How To Create “Truth Well Told”Jul 04, 2022
As an entrepreneur trying to raise a Friends & Family round of financing, I often felt nervous about presenting the dirty little secrets of an under-funded and under-staffed start-up to potential investors; Early-stage founders are tempted to embellish the truth. I’ve felt this myself, and I’ve seen fanciful storytelling from the entrepreneurs I’ve consulted and mentored.
I asked my favorite brand storyteller, Mike Troiano, a venture capitalist (VC) partner at G20 Ventures, how he sees strong founders handle this challenge.
“I started my career in advertising and spent part of it at a global agency called McCann-Erickson in NYC. They had a motto I always liked: Truth well told. That’s what I’m looking for. Effective people are able to manage perception, to build narratives that move people in the ways they need to be moved. Doing that without lying takes some skill, and - in my experience - it’s not a skill you can really teach.”
-Mike Troiano, partner, G20 Ventures
Despite Mike's opinion that this skill is hard to teach, I will try to teach you how to tell the truth the right way. To me, “truth well told” is about weaving together every scrap of positive truth and transforming it into a story worth telling. Here’s how.
Creating Your Own “Truth Well Told”
While growing your company and raising money, you will need to create many versions of your “truth well told.”
Let’s take an example that many of us remember -- when Bill Clinton admitted that he had tried pot, but had not inhaled. Many found this story implausible. Some believed that the young Rhodes scholar might just have done exactly what he described.
What would you say if your child asked you if you smoked weed in high school? Many parents believe that, depending on the age of their children, this is an absolute must-lie scenario. Some think it’s better to give them a glimpse of the truth. Maybe you say this: “I tried weed, but it didn’t agree with me. It made me paranoid, and I didn’t like it, so I knew that drugs weren’t for me.” That’s my story, and it happens to be true. You answered honestly, but you didn’t include other details about your wild teenage past.
Just like answering challenging questions from your children, the best way to present your team and venture to others is by crafting the best version(s) of the truth.
You need to be ready for people to poke holes in your vision and plan. If you’re on an eComm team, for example, and don’t have experience in eComm, you need to be ready to address that deficit. If you’re trying to land a huge account, but only have one or two customers, you must be equipped to handle that concern.
Be prepared with the truth, but present it in a way that highlights your vision. Once you’ve described your vision, ask your customer or investor if the path you’ve presented mitigates their fears. Questioning like this allows you to hear how your plan was received. If your customer/ investor has remaining issues, you can continue to address them. If not, you can ask an additional question: “Do you have any other concerns about our ability to succeed with this plan?”
Here’s an example of what NOT to do:
As a consultant to a team of two co-founders and five part-time employees, I was surprised when, in a meeting with a huge prospective client, they announced that they had 37 people on their team. This was a flat-out lie. I maintained a poker face until we were out of the meeting. “What were you thinking?” I asked them. They explained to me that, in the cab on the way to the meeting, they had spoken to a team of programmers that had agreed that they might work with them if they got the deal. I was floored. I couldn’t believe that they were so casual about telling untruths. This start-up had so many positives, a brilliant team, a powerful vision, and a great new product; So why were they willing to jeopardize this deal with a lie they could easily be caught in? They saw my face and responded, “C’mon, everyone in Silicon Valley exaggerates!”
Here’s what they should have said in the meeting:
“We have a very talented team of two world-class systems architects responsible for the ABC launch, an additional coder, a top-notch customer service rep, and a business development expert. Our core team has delivered products at scale multiple times while at our previous company. We also use the programming services of a reliable remote team in Bali to support our operations. In addition to that, we have 30 programmers ready to hop on board if we get your business. We’ll be more than able to handle your account. Does that address your concerns?”
The Bottom Line
While I’m unsure whether everyone exaggerates in Silicon Valley, I know that investors have a newfound sensitivity to untruths. Everyone knows about the demise of the blood-testing startup, Theranos, based on the founder’s misrepresentations (and a product failing). No one wants to be a duped investor.
“Truth well told” is a combination of telling the truth, creating a vision, and making a plan for executing that vision. Framing your accomplishments properly assures your audience that you can bridge the distance between your current truth and your vision.
Tell the truth and be ready to answer tough questions. If you don’t know the answers, take Mike Troiano’s advice by answering like this: “That’s a good question… let me think about it and get back to you with some ideas.”
Broadly Advised™ is a three-week online learning program for early-stage entrepreneurs who want to build a world class advisory board for start-up dollars. You will hone your own “truth well told” throughout the course.
Deb Perkins is a serial entrepreneur, funding strategist, and founder of Broad of Directors, an educational platform for early-stage entrepreneurs that need a no-nonsense guide to build a great team and get funded.