How Did a Highly Functional Introvert Become a Teetotaler-Two-Drink-Minimum Marketer

The power of an origin story to align behind so that what you write is authentic.

How Did a Highly Functional Introvert Become a Teetotaler-Two-Drink-Minimum Marketer
My dad and I flying

I’d like to be able to tell you that I planned all along to help B2B companies tell better stories but that would be a lie.

Well, not exactly a lie but not the full truth.

I’m actually getting ahead of myself a wee bit. It’s best that we start from the beginning because it will then make a ton of sense why I’m a recovering alcoholic that hates the press-and-grin-two-drink-minimum-marketing foo that dominates my life now.

The Wonder Years

I grew up in the suburbs of San Francisco in a town called Belmont, with its rolling hills, ancient redwoods, and ranch style subdivisions carved into the hills. It was the 1970’s and 80’s, where kids were mostly left to raise themselves on Swanson TV dinners, Pepsi, Pop Rocks, and reruns of Gillian’s Island.

Belmont had two claims to fame when I was growing up. The first was that it was the home of Marine World Africa USA, which is now in Vallejo, CA and renamed Six Flags. The second was that it was home to an inordinate amount of kidnappers and serial killers, at least to my young impressionable self.

You see, kidnappers and serial killers were our version of mass shootings, so we were aware of the danger yet we were latchkey kids who would roam the streets until the street lights would come on.

I can legitimately say that I met two serial killers. One of which killed my friend Lance and the other I delivered papers too.

So let’s just say a lot of my childhood experiences left a mark that we’ll get to later on.

The Engineering Years

I started out as an engineer in Silicon Valley at a time when we were building the “information superhighway.”

The year was 1995 and back then, everyone was jumping to startups to not only build the Internet but figure out all this eCommerce stuff since back then, NO ONE would dare give someone their credit card on a website.

I mean, I remember having to dial-up on a 300 baud modem to look at lines of text scroll past my eyes on a green 10” monitor. You could actually read it in real time, it was that slow.

Yeah, I’m a Gen-X Silicon Valley “Bro” who thought that “if you build it, they will come.”

Or the best one, “we’ll make it up on volume.” Yeah, how well did that work out for ya Webvan!

All that turned out to be a lie and it took me the better part of 20 years to figure out the truth. During that 20 year span, I was at 6 startups with only one that exited, which is actually a decent hit rate considering 1 in 1,000 VC funded startups actually exit for a decent return.

What did all this teach me?

Product is Democratized.

Then I Met a Girl

Rather a woman who later became my wife.

She ran a PR, marketing, and strategic communications company that helped startups, nonprofits, and professional athletes tell their stories. It was a whole different world filled with movie premiers, bottle service, and levels of insanity that are hard to describe.

Like the time she had to do damage control for a famous basketball player who got into a fight at “the club” with his girlfriend’s ex, the night before he’s supposed to promote his children’s book about anti-bullying. 

The list goes on.

My role, early on, in the celebrity circus, was as her +1 and gopher. I’d do simple things like babysit celebrities so they would not get mobbed and explain to venue staff what they had to put in the green room.

This was all fine and good since I was still working in tech, digital health in fact, and loving the free bottles of wine and whiskey we’d routinely get as gifts.

Then Jane got leukemia.

Fifteen Months of Fear & Loathing

The reason I now do B2B Marketing is because I had to run Jane’s company, JSY PR & Marketing, while she was sick.

This was not my ideal situation.

I knew about as much about PR & Marketing as I do about biochemistry even though my ex wife did that for a living.

It turned out that I was pretty good at it mostly because I write okay and can follow directions.

Surprised me (and her) for sure.

The complicated part of that whole fifteen month ordeal was that I not only had to learn an entirely new business but I also had to be a full time caregiver for Jane. On top of that, leukemia is a horrible disease that is hard to treat.

The sad end to this part of my life is that Jane died fifteen months after she was diagnosed.

Yes, it’s as horrible as it sounds.

Actually, it’s worse than you can imagine and in order to deal with it, I drank a lot and did a ton of pot to numb the pain.

Thankfully, I also met another girl (women I mean) that helped me through this dark time. We’re now engaged and I have also been sober for almost 6 years 

If you are interested in that part of my life, I wrote a memoir about it called Ride or Die: Loving Through Tragedy, A Husband’s Memoir. 

Who I am Today

So now, I teach people how to tell better stories so they can rise above the noise to build businesses that not only tell great stories but sell a whole bunch of stuff.

I do this via story-driven marketing

Companies like Sutro, who I helped launch their pool and spa water testing robot and grow to 7-figures in revenue 18 months and then double that revenue six months after.

That’s impressive for sure but what I’m most proud of is there tagline, which I helped them come up with:

Love your pool (or spa) again.

If you own a pool (or spa), you’ll know exactly what that means.

Lab Sensor Solutions (LSS) was a startup that I co-founded to track the temperature and location of medical samples so they don’t spoil.

Simple and elegant story. 

That story got us an investment by 500 Startups (Batch 14) and LaunchPad Digital Health as well as a contract with the largest HMO in Northern California. Again impressive but that story did not end as well.

We ended up having to shut down because while the need was technically big, organization’s did not care as much as we did to solve the problem.

