The Origin Sentence

How to start a compelling story around why your company exists.

  • Stephen Pratley

“Two of friends sat in their garage, building computers that would one day sit on every designer’s desk and lead the way to a trillion dollar company.”

“From an untidy desk in his college dorm room, a nerdy kid wrote the first lines of code for a network to update their friends on their daily lives. The site would eventually touch the lives of almost 3 billion people.”

“He opened the door to an overflowing fax machine, each sheet carrying a £200 order for a set tapes. The first was from an IBM sales rep in Brazil. A country he’d never even been to. 25 emails had paid that month’s salary, and would keep doing it for decades.”

If you already recognised Apple and Facebook in the first two stories, you’ll recognise that an origin story doesn’t need to be a saga, it can be just a sentence.

Like all simple things, we go through a lot of mess and iteration to get to the end result.

Don’t panic if your own business origin isn’t as succinct, and recognisable as these first two.

If you’re wondering about the last one, it’s mine 🙂

Stories are the ultimate in branding. They create a picture in your customers mind that that they physically experience as they process it and hopefully retell it.

They make you more relatable, taking you back to a moment when you were on the same level as your customers are now, and showing that your path is one they can follow.

Origins are hard to pin down.

There are so many twists and turns between that first spark of inspiration and your business becoming a success that it’s hard to pick one that will have an impact and stand the test of time as new stories enter your business’ history.

If you’re struggling to pin your story down, here are a few pointers to help tune the winding trail of reality into a smooth, exciting, film-worthy opening scene.

1. Focus on why it happened

Your origin sentence is just a moment in time, but it sets a direction and has momentum.

But where did that momentum come from? Did you have a painful problem to solve? Did you get frustrated with a supplier and decide you could do better. Did someone just piss you off and you wanted to prove them wrong?

Remember the build up before the moment, but don’t start with a rambling back- story. Save that for after step 2…

2. Choose a moment of high drama

Only bedtime stories start with “Once up on a time.”

That’s because bedtime stories are aimed at getting you to go to sleep.

Great stories turn in an instant. When the expected is de-railed by the unexpected. When you push on a door and the outside world pushes back.

These are the moments when you wake up to a new reality, a new way of doing things, a new belief in yourself.

You absolutely must dig back to that time when the outside world thought you were crazy and you did it anyway, and proved them wrong.

Get the audience’s attention, you can worry about the details later.

3. Use specifics, not details.

Specifics help build a picture in your audience’s mind, and images stick far better than words.

  • The garage littered with computer parts.
  • The untidy dorm room desk and desk-lamp lighting.
  • The fax machine spewing it’s paper over the floor.

Make sure your story contains something physical that they can build the rest of the picture around.

4. Tell it, tell it, and tell it again.

Lastly, once you’ve written your origin story, tell until you’re bored of it. Write a blog post, put it on your About Us page, talk about it in a video, work it into any podcast you’re on, add it to your media pack so interviewers ask you about it.

When you hear someone asking “aren’t you the company who started when…” then you know you’ve cracked it.

So go tell it some more.


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