By Vikram Bharati

Vikram Bharati with an entrepreneur at Draper Startup House

Why as an entrepreneur, I tap into storytelling to build Tribe Theory.

Right after we launched Tribe Theory in Estonia, I came to spend some time with my wife’s side of the family in Warns, a small farming and fishing town in the north of the Netherlands. One evening, as we were walking around town, I noticed little seating areas with benches where people could sit and have a deep conversation with each other. Some of these seating areas looked old, having witnessed the hands of time and many a conversation.

I was intrigued!

Keeping communities together

My wife, Anna who grew up in this part of the world informed me that this was a so-called “leugenbank”. Loosely translated, it means a “liar’s bench.” Traditionally, these were congregational open-air spaces in the village or town close to the harbour, village square or market square for people to come together and exchange news.

And why was it known as the “liar’s bench”? Mostly, these benches were used by sailors and fishermen who would sit, socialize and narrated stories of their day’s adventures to the townsfolk, leaving them impressed. Some of these seafarers were well-known for their tall tales and hence earned the bench its moniker.

Whether the stories were real or bluffs, we would never know. But they connected people into a cohesive society. For centuries, the “leugenbank” has been a part of the culture and lifestyle of the Netherlands. The stories told on the liar’s bench have kept these communities together.

Every entrepreneur should be a good storyteller

We are building the Tribe Theory brand around the world. Sharing the stories of our motivations and the people that support us, we publicize what we do. This storytelling is an important part of creating our brand, not unlike what the fishermen and sailors tried to do on the “leugenbank”. And in some ways, the “leugenbank” is analogous to what we do in our business — telling the right stories of our brand to collect a rapt audience who believe in us, helping us build a community.

The intricacies of storytelling are directly related to business building. Which is why every entrepreneur should truly focus on becoming a good storyteller. The upside — through stories we ensure that our brand, company, ideas, values and principles resonate with our (potential) customers and stakeholders. The stories help them buy into our conviction.

Pitches are boring without storytelling

When I was working for investment firms, I have heard many early-stage startups pitching their ideas to get investment. To be honest, most of these pitches sounded similar. If you have seen one product riding a trend, you’ve seen them all! Very often, we were guilty of getting bored with the pitches. Why? They lacked storytelling.

Why were these people toiling to build a particular product? Why should we invest in it? Why did we need to empathize with them or their company? Why are they the right people to be building this product? I needed to know how their story was different from the one sitting next to them. Many a time, this piece of storytelling was missing.

Marketing can get you a lot of attention and most of my fellow Southeast Asian companies really focus on this kind of noise. But, the truth is that good storytelling hits the home run.

Startups from Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Mongolia under our roof

Just like how the Ning Yeung Wui Kuan helped immigrants settle into a new country back in the day, Tribe Theory was built to help people who are travelling fulfil their dreams and connect with like-minded people. So, when I began to build Tribe Theory in the early stages, I put a lot of attention to building the right brand backed by storytelling. And without these stories, we would be unable to build the kind of community that we aim to.

When I was in Estonia at our newly opened space, I met a bunch of cybersecurity startups from Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Mongolia living under our roof, having a beer and sharing stories. This was extremely empowering! How often do you see this diverse bunch of people come together and connect?

This is the reason we built Tribe Theory. And these are the kind of stories that help us build it further as a brand. Our brand evolves every single day and attracts more and more people, igniting more of these magic moments. Which is why we are relying on stories to enable us to build a dynamic brand.

A liar's bench, or leugenbank

We are the storytellers and builders of the product too

However, our work does not stop there. Many brands focus on storytelling and don’t put in the much-needed effort to build the product. The actual work gets swept aside. So, there needs to be a balance between the storytelling and the business building aspects. If a fisherman wanted someone to believe he caught a blue marlin, he needs to at least bring home some catfish! His audience at the “leugenbank” wouldn’t believe in his abilities if he brings home an empty net.

To be honest, this balance is always a work in progress for all entrepreneurs. I am on a quest myself to find that balance between storytelling and product development. What I have arrived at is a plan to simultaneously build our brand and the product since they are not mutually exclusive. Since we are raising capital, we are sharing more and more stories about what we do, believe in and our plans for the future more regularly. These help people to have an emotional connection with the brand. Once we have completed the funding round, our plan is dial down the storytelling and dial-up on product development needs, expansion plans, and increasing operational efficiencies.

We, at Tribe Theory, hope to share more stories about our community and ideology and concurrently build our product in the coming months. Like “we are the music makers and we are the dreamers of dreams,” we are the storytellers and we are builders of the product too!

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