Leverage Your Startup’s Origin Story To Reinforce Your Mission & Values

As a young boy, Bruce Wayne watched his parents die in an alley after they were shot by a mugger. This event was pivotal in his life and became the basis of his future career as Batman, Gotham City’s crime fighting hero.

Batman

It is a powerful Origin Story because it informs the reader of the protagonist’s motivation throughout the remainder of his career to, “swear by the spirits of my parents to avenge their deaths by spending the rest of my life warring on all criminals.”

A startup’s Origin Story can be equally powerful. Every employee should know why their startup was founded in order to appreciate how their Origin Story impacts their company’s Core Values and Creed.

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Expertcity’s Origin

Expertcity (creator of GoToMyPC and GoToMeeting, acquired by Citrix), is a good example of an Origin Story that shaped the company’s overall vision. Like many ventures, the company’s vision arose from the Founder’s frustration.

During the late 1990’s, the Founder, who was a computer science professor, traveled from California to a conference in Boston. Once he arrived, he realized there was a minor programming error in the software he planned to demonstrate at the conference. He contacted one of his graduate students, explained how the code needed to be modified and then asked the student to overnight a disk containing the corrected software.

The disk arrived shortly before the Founder’s presentation. Immediately before his talk, he tested the revised software and realized that the graduate student had failed to correct the error. Despite the fact that he took time away from his busy schedule to travel across the continent, he was unable to demonstrate the software during his talk. This was especially exasperating, as the professor could have fixed the bug in a matter of minutes, if he could have remotely accessed his UC Santa Barbara computer from his Boston hotel room.

On the return flight, the professor remained aggravated that his presentation was anticlimactic because of a simple programming error. By the time the plane landed, he had vowed to create a solution that would allow users to quickly, easily, and securely access any online computer from any Internet connection. His vision eventually manifested itself as GoToMyPC.

Inogen Gets A Breath Of Life

InogenAnother example of a compelling Origin Story comes from Inogen, creator of the world’s first mobile oxygen concentrator. The genesis of the company arose after one of the company’s Co-Founders, Alison Perry, spent Christmas break with her grandmother, who was housebound by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Alison returned to college determined to find a solution to her grandmother’s immobility. She entered UC Santa Barbara’s Business Plan Competition that spring and won, despite having nothing more than an awesome set of PowerPoint slides. Two of the business plan judges invested in Alley and her co-founders on the spot and Inogen was born.

Alison and her cohorts persevered, despite being repeatedly told by every industry expert that it was impossible to build an oxygen concentrator smaller than the size of a mini-refrigerator. Like the entrepreneurs described in Reinventing The Wheel, Alison and her co-founders ignored Conventional Wisdom and created the world’s first portable oxygen concentrator, a device that weighs less than 10 pounds.

True to its Origin Story, Inogen is now the market leader and has allowed tens of thousands of previously immobile COPD patients to leave their homes without the fear of running out of life-giving oxygen.

Know Thy Origin

If your startup was born of a passionate desire to solve a problem that matters, you likely have an Origin Story that reinforces your company’s culture, mission and values. 

Even if your Origin Story is not as compelling as Batman’s, it is still a story worth telling. Frequently remind your employees, customers and other stakeholders of your Origin Story to communicate the fervor that initially compelled the founders to start your company.

What’s your story?

John Greathouse is a Partner at Rincon Venture Partners, a venture capital firm investing in early stage, web-based businesses. Previously, John co-founded RevUpNet, a performance-based online marketing agency sold to Coull. During the prior twenty years, he held senior executive positions with several successful startups, spearheading transactions that generated more than $350 million of shareholder value, including an IPO and a multi-hundred-million-dollar acquisition.

John is a CPA and holds an M.B.A. from the Wharton School. He is a member of the University of California at Santa Barbara's Faculty where he teaches several entrepreneurial courses.

Note: All of my advice in this blog is that of a layman. I am not a lawyer and I never played one on TV. You should always assess the veracity of any third-party advice that might have far-reaching implications (be it legal, accounting, personnel, tax or otherwise) with your trusted professional of choice.

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