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Competitive Storytelling with Robbie Crabtree

Robbie Crabtree, former trial lawyer and Founder of Competitive Storytelling, is driven by the hypothesis that everything he learned about storytelling as an attorney applies to the way founders tell their stories when they are trying to raise. Setting the framework of who you are as a founder is what will keep investors engaged, and today Robbie joined me to share how to utilize storytelling devices to lead with conviction and nail your pitch.

Storytelling Devices in Your Hook

On average, investors spend less than two minutes and 32 seconds reading through your pitch deck. The truth is, Robbie says, “…you don't have time, and the biggest thing that I say for any speaker for any pitch is to focus on your hook.”

Your hook is an opening statement that will set the tone for the rest of your pitch. To make a strong first impression, you can use statistics, quotes, questions, or anecdotes to get the investor to lean in, hold on, and say “I need to know more”. Utilizing quotes from familiar voices in your hook helps the audience connect the dots and gives them something to resonate with. Questions and statistics are also great devices to include in your storytelling, but they should be big, bold, and jaw-dropping.

Additionally, storytelling doesn’t have to just be your story. “You can tell other people’s stories to connect to the bigger picture,” Robbie says. “You should be talking to people, getting anecdotes, and gathering experiences that people have had to weave into the story. That's where it really starts to resonate. These new stories are an opportunity to build on your story to make it more tangible and bring it to life.”

The “Three-P Framework”

The story of who you are as a founder is what investors are betting on, and founder storytelling starts with Robbie’s “Three-P Framework”: purpose, passion, and potential. “Your purpose is where you start to identify what the problem is, your passion is why you care, why you won't stop, and then ultimately, the potential is your big goal in the future,” Robbie says.


Your purpose identifies the problem, conveys the solution, and answers the question of “why now?”. Refining the narrative of your purpose is the first step of crafting your “origin story” as Robbie said in our boot camp last month on how to craft your story and perfect your fundraising strategy. This is your first opportunity to make an impression and show the investors who you are.


Your passion answers the questions of “why you?” and “why this team?”. As Robbie says, “This is the stage where you have to sell the investors that you will never stop.” As a founder, you have to have a level of conviction that will make investors believe that you will not stop, no matter how long it takes. They are betting on your resilience to see their return.


When it comes to potential, so many founders minimize what their potential can be. “You have to sell the biggest vision possible,” Robbie says. “The potential isn't supposed to be realistic. It's supposed to be the dream. It's supposed to paint the biggest, boldest, and most ambitious, idea that you have in your head."

The Storytelling Triangle

Going into an investor meeting without a clear direction of how you will use your voice can set you up to be caught off guard. The storytelling triangle is a method of maximizing framing, substance, and delivery to set you up to lead the conversation and maintain control over the way you tell your story.


Framing is how we think about telling a story. As Robbie says, “The person who controls the frame controls the conversation.” Rhetorical questions, metaphors, repetition, and imagined language can make it easy for people to follow the framework of your pitch and allow you to take it in the direction that you want to go.


Substance derives from your big, ambitious goal, and aims to answer questions of conviction. “When we're talking about the startup world, so many of the problems that the startup founders are trying to solve come from a place of trying to change the world for good," Robbie says. Substance builds on your moral conviction as a founder and reiterates your passion for your mission.


Delivery comes down to the tone of your voice and the gestures that you use. “You need the right tonality,” Robbie says. “When you're starting out, your tone needs to demonstrate expertise, enthusiasm, and confidence.” At the same time, being mindful of your body language by using open hand gestures and a relaxed composure can demonstrate openness and comfortability.

Flipping the Script

The truth is, investors want more intrigue. Instead of throwing too much information at them in the pitch deck at once, eliminate the fluff and flip the script to: “I, as the founder, have information that you, as the investor, want. Now, instead of me, the founder, throwing it at you, you're coming up with the idea to ask me because you're interested.” Keep your deck brief, 10 pages or less, make your vision clear, and drive home the story of who you are as a founder.

Additionally, the story that you tell in pre-seed is going to be different from the story that you tell in Series A, which will be different from the story that you tell in Series B. “The purpose of pre-seed storytelling is to entertain and inspire,” Robbie says. However, “In Series A you are storytelling for business, which is much more strategic. Series A will oftentimes be a story with numbers, and Series B and beyond will not just be a story with numbers, but stories with numbers about how this is going to be a massively successful company.”

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