Storyteller is the coolest job title I’ve ever held.
It means I officially tell stories for a living, and that’s a great privilege. Stories are why I became a journalist more than 7 years ago, inspired by the BBC World Service, Kate Adie, and the adventures of Lois Lane. Stories led me from London to Paris to Beijing, before beginning a new chapter in San Francisco in 2013. Now, at Matter, I get to tell stories about the intersection of two causes close to my heart: entrepreneurship and the media (r)evolution.
I’ve stepped into a hallowed tradition: from the Iliad to Harry Potter, storytelling is an art as old and essential as humankind itself. “After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world,” award-winning British author Philip Pullman once said.
It’s an aphorism I see reflected in Matter’s human-centric philosophy, its teaching approach, even its workspace. Stories are central to what Matter does, both in terms of the industry it’s helping shake up — because without storytelling, there would be no media! — and in terms of how it coaches its entrepreneurs to craft character-driven narratives about themselves and their products. Stories are about people, and so is innovation.
Perhaps the greatest evidence of Matter’s commitment to stories and their potential for impact is its appointment of a dedicated Storyteller, a rare beast even in the petri dish of Silicon Valley. My job will be to tease stories out of the experiences of Matter portfolio companies and use multimedia and social media tools to animate them for a wider audience. I’ll capture nuggets of wisdom from Matter’s visiting speakers, mentors, Corey, Lara, and the rest of the team. Powered by the latest technology, I’ll share them with more media innovators than any of us could ever reach in person.
I’ll also work to equip our entrepreneurs with an invaluable skill: the ability to tell their stories to the key stakeholders in their spheres, including investors, journalists, and above all, customers. As Howard Gardner, eminent developmental psychologist at Harvard University, says: “Stories are the single most powerful weapon in a leader’s arsenal.”
The Matter workspace is already a treasure trove of stories. Walk into the office and the writing is literally on the wall — there are words everywhere, neatly organized in mind maps, crammed on to Post-It notes, splattered on white boards, underlined, highlighted, capitalized, encircled.
As zen and minimalist as this converted warehouse space may feel, all the eye-level surfaces are competing for attention, adorned with hundreds and hundreds of words. Words that represent the entrepreneurs’ turbulent journeys from week 1 to Demo Day. Words that act as the anchor points around which they orient their thoughts, share their ideas, establish their methodologies and create transformative technology. Words like “be scrappy” and “intentional serendipity”. If you follow me on A Matter-Driven Narrative, you’ll find out more about what all these words mean in the context of the entrepreneur.
Having come from the world of traditional news broadcasting, I’m learning a new language here at Matter, where VOSOTs, slugs, and live hits have been replaced by flares, deltas and top-down vs. bottom-up. These aren’t terms chosen at random — in the Matterverse, they’re shorthand for the concepts that our entrepreneurs must master on their respective paths to success. I have a feeling they’re going to help me organize my mind better, too.
I have always liked learning new languages. Born in Wales, I studied Welsh until the age of sixteen and my party trick is rattling off the name of my country’s (and indeed the world’s) longest train station (llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, in case you’re interested).
In France, I worked in a bilingual news team, so I had to learn lots and lots of French, really fast, some of it highly esoteric (did you know scaphandrier is the French word for one of those full body, deep water diving suits?). In China I wrestled hard with learning Mandarin, which eventually kicked me in the kidneys, kung fu-style, although even now I still describe a lot of things as 馬馬虎虎.
These days, after marrying an Atomic Physicist from Siberia, I’m trying to cram some Russian vocab into my memory, when I’m not out swing dancing (which is incidentally how one meets an Atomic Physicist from Siberia in California).
Just like our cohort, I’ve come a long way from a small town in Wales, and, starting this next chapter as a startup newbie, I know I still have a long way to go. But as another great writer, Ralph Waldo Emerson, once said: “Life is a journey, not a destination.” That’s what I hope to document on A Matter-Driven Narrative . The entrepreneurial road may be long and winding, littered with potholes and blind corners, but there’s some beautiful scenery to discover along the way. Through my lens, you will see it too, and we can learn together.