29th May, 2018

The art of startup storytelling

How would you tell the story of your startup in three minutes? Or five minutes?

That was what Juliette Murphy, CEO and Co-founder of FloodMapp, faced as she shaped her pitch for the Elevator Pitch Competition @ Myriad, sponsored by MYOB.

“I thought it was a great opportunity to get our idea out there and practise my elevator pitch,” she told The Pulse.

“I wasn’t expecting to win. It was more about telling people what we were doing.”

Murphy stood in front of a packed-out room of investors and startup peers and tell her startup’s story in three minutes. No slides.

She said once she got to the startup stage she felt the nerves, but spotting a familiar face in the crowd helped.

“I hadn’t done much pitching without slides before so that was a big challenge for me. I tried to give a really succinct, plain-language explanation of what we were doing and why it was a big opportunity,” said Murphy.

“One of the judges there I had met before, so that was a friendly face to focus on. That made me feel a bit more comfortable.”

READ: 4 tips for pitching a venture capitalist

The lesson here is to engage with as many people as possible in the startup ecosystem because you never know who’s going to be judge and jury of your business.

She said her approach to the three-minute pitch was simple: focus on the problem the startup wanted to solve.

Outline the problem

As a native Queenslander, Murphy has seen how flooding can wreak devastation.

There’s the personal toll caused by flooding events across the state, but the huge amount of money needed for the clean up afterwards is growing.

The National Business Roundtable says the total economic cost of natural disasters in Queensland will reach $18.3 billion per year by 2050.

The FloodMapp team with MYOB @ Myriad


Murphy has seen friends affected by flooding, and, as an ex-water engineer, she and her partner wondered if there was a better way to warn and prepare communities for flooding events.

So FloodMapp was born, which plugs into several data sources to provide up-to-the-minute weather data information and forecasting.

But how do you explain a problem that touched the lives of so many people globally in just three minutes?

Give your audience a single, impactful story.

“I started with a story of a couple I know in the Lockyer Valley who survived the Grantham Floods in 2011 – it was pretty awful. Thirty-five people lost their lives that day,” said Murphy.

“They managed to make it onto their roofs and ride it out from there – but I described what the experience may have been like with FloodMapps and how that could have been avoided.

“After that, I described our business model and the opportunity.”

After winning a People’s Choice vote, she was told FloodMapps had moved onto the final round – roughly an hour before it began.

Be adaptable and explain the solution

“So, I got a message at 2pm saying that we’d won through and we’d need to be ready to pitch at 3pm,” said Murphy.

That would be fine, she said, but she was across town in another meeting at the time.

So she needed to finish the meeting, reach where she was staying to email through her pitch deck, and then get back to Myriad by 3pm. She made it with 15 minutes to spare.

“It was a crazy rush of excitement – we were speechless and then to be told at pretty short notice. It was just mad,” said Murphy.

READ: Paint me a picture: the importance of storytelling in business

In the final round, Murphy was given five minutes to present with slides, and take five minutes of questions from the judges.

She said in those two extra minutes with the help of visual aids, she thought about how to extend her pitch.

“The problem for me in the three-minute pitch is that without pictures for us, it was hard to convey what our solution does,” said Murphy.

“I was able to talk through how the back-end of our tech worked and what information the users would receive.”

So in the three-minute pitch, Murphy prioritised how to explain the problem that her startup was trying to solve. In the five-minute pitch she focused more on the solution.

But Murphy said she’s still learning about the craft of telling FloodMapp’s story.

“I’m definitely still playing it by ear, and I’m on a learning journey,” she said.

“What I’ve learned is that good pitching is about picking the key message that you’re really trying to get across, and then remembering less is more when it comes to delivery.”