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  • Elana Duffy

Finding Your Path with a Master Story


This is the latest in a series of blogs on what we at Present Tense LLC call a “Master Story”. In this installment, Elana Duffy examines how the Master Story can help your company find its true identity, and then communicate it to each other and to your market. Read the first and second parts of the series on our blog.


Action is the key to any business. Whether it is signing a contract, buying a retail product, or filling out a user survey, you are looking for someone to take action. But in building your business, you also need actors. You need those who believe just as passionately, will work just as hard, for the cause or the product as you.

But have you ever tried to inspire someone to action, to lead a team based on an idea alone? As someone who has helped start three companies in the past three years, I can tell you it’s one of the hardest things you will ever do, but you can make it immeasurably easier with a well-planned and articulated Master Story. It is no simple task to inspire others to not only follow you but also convince them to work with you or even for you, and to help you develop something that you believe in right down to your core all based on a 30-60 second elevator speech... You have a limited amount of time to capture attention and you want to convey your passion while still communicating the key information the listener needs to take action. Once they are on board, as their leader you need to continue to inspire them, to keep them on the right track, and, most importantly, keep the entire team communicating the same message.

My most recent business venture is www.pathfinder.vet, an online ratings and reviews platform for Veterans, their families, and their supporting civilian communities to identify services and organizations that have (or have not) assisted them in transition from the military. The service will help filter the most impactful local resources, regardless of size, and allow the entire community to make the best decisions for themselves and become better adapted, faster. According to clinical studies, this can ultimately reduce problems in the Veteran community, such as depression and suicide rates, while increasing overall community cohesion.

There you go: 30-60 seconds, and you not only know what my team and I are doing, but why we are doing it. We are transparent with our supported population, and we are in agreement with each other. We have our longer speeches, of course, and entire presentations that elaborate on this, but this is a compilation of the key words of what else? Our Master Story.

My team and I started in June with a chart similar to that you saw in the last blog post with these questions: Who are we and who do we want to be? Where are we going? What is our vision? How are we going to communicate that to inspire others to help us help others?

The list of words we came up with was telling.

Direction. Path. Inspire. Impact. Help. Community. Empower. Build…

Our first day, we didn’t even know each other’s last names. We shared the same general idea and began narrowing down our list of words. By the end of the first week, we had the name Pathfinder. By the end of the first month, we had the framework for the first iteration of our Master Story, which we now use to tell potential partners, clients, users, and even employees what we do and why we do it. The Master Story is flexible, allowing us to adjust as our vision changes or we realize we need to pivot to accommodate a new idea, and particularly as we appeal to a different segment of the population. But the key words stay the same, bringing continuity not just outside of our circle, but within it as well. We argue less and move forward faster because we know where we are going and how to get there, having used the Master Story to formulate both internal and external documents.

And what is particularly great is that when we are not in agreement, we have a way to fix it. Going back to basics is easier with a living document that we can evaluate and quickly determine what has changed and where we need to adjust. When we found a few weeks ago that we were having trouble generating a new marketing document, we were able to refer back to the Master Story and make sure we are in alignment. Better yet, our sales and marketing gurus can easily refer to the document and we all know that we will be satisfied with the language of the outcome. It saves time and energy, which is critical in a startup or in any efficient business.


www.pathfinder.vet is only six months old, so we still have many adaptations and pivots and iterations of our Master Story to encounter. We encourage you to check it out, register, and submit a review of an organization or service in your community, following in the journey of a new company while helping in the betterment of the Veteran and supporting community. Present Tense was born of interactions between Frank and me in the non-profit world. We understand well that the two minutes it takes to submit a review on Pathfinder can make a very real difference in someone’s future, just as the ten minutes to jot down your initial list of words to form the basis for your Master Story can formulate a very real difference in the future of your company. These quick tasks have lasting impact. So go share a review of a resource that might help someone, be it Veteran or family member or civilian supporter, and then get out a cocktail napkin or a sheet of paper and start on your Master Story.

We, both the teams at Pathfinder and at Present Tense, look forward to you sharing your stories.

Elana Duffy is co-founder and COO of Present Tense LLC, a communications company dedicated to helping people express their ideas through better business storytelling. Working with everyone from authors to Fortune 500 companies, we provide a range of writing, editing, and training services. Lana is also a veteran of the US Army, a masters of engineering graduate, and a freelance writer in NYC, along with being the CEO and co-founder of Pathfinder, a "Yelp for veteran resources". She is the co-author of the first in the Present Tense “singles” short ebook series, 10/10, for sale on Amazon and other major retailers.

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