Every week on The Primer we ask a local business or product to introduce themselves in eight simple takes. This week we talk to brand strategist James Hurman whose latest venture, Storytech, wants to help small businesses work out their elevator pitch in a single day.
ONE: How did Storytech start and what was the inspiration behind it?
I spent most of my career in the advertising industry as a strategic planner, working with large corporate brands here and overseas. Then when I started my own company, Previously Unavailable, I led the brand strategy for start-ups like Stolen Rum and Simplicity KiwiSaver which attracted other start-ups and small businesses to us.
There are so many smaller, younger businesses in New Zealand with amazing products that I wanted to help, but the reality is that most of these companies just can’t afford the thousands it costs to have an agency or consultant develop their brand strategy. It’s a real conundrum because these businesses tend to be the ones most in need of a really clear brand story and strategy.
I wrestled with it for a couple of years before having a lightbulb moment about 18 months ago. I started to think about condensing my strategic process into a day and then delivering it in a workshop facilitated by a video version of me.
We quickly built a prototype of the idea and put about 30 small businesses through it. I was surprised at just how well it went for those companies. They loved it and said they ended their day feeling far more confident and excited about their story. So we’ve spent the last year designing and building Storytech from these prototype learnings and creating the world’s first product of this kind.
TWO: Was there any interest/experience in business or entrepreneurship prior to starting Storytech?
I left the advertising industry in 2014 to start my venture studio Previously Unavailable. We specialise in the rapid creation of innovative products with untraditional business models. We work with corporates and start-ups to help bring exciting new things into the world.
We also pursue our own ventures, one of which is Toothcrush, a bamboo toothbrush subscription service that we started in 2016 and now operates in New Zealand, Australia and the US. Storytech is our second wholly owned venture.
THREE: How does Storytech work and what kind of content should users expect?
In a nutshell, Storytech is a do-it-yourself, brand-strategy-in-a-box digital product for start-ups and small businesses. Using Storytech, they can create a world-class brand story and a strategy to communicate it all in one day for $500.
The process centres around three ‘canvases’ (one-page documents that capture fundamentals about the brand in a way that’s easy to understand and share) that users spend the day working through. Once the canvases are completed, users take the content they’ve developed and use it to complete a ‘fill in the blanks’ brand story template. So they end the day with a new and fully written brand story, as well as a plan for how to communicate it to customers.
FOUR: What makes Storytech different from say, hiring a consultant or agency? Or other online courses targeted at small businesses, some of which are cheaper or even free?
The most obvious differences to consultants and agencies are the cost, and that you do it yourself as opposed to outsourcing the thinking. Storytech is very structured and puts a huge amount of scaffolding around the user in the form of clear instructions, key questions and workshop exercises, great case study examples from other brands, and tips that help unlock the thinking. It’s jargon-free and designed to be super-easy for people with zero marketing experience, but makes the most of the skills that marketers have.
In comparison with other online courses, the big difference is that Storytech is not ‘education’. Storytech isn’t about teaching you how to be a marketer or brand strategist. It’s a 100% practical, outcome-led day that gives business leaders the process to create the best story for their brand. Reading a book or taking an online course will give you the theory but not the actual outcome, whereas Storytech is all about getting you to that outcome in a day so the next day you can get straight back to the job of growing your business.
FIVE: Who is Storytech designed for? What stage should businesses be at to get the most out of Storytech?
Storytech is primarily for start-ups and small businesses from $0 – $3 million turnover. It’s great for people who are starting a business for the first time, and it’s great for people who’ve been running their business for a while and need to hone or refresh their brand story.
In saying that, Storytech is just as applicable for larger organisations. The fundamentals of brand strategy are the same whether you’re a 15-year-old with a cool idea or the exec team of a corporate. But my real passion is getting this out to those smaller companies who don’t have access to agencies and top-tier consultants.
SIX: How long does it take to do Storytech and what do users get at the end of it?
It’s one full and very busy day. Storytech takes 8 hours, including morning, lunch and afternoon breaks. It’s super-structured and there are timers all the way through to keep you on track. You can start and finish the 8 hours whenever you like, and you access it through any web browser – so it’s your place, your day, and on your terms. At the end of the day, you have three completed canvases, a fully written brand story and a practical plan for how to communicate it to customers.
SEVEN: Do you have any other plans to scale/grow further and if so, what are they?
Our ambition is to help one million companies create their brand story in the next decade. We’re right at the start and have a New Zealand focus right now, but the platform is relevant globally so we’ll be seeking to internationalise as soon as possible. There’s nothing else like this anywhere in the world so I’m excited about the potential of helping people all over the world achieve their entrepreneurial dreams.
EIGHT: Lastly, tell us about a New Zealand start-up or business that you really admire right now.
That’s tough as we’re literally swamped right now with insanely cool, smart companies who are doing things that make my head spin. I’m in awe of Rocket Lab, Eat My Lunch, Soul Machines, Sunfed and All Birds, of course.
Probably the one that I’ve been most taken by recently is Melodics which is an awesome digital platform that teaches you proper music skills, but using a brilliant online interface and proper cool music that you actually want to be able to play. The company was founded by Sam Gribben who was the CEO of Serato for many years and is connected into the heart of the global music industry. He’s on the way to revolutionising how music is taught and learned. Having gotten so much joy from playing music myself, I think what they’re doing is inspiring and important. It’s the way people will learn to play a musical instrument in the future.