What’s your backstory?

After owning my gorgeous rescue dog Zoom for two years, I recently discovered where he was born and the date of his birthday. Finally, I have some inkling of my fur-baby’s backstory. And it’s made me connect with him a little more.

You may not be a dog owner. You might not get the ‘fur-baby’ thing. But bear with me because there’s a lesson here for the value of backstory in all kinds of situations. Including business.

Introducing Zoom

I got Zoom – a Greyhound X Something – from a Melbourne shelter back in 2017 when he was eight months old. In the chaos of keeping him under control while I signed paperwork, bought a lead and then hoisted all 25kg of him into my tiny Suzuki Swift, the staff forgot to tell me his history.

His registration certificate with birth details never arrived. Zoom put on 10 kilos. And I made up a story about his background and breed to answer the standard dog park question that all mutt-owners face: “What kind of dog is that?”.

Out of my depth and running blind

God only knows why the shelter let a novice dog owner (and a skinny single chick to boot) take him home! He was definitely an ‘impulse buy’, and his first meal was the only thing I had in the fridge – smoked salmon!

But Zoom was not a sophisticated dog. My bitten and bruised arms gave me a clue that his early life was not pleasant. Slowly, through trial and error, a lot of love, and some boundary breaking (he sleeps on my bed), Zoom transformed. Today, he stops old men and little kids dead in their tracks. They are captivated by his sweet face and gentle nature.

The backstory emerges

Having moved house a few months ago, I finally called the dog registration peeps to change my address. Turns out, they’d sent the original certificate to the wrong email address. Within an hour I had it in my inbox.

Zoom is not a Melbourne city boy. He’s a country kid like me – an instant point of connection.

He was born in Healesville – a quaint country town I’ve visited countless times. It’s east of Melbourne and famous as the home of Four Pillars Gin (of which I’ve had countless glasses). Suddenly, knowing his origins made him seem more relatable. More – mine.

His backstory also fostered more empathy. I’ve always suspected Zoom was a greyhound x bull arab. A quick Google search confirms that Healesville has a greyhound racing track. It’s not an uncommon combo. Shelters are full of Bull Arabs: dogs bred for wild-pig-hunting which is too upsetting to share details of.

Let’s just say: it’s a world away from where he is now. But knowing he could have ended up blooded and killing other creatures while men scream on encouragement? I want to reach out and protect him.

Backstory in fiction

We all need a backstory. And not just for ourselves – although it does shape the way we navigate the business world.

In fiction, a backstory helps the reader understand the motives of a character. You can predict how they might act in certain scenarios. You might be introduced to a backstory from the outset or it might come later in a story.

Once revealed, the origin story helps make sense of all the action so far for the audience. Think of Darth Vader being revealed as Anakin Skywalker, the father of Luke. Or Batman watching his parents murdered as a young Bruce Wayne.

Backstory for business

Your business origin story is crucial in establishing your credentials with your clients and customers. Being open and honest fosters trust. It gives a human heart to your mission and personalises your service offer.

People connect along points of similarity – we often place ourselves in the place of our heroes or antiheroes when we learn their backstory. This is empathy, a much underrated human trait.

Ultimately, drawing on the story of your origins in business will help your customers and clients connect to you. Emotions are heightened, and community created. Story is the new foundation of business. Backstory underpins it all.