What’s your origin story?

Every hero has an “origin story”, which we love to see unfold, whether in the pages of a comic book, or on the big screen at the cineplex. We witness the original motives, historical factors and coincidental elements that conspired to manifest this hero and possible journeys of self-development (villains are often a big part of this). There’s a dramatic path of hope, dread, fatigue, despair, fulfillment, joy… and not necessarily in that order! Ultimately, we achieve a fuller, richer sense of this hero, cheering that character on accordingly.

The same can be said for a start-up. Let me explain…

I recently started advising start-ups as part of the Citrix Startup Accelerator on a part-time basis, in further evolution of my role as a Principal Designer (that’s a whole other post to be written ;-). In my first “UX Advisory” session with a start-up founder, I began rather conversationally, asking for his “origin story”–without PowerPoint! That’s vital, as I really wanted to know what made this founder tick… on the inside.

This person (and his small dedicated team) are spending their own money, burning through lots of midnight oil, to achieve something they believe will change the world in some way…but why? What’s driving them? This relates back to something a former CMU professor once described as the “felt difficulty” that we sense when something is outta whack yet needs to be corrected. It’s that itch in the mind that we just can’t or won’t let go, until we solve it somehow. As Morpheus said in The Matrix, it’s “the splinter in your mind…driving you mad.”

In order for me to offer proper service to this start-up (and others) I gotta understand what’s really driving them, what’s the origin of the “felt difficulty” they sought to correct. Often it may be a lifelong pursuit, or childhood hobby that  has become a professional passion. This reveals the heart and soul of why…the deeper motives that a PPT of a business model doesn’t truly convey. That’s all important, of course, but as a UX Advisor who’s trying to help a small band of pirates try to dominate a market with a novel, disruptive product/app/service, I need to empathize with their predicament that they feel needs fixing. I must understand their origin…how they came to be, where they are now, and where they aim to be in the near future. What’s their mission? What is heroic success to them? 

As I told this fellow, I’m happy to offer input on colors, fonts, icon styles (which I did ;-) …but my chief concern as an advisor is to enable a deft translation of their vision with clear, strong intent into the interface and consequential experience for their users. And for me, that comes from understanding their origin story. The seeds are all there for nurturing a powerful offering which will set the stage for the start-up to truly become a hero for their market. 

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