Create the perfect business metaphor

The jedi mind trick to closing bigger funding rounds

April 16, 2023
min read
Greetings, Chief Storytelling Officers.

I've been rewatching Parts Unknown. Anthony Bourdain is my favorite storyteller and every time I watch him I pick up something new. His word choice, the rawness, and his delivery combine to create magic.

When he was asked about his show at what point he said something powerful. "A powerful reaction one way or the other is infinitely preferable to me than pleasing everybody."

Anytime I talk about Bourdain, people respond. They love him, they miss him, or they didn't get him. But he left an impression far deeper than most people in life. He wasn't afraid to be himself and push the boundaries. He changed people. He challenged old ideas. He made a massive impact.

Lesson in there.


DEEP DIVE: Miracles through Metaphor

You can’t go very long these days without someone bringing up Generative AI. Since ChatGPT launched in November, it seems like every industry is abuzz with the impact the new technology will make.

Two recent studies—one from Goldman Sachs and the other from Penn’s Wharton School of Business and OpenAI suggest that in the near future, somewhere between 60 and 80 percent of jobs will involve some sort of AI. They estimate it could raise the global GDP as much as seven percent.

But the new tech has also caused a bit of a panic.

Such worry has always been a part of our culture. More than 2,000 years ago, Socrates expressed his concern that the written word would cause “forgetfulness in the learners’ souls.”

We fear new. We fear change. It’s carved in our DNA. On a psychological level, our subconscious is doing everything it can to keep us alive, and the introduction of a new element into our world threatens that stasis.

This was a useful instinct when we were living in caves and hiding from mastodons, but in the modern world, very few new things have the potential to kill us. Still, that biological fear remains.

What does this have to do with you, the founder, obtaining funding for your venture?

Investors are human, and they feel this way about new things too. This is ESPECIALLY true if your company is attempting to disrupt an industry with a new, innovative product or service.

It is YOUR job to convince them that the world will be a better place with your company in it. You need to get them past that genetic fear of change.

Why Investors Fear Disruption

Seems counterintuitive right? Investors say they want disruption but that's not the reality. Marc Randolf the co-founder of Netflix dropped a great story yesterday on LinkedIn. It was the 25th anniversary of founding Netflix.

From his post: "I'm proudest of the fact that I didn't listen when everyone - and I mean everyone - told me 'That Will Never Work'".

Investors pattern match. There are only a handful who step out into the dangerous frontier of new disruption.

So if you know that’s the case, WHY would you shape your pitch in a way that focuses on all the new shiny, innovative tech features?

When founders lead with features, data, and evidence, much of it goes right over the investors’ heads. They lose the thread because many of those things are incomprehensible to them.

As I’ve said in the past, we want to believe that we make choices based on logic, but the reality is that we make them based on emotion. We need to feel good, feel safe. And when investors are being presented with data or features that are foreign to them, they feel threatened. They feel afraid—even if it’s just on a subconscious level. Their gut tells them something isn’t right.

This is why logical storytelling is such a mistake (for a video I did on the difference between logical and emotional storytelling).

When I was a trial lawyer, I watched plenty of attorneys try cases by leaning on the evidence. But the technicalities of things like DNA can become very difficult for a jury to follow, and once they feel overwhelmed, the lawyer can lose the jury’s buy-in very quickly. You could have a mountain of evidence that proves the defendant is guilty, but you’re not going to convince a jury on evidence alone.

Fortunately, there are two tools we can use to help the brain into thinking these new, scary, difficult-to-grasp things are comfortable and familiar. We can bypass that biological wiring and gain trust.

What are these magical brain hacks?

The Awesome Analogy

That’s right, the trick to hijacking your audience’s mind is something you learned way back in your 9th grade English class.

An analogy creates a logical argument by comparing two things to make a point. It compares two unlike things and draws a conclusion from the comparison.

A famous example of an analogy comes from author E.B. White, who said: “Explaining a joke is like dissecting a frog. You understand it better, but the frog dies in the process.”

In this example, White compares two unlike things, and then he explains why they’re similar in a logical way.

Why is using analogy so valuable? Because they can make complicated ideas or new technology easy to understand.

Humans are the only species on Earth whose brains allow us to predict the future. We do this by searching for patterns based on previous knowledge and experiences. When we see a hot stove, we can predict it will burn us if we touch it—either because we’ve learned that through education or experienced it ourselves.

As such, when we’re presented with brand new information, our brains try to fit it into a pattern of something we’ve already learned or experienced. When that new information is SO different from anything we know, the brain can’t categorize it, and we begin to panic. The resulting emotion is fear and worry.

By introducing an analogy to your audience, you do the hard work of pattern-matching for their brains, which results in comfort. It’s a manufactured comparison, of course, but that’s okay. As Sigmund Freud once said, “Analogies prove nothing, that is true, but they can make one feel more at home.”

But wait…

Didn’t I tell you earlier that we make decisions based on emotions and not logic? And if an analogy appeals to your audience logically, how do you persuade them?

The Mighty Metaphor

The metaphor is the analogy’s nerdy cousin who majored in literature. It works the same way as an analogy, comparing two unlike things, but it does so in a way that appeals to the audience’s senses and emotions.

(See how I used an analogy to explain a metaphor?)

Metaphors work on a more visceral level. They generate a visual image and spark an emotion. Look at this one from author Roald Dahl from his novel, Matilda:

“The parents looked upon Matilda in particular as nothing more than a scab. A scab is something you have to put up with until the time comes when you can pick it off and flick it away.”

As seen in this example, the difference here between an analogy and a metaphor is that Dahl doesn’t logically explain the connection between Matilda and a scab—he lets the reader make that connection themselves.

Letting the audience connect the dots is more satisfying because they’re tricked into thinking they did the work themselves—when really, YOU orchestrated it.

One of the best technology metaphors of all time came from Steve Jobs, when he said that a computer is like a bicycle for the mind.

This was a brilliant metaphor, because at the time, the idea of the average household owning a personal computer was absurd. Humans got along for millenia without needing a computer. Why would they need one now? And furthermore, what dangers would result?

By using the bicycle as the comparison, Jobs disarmed the fear of the new. A bicycle is not scary—kids use them. His audience drew the connection that computers—like bikes—could not only be fun, but also allow us to go further distances in shorter amounts of time. Computers could exercise our mind, strengthening our mental muscles.

ALL of those concepts are layered into that simple comparison. Metaphor magic.

Of course, it’s not always foolproof. Society still feared the computer. As a matter of fact, when the bicycle was introduced to Victorian society, medical “experts” warned of the invention’s dangers, including transforming riders’ gait, an increased risk of appendicitis and infertility, and something called “bicycle face,” which was a consequence of being exposed to air at superhuman speeds.

But you aren't trying to convince everyone. You just need one investor to get your analogy and metaphor. If you can get one, you can get another because the first one gives cover to all the rest.

The most innovative and disruptive ideas need the strongest and most imaginative metaphors to bring them to life. The degree of difficulty is higher.

Just like a gymnast in the Olympics, the higher the degree of difficult...

The higher the score when you pull it off.

In your case that's billions of dollars and massive impact.

RESOURCES for Founders and Storytellers

Want to see a health tech founder's story transformed? Take a look here at the hook, delivery, and dismount.


Check out the YouTube channel with more resources and free help for you.

If you're looking for help with your fundraise, check out Founder Fundraising.

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