they can answer the question. Let’s just say for a second, it’s Google, Amazon and Facebook are going to buy X, Y, Z company, all right? Then every single decision you make, from product development, life cycle to commercialization, to partnerships, to hiring, to your messaging, your positioning, your capital raising, your strategy. Everything you do has to then be something Facebook, Amazon or Apple will buy. Or Google will buy.

Chris Adams:                    

Because if you go off on some hare-brained tangent, because some customers said, “Hey, you should do this.” If we do that, will Google buy us? If the answer is no, then don’t go. I mean startups are like getting on a boat. You’re at a dock, get the beer and sunscreen and all that. And you’re going to go sail to some island and you’re going to go and stay at a house. And what happens with most startups is they go out and everybody’s partying and having a great time and they’re looking around. However on the horizon they see a bunch of people having fun on another boat. So they sail over to there.

Chris Lukianenko:           

Let’s go there.

Chris Adams:                    

Yeah, let’s go there. And everybody jumps on that side. They go, “Yeah.” And they party, party, party and have fun. And then they jump back on the boat and then they don’t know where they are and they’re like, “Okay, okay we’re going to go over to the island, because that’s where we need to go and there’s a house there.”

Chris Adams:                    

And then they sail away and then a storm hits and then they run out of food and they run out of water and then they go, “Jason, just sail to the damn island.”

Chris Lukianenko:           

. I love how you’ve-

Chris Adams:                    

[crosstalk 00:41:33] and it’s not sexy, right? Having a plan and executing it well is so unsexy.

Chris Lukianenko:           

But just getting to the goal you talk about-

Chris Adams:                    

That’s how you win.

Chris Lukianenko:           

… with your Google buys.

Chris Adams:                    

That’s how you win, that’s how you win. And especially if you’ve taken other people’s money, they have a right to ring you and go, “Hi, where are you?” “Oh, I’m on this great boat and I met these great people. Man, it’s awesome.” And then they go, “Weren’t you supposed to be at the island yesterday?” “Yeah, but man, I met this dude, and he’s amazing.”

Chris Adams:                    

“If you don’t get on that island now, there’s going to be a problem.” “Oh man. You don’t understand, grownups, like you know, it’s all about [inaudible 00:42:18].” It’s these silly things that are so attractive. But slow and steady, getting to the island, getting off the boat, getting in the house and getting down to work or whatever is what people expect. Or particularly investors, particularly the market. You don’t get to muck around.

Chris Lukianenko:           

Do you get a buzz out of telling these stories? Because it sounds like you’re all in on it.

Chris Adams:                    

Oh I love it. But this is like, I mean it’s, I’ve been there. That’s one of the wonderful things about 25 plus years into my career is that I’ve been there and I’ve seen it and every day there’s a new story. Every day I’ll tell a story, whether it’s an old tried and true one or a brand new one to a client or a partner or a friend or something. And magic happens. I mean, it’s just, it’s so exciting. Because you see magic happen every day. I think that’s one of the primary motivators is I get to see magic.

Chris Lukianenko:           

All right man. Let’s wrap this up because I know you’ve got to get off to a busy day. If you have one piece of advice for startups looking to tell stories, what do you tell them?

Chris Adams:                    

Well I would go back to, very quickly back to what do you tell your friends? How do you talk in a pub? When you’re most relaxed. When you’re most authentic, when it doesn’t matter. How do you describe who you are, what you do and why you do it? And also-

Chris Lukianenko:           

I love it.

Chris Adams:                    

… it’s just be clear. It’s so easy. If you have kids, your kids will understand clarity. They don’t understand being yelled at. They don’t understand big giant things like, “Why don’t you brush your teeth because you … If you don’t brush your teeth, you’re going to get gingivitis and your gums are going to rot and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.”

Chris Adams:                    

Or you can say, you could say, “If you don’t brush your teeth, your smile is going to look like crap. And you like smiling.” “Yeah, I do. I like smiling. Do you like smiling and laughing?” “Yes. I love to laugh.” “Okay, well your teeth are yellow.” “Oh I don’t want yellow teeth.” These little tiny stories. Clarity, make things fun, make things relevant and be relevant.

Chris Lukianenko:           

Simple and authentic perhaps as well?

Chris Adams:                    

Simple, authentic, and connect. If you’re talking to a real estate person about your startup, don’t tell them about the technology. Turn your product from a language and messaging point of view into a house. Describe it the way you would describe a house. Use things to connect with people. That’s not a trick. It’s called connecting.

Chris Lukianenko:           

Yeah. Know your audience, tell them what they want to hear pretty much.

Chris Adams:                     That’s it, that’s it.

Chris Lukianenko:            Oh, Chris, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed chatting with you today. We’ve gone well over time, but I don’t care because you have just been an absolute pleasure to chat with.

Chris Adams:                    

I’m glad.

Chris Lukianenko:           

So many great stories, such an awesome career you’ve had and yeah, thank you very much for taking the time today to join us on The Intelligent Workplace podcast.

Chris Adams:                    

It’s my sincere pleasure. Thank you for the time.

Chris Lukianenko:           

Cheers.

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