But the one thing that all of these experiences taught me is something that I believe with all my heart and soul.

The best story wins when there is a big problem to solve.

Hands down. Full stop. Do not pass go. Don’t collect your $200.

So just remember that the next time you’re wondering why your super cool whizband tech startup is struggling to hit their growth numbers.

It’s usually not the tech since building a product is democratized.

It’s almost always your story or lack of it.

Why Two-Drink-Minimum Marketing

One of the analogies that I use a lot goes something like this: Welcome to Marketing. Two Drinks Minimum. Make sure to tip your waitstaff. 

It often gets a chuckle since it feels so right to think that marketing is some sort of comedy show that can be either hit or miss.

Clearly, drinking helps make the potential disaster a lot more tolerable.

The other reason I use that line is because marketing is often so misunderstood that it seems like the only way to understand it is to go to the show to see for yourself.

Of course, the irony of the analogy is that I don’t drink anymore so while you may enjoy a nice single malt as you listen to the show, I’m stone cold sober and still enjoy the show.

The Power & Promise of an Origin Story

I hope you enjoyed my origin story and get inspired to write your own.

The reason these are so powerful for you and your company is that they help others understand your frame of reference and why you act the way you do.

They are also a great source of inspiration, your writing voice and tone, as well as an excellent foundation for your unique point of view on the world.

If you had not noticed, my unique point of view is a Gen-X slacker who happened to be a widower so I understand that every single day I have is a gift. That frames my entire attitude about how I attack the world. Oh and that I equally hate millennials  and boomers for being so annoying and complaining about blah, blah, blah. Fix your own mess already.

No one helped us. We were on our own. So the next time you’re in your own private pity party about why your avo toast is too soggy or the earth temperature is rising or someone offended you with words, remember, Gen-X used to drink out of a garden hose, routinely dodged kidnappers and serial killers, and can live off of Pepsi and cold Strawberry Poptarts.

The Structure of a Stellar Origin Story

Stories have structure.

You need to use this structure to your advantage in order to weave a story that both resonates and is remembered since both are required to move people with your story.

In the classical sense, all stories have a beginning, a middle and an end.

Simple. Yet.

Those three parts do a ton of work to move people to feel something. What the reader needs to feel is some sort of emotion that is going to want them to continue to read on. All parts need to do this but it’s up to the Beginning Hook to hook the reader in.

The Beginning Hook: Emotional Appeal

By far the most important part of a story to get right is the emotional hook that wants your reader to say “oh, tell me more.”

This emotional appeal has to be authentic and relate to the story. It also needs to be paid off in the ending payoff so that the reader can feel a sense of resolution to the story.

Beginning hooks set the stage as to the mind set, story setting, the emotions involved, and a hint at what this might all mean (meaning).

The hook starts with the title of your story because that’s usually the first thing readers read. You’ll notice that the title of this story is meant to make you stop, pause, and hopefully to read on.

If you made it this far, then it worked!

The Middle Build: Logical Progression

The middle build is the meat of your story. It’s the logical progression from the hook to the payoff with all the twists and turns along the way. This is where the story takes shape and gives the reader snippets of the lesson that will be paid off later.

The trick to a great middle build is to have twists and turns that lead the reader on a journey of discovery and entertainment but not reveal the main lesson or theme of the story.

The middle build should have a lot of red herrings, dead ends, and mini-lessons so that you give them a progressively more complicated story that demands that they read on to the end.

The art in crafting the middle build is in the beats of a story. A beat is like a story within a story that nests together to make the bigger story or if this were a book, a scene.

If you get really good at beats and nesting them into the larger story, you’ll be unstoppable.

The Ending Pay off: The Lesson from a Credible Source

All great stories must pay off the emotional hook or the reader will feel cheated. I mean, would Die Hard be the best action movie of all time if Hans Gruber lived. Hardly.

The trick of the ending pay off is to raise the stakes as high as you can before you reveal the surprising but inevitable conclusion of the story. When it comes to stories of persuasion, like us marketers do, the conclusion for the reader is that, yes, I want to book a demo or sign up for a trial or get more information.

One other aspect of the ending pay off for us marketeers is that this is where we bring in our credibility on the topic of the story. Usually this is third party validation of our product or services or a concrete story about a lesson learned before.

All of this is to say that by the time the reader gets to the pay off, they are primed and ready for a surprising but inevitable conclusion to the emotional rollercoaster that was your story. 

Stories Are About Change & Growth

If you remember one thing about this origin story, other than the fact I LOVE espresso, is that stories are about change and growth. We will never be interested in a story that does not capture our emotional energy by shaking the protagonist out of their comfort zone so they can grow into a better person.

That’s exactly what I did the second I stopped drinking alcohol and started to focus on the fact that every day is a gift and I should be thankful for that gift.

All Marketers Should be Stellar Storytellers

Storytelling is central to all good marketing.

In fact, I’d venture to say that every single aspect of your marketing must lead back to your story. That includes your GTM Strategy, messaging and positioning, creating demand, market research, differentiation, brand building, product marketing, content marketing, and SEO.

I’ll explore all of these topics through the lens of story-driven marketing. Stay tuned.