I keep getting questions about origin stories, so I’m going to look at 3 successful origin stories. Let’s see what makes each one effective and what the pitfalls might be — that is, what parts of your story might lead your audience to respond in unexpected ways that weaken your credibility.
[Want to listen to this post as a podcast? Episode #28 of the Strategic Storytelling Podcast, available on all major podcasting platforms. .]
I’m using two stories from product-oriented companies and one from a service. I don’t usually talk about larger companies, but these aren’t Fortune 500 and the stories illustrate important points about origin stories.
Let’s start with Warby Parker.
They have shops around the US to make prescription eyeglasses at greatly reduced prices They began with a uniform pricing strategy and chose a price that was low enough to separate themselves from mainstream opticians yet with. enough cushion for marketing and not so low as to damage credibility.
Their origin story is: One of the founders broke his glasses just before attending graduate school. Glasses were so expensive that he couldn’t afford new ones. So he squinted his way through his first semester of grad school. He understands that people need high-quality glasses at reasonable prices. W-P was founded and the rest is history.
Why is this a good story
First, the best origin stories show why the owner is passionate about providing top-quality service. This story says, “I understand – I’ve been there.” The story also shows the store’s positioning – as a lower-priced alternative to more conventional opticians.
First, W-P was founded in 2010. By then, we had many lower-priced options such as For Eyes. For Eyes was founded in Philadelphia – the same place W-P was founded – 38 years earlier. I once used a AAA card – yes, the auto club – to get a huge discount at a LensCrafters store in Arizona. So unless this guy was out in the middle of nowhere, he did have some options.
I’m not sure if it’s relatable. I don’t know anyone who squinted their way through school. But the story may be directed to an audience that’s very different from me.
Second, the origin story focuses on price. The truth is W-P also offers fashionable frames and, best of all, the opportunity to order frames mailed to your home so you could try them on, show your friends, and take your time. This story ignores all those benefits. It’s not a bad story – better than some – but could be better.
Next up, 3 Dog Bakery.
They now have 40 stores and delivery services with treats, food, and toys for dogs. Some stores also have cat products. Chewy has them, too.
Their origin story is, they had a Great Dane named Gracie. Gracie got very sick and refused to eat. The vet said, “Why don’t you cook for her?”
Dan Dye, the owner, had little knowledge of cooking. He found a cookie recipe and modified it, substituting for sugar – I think it was garlic – and Gracie ate!
When they held a New Year’s party shortly afterward, they made little packets of dog cookies for the guests to take home. People started asking for more, and hen buying some. So they experimented with different recipes and eventually got a commercial kitchen and a store.
Why is this a good origin story?
This story shows the founder’s passion for dogs. It also communicates how delicious the original cookies were, because people asked for more.
It’s plausible: the founders were already looking to leave their jobs and start a business, so the timing was right. It’s also totally relatable to their audience – dog owners who can afford to spoil their dogs and who treat their dogs like family.
They tell a different story on YouTube that’s more commercial and less plausible, although you do get to meet the original Gracie. They say they wondered why good dog food has to have so many preservatives. That’s very general and more like a commercial. I wish they’d told the original!
A strong origin story from a business owner
The third story is from a solopreneur business owner, Alicia Forest.
Alicia started her business with the goal of spending more time with her family. From the beginning, she decided she’d be home when her kids got home from school and she’d take summers off. That meant she had to find a way to get a full-time income to replace her job without working forty hours a week.
She’s very honest: it took her longer to reach certain income levels, compared to other business owners who worked full-time. But, as she points out in her later content, she also missed out on the drama, stress, weight gain, and other negative effects of faster-growing businesses.
I’ve followed Alicia and learned. a lot from her products and services. She’s learned how to cut out unnecessary parts of her business. Now her kids are older – one is making college visits! – and she has an established business.
This story works as a marketing tool because it’s directly related to what Alicia offers. A lot of solopreneurs would like to do what Alicia has done – work fewer hours and still grow the business. She uses the story in her marketing and adds extra pieces here and there, such as, “I knew I’d make it in this business when…”
It’s also a story that people can relate to. “Marriage and children” creates broader connections than “single with cats.”
Now that her kids are moving past the point where she needs to be there when they come home, I’m curious to see how her story changes. Teenagers need a different kind of attention.
So now we’ve analyzed 3 origin stories. What can we learn?
As a caveat, most consumers of your stories will not do this. We’re almost overthinking here. A story can capture your client’s imagination for many reasons. If it’s working, keep doing it. The W-P story sounded good the first time I heard it and many – most – people won’t dig any deeper.
1 – When creating your origin story, give clients and customers a reason to buy from you.
2 – Make an obvious connection to an important benefit of your offer.
3 – Make it relatable, so your audience says, “I can put myself in your story.”
If you’d like to learn more about origin stories, you’ll get a perspective available nowhere else in my book – Grow Your Business One Story At A Time. Free to members of Kindle Unlimited.
If you’d like to work with me on finding your own story, let’s take advantage of the Strategic Intensive.