(This column originally appeared in Entrepreneur)
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
247 years ago, a group of men signed the Declaration of Independence and I think we can all agree that when it comes to a “founder’s story,” this one is pretty epic. What is a founder’s story? It tells the tale of how the organization got started, who started it and why they were inspired to start it. A good founder’s story tells much about a company’s principles, history and ethics.
Wouldn’t it be great if the startup stories of our businesses were as compelling as the story behind the American Revolution? They can be. That’s because the narrative behind how America was founded teaches us three lessons that can help any business owner create their own founder’s story.
Lesson one: A good founder’s story is always about people
When I think of the founding of America, I think about Franklin and Washington, Jefferson and Hamilton and all the other men and women who contributed to our nation’s birth. The bravery and battles for independence in New York, Germantown and Yorktown. The writing of a historic document in a sweltering Philadelphia room during the early summer of 1776. The diplomatic missions to France, the cold winter in Valley Forge, the massacres and revolt in Boston. These are all stories about people that we’ve learned since elementary school — and even today, we feel a connection to the lives of our founding fathers because of the tales that have been told. Shouldn’t our customers and community know the stories about our people too? Of course they should.
Lesson two: People love to read about risk-takers
What kind of a person is brave enough to risk their livelihoods and even their own and their families safety for an idea? Who is so courageous that they would stand up and fight — against all odds — to oppose one of the most powerful armies in the world? How passionate about their cause does one have to be in order to defy a king? The risks our founding fathers took were enormous and potentially fatal. The risks we took to found our businesses were not as extreme but that’s not to play down the impact these risks had on our lives. Our customers and community should know about these risks too, shouldn’t they?
Lesson three: A great founder’s story demonstrates purpose
America’s founding fathers all have interesting stories. They all took big risks. But why? For them, it was because of a desire to be independent of someone else’s rule. To have the ability to practice religion without fear of persecution. To be able to choose who governs them and not to have that government forced upon them. They had reasons for doing what they did. They wanted to make the world a better place. As founders ourselves, so do we, even in our own little ways.
Every company has a founder’s story because, like America, every company has to start from somewhere. Of course, your founder’s story probably isn’t as dramatic as the founding of America in 1776. But it’s still your story, and it’s an important story to tell. Knowing this story helps your customers and community better engage, connect and create a relationship with you and your team.
So how can this apply to the founding story of our businesses? Let’s put these lessons into action.
For starters, and like our founding fathers, we must also tell the stories of our founders. Our customers and community should better know us, where we come from, what we like to do, what kind of people we are. They should know a little about our families, how we give back to the community, what we find important in our lives. This is what makes us interesting. This is what connects us to our communities.
Next, let’s never forget that every business owner takes risks. It’s what sets apart an entrepreneur from an employee. People love stories about risk-takers. Think about some of the greatest startups we know: the founders of HP and Dell launching their businesses in a garage, a food equipment salesman named Ray Kroc who opened his first McDonald’s restaurant, the fledgling startup Microsoft taking on IBM, a small-time investor named Warren Buffett who struggled with just a few clients. We love how these people started from little and took risks to pursue a dream. So make sure your founder’s story talks about the risks you and your partners took to start your business. And then explain why.
Yes, why. Because most importantly, a great founder’s story also has to include purpose. This explains why you took the risk that you took. Franklin, Jefferson, Washington and all the other founding fathers didn’t want power for themselves. They wanted freedom. And they were willing to risk their lives for that cause. You and I likely didn’t risk our lives to start our businesses, but we did risk other things: money, time, relationships. Why? For me, it was to build a company that would help our clients do things quicker, better and wiser with technology. For Ray Kroc, it was to sell affordable burgers to the masses. For Microsoft, it was to put a personal computer in everyone’s home. What’s your purpose?
A great founder’s story is about the people who started it, the risks that were taken and the reasons why they took those risks. Sure, there’s a financial motive. But to start a new venture requires more motivation than just money. It requires a passion to do things a little better and a desire to create something that provides value. Or in the case of our own founding fathers, to change the world.