Every Startup Has Three Stories and You Need To Tell All of Them

How you write those stories will determine if you’re a leader or just another unicorn wanna-be

Joe Procopio
6 min readMar 19, 2020


Every startup — from inception all the way through to the last pre-IPO funding round — has three defining stories. It’s up to company leadership to sell these stories to customers, investors, the team and themselves.

The themes of the three startup stories are deceptively simple:

  • What the company is.
  • What the company will be.
  • What the company should be.

The first story is what you do when you walk through the door every day. The second story is the overarching goal that everyone on the team is working toward. The third story is the dream — the billion-dollar moonshot.

But even when the stories themselves are well-constructed and understood, several problems can bubble up while you’re trying to simultaneously manage three unique identities.

  • The team starts stepping on one story to get to another.
  • The company gets focused on the wrong thing at the wrong time.
  • The company winds up and either sacrificing revenue for growth or sacrificing growth for revenue.

In more than 20 years of working on and with startups, I see this happen all the time, whether the company is a freshly hatched pre-seed startup or a multi-million-dollar unicorn wanna-be. The stories get jumbled; the execution gets mangled; and the direction starts spiraling.

This is leadership’s fault. Leadership needs to learn how to tell all three stories at once.

The Goal: Balance the stories

The three startup stories are not unlike episodic writing, the kind of writing you might find in a well-defined TV series.

  • Story A has an arc that begins and ends in each episode (with the occasional cliff-hanger).
  • Story B has a longer arc that keeps you watching from episode to episode.
  • Story C has an arc that covers the entire series from beginning to end.



Joe Procopio

I'm a multi-exit, multi-failure entrepreneur. NLG pioneer. Building TeachingStartup.com & GROWERS. Write at Inc.com and BuiltIn.com. More at joeprocopio.com