Use Storytelling to Describe the Problem You Solve

By March 27, 2013Fundraising
startup storytelling

As a startup founder seeking investment, your pitch deck must effectively communicate the problem your product solves. Learn how to captivate investors with powerful storytelling that conveys the true essence of your startup’s value proposition.

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Storytelling is a powerful skill for any great communicator. When told well, a story helps us best absorb a message and its meaning. It can make the difference between remembering and caring, or not.

In my article titled “Pitch Deck Flow“, I suggested the recommended order of topics and typical content for your pitch deck. In this article, I dive deeper into the Problem section of the pitch deck with a suggestion on how to best describe the actual problem you solve.

Using Facts & Statistics

Many founders use a sequence of factoids, claims and industry statistics to describe the problem they solve. For example, “65% of small businesses in the US report struggling with _____, causing them to lose $____ annually in productivity.” These factoids are commonly strung together in succession to support each other and help demonstrate a clearly recognized problem.

While it’s absolutely helpful to use factoids to justify your problem statement, it shouldn’t be the only way to describe it. Is anybody really going to remember those claims and statistics? Are they really going to feel the pain of the small business owner? Not usually.

Instead, Tell a Story

Instead, start with a story that best describes the problem. The subject of the story can be a real customer or a hypothetical one. Tell a story about a specific person or company that experienced a nasty problem with terrible consequences. That’s much more effective than just spouting statistics. And if you yourself, or someone you are close to, suffered directly from the problem, the story you tell will also help convey your personal passion for solving it.

Here are some examples of how you might start your story:

  • One of our customers is ______.  They had a big problem with _______ (finish telling a story that describes the problem).
  • Meet Gordon.  He is the head of operations for ABC Inc.  Every time Gordon needs to _______, he ________ (tell a “day in the life” story that highlights Gordon’s big problem).
  • We’ve met with a lot of companies in the ____ segment.  One thing we heard over and over is _______ (insert problem).  For example, at ______ we discovered ________ (finish telling a story that describes the problem).

Storytelling Arcs, Themes and Morals

Think of the best stories your grandparents have told you. Their generation is made up of natural storytellers. What makes their stories so engaging and memorable? They incorporate a certain story arc that involves some combination of rises and falls.

Storytelling arcs refer to the overall structure and progression of a story. They help create a sense of tension, conflict, and resolution. One example is the famous rags-to-riches arc that involves a continual rise. Contrast that with the tragedy arc that involves a fall somewhere in the story.

Other arcs involve combinations of rises and falls. Regardless, the story arc helps take the audience on a journey. It helps maintain interest to learn what happens next.

Themes are the central ideas or concepts explored in a story. They provide deeper meaning and resonance to the narrative. The most common themes are courage, death, justice, friendship, relationship, revenge, and forgiveness. A theme is commonly complemented by a moral, which is a lesson the story is intended to teach or convey. The arc, theme and moral work together to fully enrich a story.

As you think about ways to describe the problem you solve via storytelling, educate yourself more on arcs, themes and morals. See if any of them can help enhance your story. This article titled “How to Shape a Story” by Joe Bunting explains several different story arcs in detail.

  • Could the right story arc help the audience feel the pain more?
  • Could it help the audience understand the cause of the pain better?
  • Could it make the audience want to join you in solving the problem?

These are the results and reactions you’re hoping for with this enhancement to your story.

A Checklist isn’t a Story

Don’t just rattle off a checklist of issues as your story. In other words, the following sentence isn’t storytelling: “When it comes to Gordon’s blog, he struggles to get comments from his readers. He never seems to find time to contribute new posts. And he doesn’t know how to market himself to get more followers.”

Instead, reword it to something like this: “Gordon decided that his blog should be a primary way to brand himself in the startup world. But in the past three months he has only written one new article. And when it comes to marketing himself using social media and online advertising, nothing he does seems to bring more followers. He’s frustrated, disappointed and thinking about putting his blog on hold for a while.”

Gordon’s problem isn’t of the brain cancer severity, but notice how the re-write establishes a purpose and describes things in a way that causes a feeling of empathy. If done correctly, the person you’re telling the story to should feel the pain being described. Don’t you feel a little sorry for poor Gordon? Now just imagine if his problem related to just being diagnosed with brain cancer.

Incorporating Statistics into your Story

Facts and statistics aren’t useless. They just aren’t the story. Start with the story and then follow it with the statistics that support and substantiate your story. This corresponds nicely to my recommended pitch deck flow of Problem then Market. The transition to your Market attributes works well if you start with factoids about the market as they relate to the problem you just described.  Then, continue on with more information about the size of the market and things like that.

The other thing that’s great about this storytelling approach is that when you get to the Solution section, you can come back to your story once again. Example:  “Remember the problems Shockwave Innovations experienced? After they implemented our solution, they _____ (benefits realized). Let me tell you how our solution did that.” Then go on to describe the various attributes of your solution.


In summary, people remember stories much easier than they remember factoids. To make your story memorable, paint a descriptive picture like was done in the examples described here. Help the audience actually feel the pain. Don’t achieve this by blowing things out of proportion, but rather by giving enough “color” to the story to make it understandable and believable.

Practice the story on someone and have them tell it right back to you. Two days later ask them to recall the story again and see what they remember versus what they don’t. A good story will have a lasting effect.

P.S. – I generated the featured image for this blog using the generative AI tool Midjourney. The prompt I used was “a master storyteller on stage telling a sad story to an audience, sad, photorealistic, high quality, interesting lighting, –ar 16:9”

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