Entrepreneurial Advice: Danielle Cohn on the Importance of Telling Your Startup’s Story

As part of the Executive Advice Series, Danielle Cohn, Executive Director of Entrepreneurial Engagement and Head of LIFT Labs at Comcast NBCUniversal, shares her insight and a few tips that every founder should know when developing their startup story. Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs offers founder-focused speaker programs, mentor sessions, and online resources to help entrepreneurs grow and manage their companies.

With the first class of the Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs Accelerator powered by Techstars beginning this week in Philadelphia, Cohn is ready to amplify more founder stories than ever before.

Key lessons for startups:

  • Learn how to adjust your story based on your audience
  • Seek honest feedback from a diverse group of people – not just your top supporters
  • Be authentic

You’ve already got the product, the team, and the passion for your startup. So, how do you make moves in the market and reach customers? For Comcast’s Executive Director of Entrepreneurial Engagement, Danielle Cohn, it all comes down to storytelling.

“It’s critical that startups differentiate themselves from their competitors,” Cohn says. “The best way to do that is by having a great product. But it’s equally important to have a unique story that explains why you created something.”

In addition to two decades of experience in public relations, Cohn is also an entrepreneur and startup champion. She knows what makes a narrative resonate with and excite audiences. And, while traveling across the country with LIFT Labs’ team over the past four years, Cohn has seen plenty of hits – and misses – of founder storytelling.

“Every good invention needs a good story,” she says. “Hone in on your message and make it as clear as possible by going back to the basics.  Think about: who, what, when, where, why, and nail all that down first.”

Next, know your audience and how to adjust when you’re telling your story to customers, employees, or the press.

Even pitching investors or clients is part of the storytelling process. Cohn says one big no-no is a cookie-cutter deck with a templated formula. Another? Being too reliant on the deck to tell your story in a pitch meeting.

“Your deck is just a tool in the background, but you – not the deck – are the storyteller, so don’t just read slides or throw out facts,” she said.

Cohn also advises founders to get feedback from people they don’t know.

“The people around you sometimes tell you the nicest things, but often don’t give you enough honest feedback. You have to test your story with various people with diverse backgrounds so it will resonate with more people,” Cohn says.

With the first class of the Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs Accelerator powered by Techstars beginning this July in Philadelphia, Cohn is ready to amplify more founder stories than ever before.

“We hope LIFT Labs will become a place for storytelling experimentation, so that we can open up ourselves, as well as startups, to new audiences,” Cohn says.

At the heart of the LIFT Labs’ storytelling mission is one essential principle: Authenticity.

“Authentic stories resonate and the more you can weave in being real, the more people will respond,” she adds. “You don’t want to come off as being too rehearsed or out of touch. Each story is very authentic to each person and that’s important.”

For the LIFT Labs team, storytelling ultimately succeeds when it goes beyond a product or a pitch.

“Our team is passionate about helping startups tell their stories because we’ve all been inspired by startups and we want to help them,” Cohn says.

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