“I was born into a deaf family. My parents are deaf. My sister is deaf. This was the start of Thibault Duchemin’s initial pitch for his business Ava, a real-time captioning product. Ava was originally created for the deaf and hard of hearing community and has recently expanded into the business market. Thanks to his compelling storytelling, Thibault was initially able to raise $1.6 million to reach his initial target market. As Ava grew, the company continued to raise a “seed” and Series A totaling $14.7 million to add a professional live captioning solution for any meeting or breakout room. class in addition to its original AI product.
Thibault understands the pact between the storyteller and his audience of investors. When they sit down to listen to a story, viewers expect a certain pattern. Think about the experience of watching a movie. You want to know who the protagonist is, what their motivations are, and what stands in their way. If a story is confusing and these elements are unclear, audience members can become frustrated. Some filmmakers are deliberately oblique when crafting a story. Jane Campion Oscar nominee, The power of the dog serves as a recent example of a film that challenged its audience with extremely subtle plot points that were lost on many viewers. Some reviewers applauded this approach, but many viewers found it extremely annoying, as they had to work too hard to dig up the story.
Innovators, like Thibault, have no interest in taking the risk of frustrating their audience. Thibault tells investors what they want to know, starting with who is going to use the product. The first target customer should be the protagonist of the story. What challenges does the protagonist face and what specific problem do you plan to solve? In the language of history, the audience will want to understand the intention of the protagonist and what obstacle stands in their way. Once you’ve built that foundation, your audience will be looking for the payoff, product or service you’ve built and the benefits it offers.
If you get the setup right, audience members will be on the edge of their seats waiting with great interest to hear how you created a happy ending for your client. If you then clearly describe the product, illustrate how it solves specific user problems, and explain how your customer will be better off than using current solutions, you have fulfilled “the storyteller’s contract”.
After Thibault opened up about his family, he explained the difficulties faced by deaf people. “I know how painful it is to follow group conversations when you can’t hear well. You’re so focused on reading the lips of the person in front of you that when someone else starts speaking, you turn your head and miss the first few words. But because you miss those words, you miss the whole conversation. But it wasn’t my whole family. There are four hundred million people who suffer from disabling hearing loss. He expands on this narrative in his TEDxSoMa talk.
Thibault gave the audience the exact story elements they needed. The audience knows: 1) who will be the protagonist of the story — deaf and hard of hearing people; 2) what they struggle with – tracking group conversations; and 3) what stands in their way – the inability to lip-read in different parts of the room.
The storyteller of innovation told his audience who he should lean on and why. The audience does not have to work hard to analyze the information. He understands why Ava exists and is only waiting for Thibault to take advantage of it: how does the product solve this problem?
Thibault and his team have created a captioning mobile and desktop application. The app hears the conversation, transcribes what is said, and assigns the statement as color-coded text to each speaker. A deaf or hard of hearing person can consult the application at any time to see what is being said and by whom. They are no longer excluded from a conversation. The story ends well and the audience can follow what happened.
Recently, the Ava team offered the captioning app to corporate customers for an enhanced solution (with one-click access to live transcriptionists) for business meetings. Thibault just announced a $10 million Series A round to tackle this market.
The footnote to this story about telling a satisfying narrative is that the Oscar-nominated film that Won for Best Picture this year was CODA. CODA means child of a deaf adult. It was a beautiful – and clearly – story of a family like Thibault’s.