Andrew Linderman is the founder and head storyteller of The Story Source in New York. Though he comes from a long line of entrepreneurs, he gave it a shot in the corporate world as an economist before he recognized he could not escape his family legacy. From that point forward, he followed his passion for theater, improv, and storytelling and created his company in an almost organic way. What I hope you will glean from his story is that the sweetness of being true to yourself is a worthwhile pursuit, and that even in the face of failure and disappointment, resurrection is always possible.
In His Own Words
I run a company called The Story Source that helps people incorporate personal narratives into their lives and work with the overall goal of creating opportunities. I help my clients leverage their personal stories to gain buy-in in their professional lives.
The Storyteller’s Origin Story
In my first job out of college, I was an economist and researcher working at a consulting firm. I analyzed big metadata and did regression analysis for class action lawsuits to determine damage numbers. It was about as interesting as it sounds, which is to say, I would sometimes fall asleep at my desk. I would stare out at the cars going by, and sometimes, if I got to see a car crash on the highway, that was an exciting day.
I languished in this job, and one Friday, my boss pulled me into her office and said, “I can see that you’ve been applying for jobs and saving your résumé to the company directory.” She kindly relieved me of my position. I left the company with a little bit of severance.
Figuring Out the Next Step
I got a job at Trader Joe’s and saved up money to eventually move from California to New York. In the meantime, I had a lot of time on my hands, so I started taking improv and writing classes. I also started to DJ, and I was trying to get into the public radio space.
When I moved to New York, I took a class on storytelling, and it helped me to process a lot of nonsense that occurred in my life. I was able to use these experiences as the source for entertaining stories and began to see them differently. It was great to be part of a creative community, and I started performing in bars and basements all over New York.
At the same time, I was working as a freelance journalist for a small publication and was assigned to write an article about a little community education space that was offering people $30 to teach classes on whatever they were passionate about—beekeeping, calligraphy, stuff like that. The article got a lot of attention, and it gave me the idea to create a storytelling class.
Storytelling for Business People
Since I’d worked as an economist, I knew about the world of business. I started a class called Storytelling for Businesspeople in 2012, and it sold out pretty quickly. People started asking if I would work with companies and whether I could help them with their pitches and more.
About a year later, I started doing workshops within companies. Slowly, the storytelling and coaching became a bigger part of my income. Mind you, I was still working at Trader Joe’s.
A Fever Breaks into a New Career
The day after my birthday that year, I quit my job, then got incredibly sick. I was on the couch with a 105-degree fever. After two or three days, I woke up, and the fever had broken. I was sitting on my couch, looking out the window, thinking, “Well, this is it. I have to do something now.”
At first, I taught the classes I had before, then, after a couple months, I got a gig with American Express to teach a workshop. Then a gig with Google. I had been blogging and was gaining some momentum.
A Critical Turning Point
Around that time, I taught a small storytelling class at the Center for Continuing Education in Westchester County. A couple days after the workshop, a woman who had taken the class emailed me. She said she’d really enjoyed the class and wanted to interview me for a story that she was writing on business and storytelling for the New York Times. I said great and spoke with her, but after weeks, I didn’t hear anything back.
I just kept doing stuff. I’d had a bunch of false starts, so I wasn’t getting my hopes up. That’s the nature of entrepreneurship. I experienced a lot of flirtation but no first dates. I kept pushing forward.
I got a call from the reporter from the New York Times. They were going to run the article with my interview, and they wanted to see me in action. The reporter and a photographer came to a workshop I was running in New York the following week. He took some photos of me teaching the class. Two weeks later, without me noticing, a photo of me was plastered on the front page of the New York Times business section teaching my storytelling workshop. After that, everything exploded. I got calls from companies that wanted to fly me to their offices.
Success Hits Like a Tsunami
I went from making like $15,000 per year and eating rice and beans to meeting with CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and talking at conferences. It was surreal. The transformation was so sudden, less like a caterpillar-to-butterfly and more like a tapeworm passing through a terror attack. I could have never anticipated the magnitude.
That great success extended for about a year and a half. Subsequent articles were written. I was doing really well, but bumps in the road were ahead.
The Cost of Success -- The Tax Man Cometh
I didn’t anticipate any of this success. I didn’t plan accordingly for tax purposes, and I got a tax bill for $25,000. For a while, I was dry heaving.
Other attendant problems came along with my success. Not really in an excessive way, but I was luxuriating in the success because I’d spent so much time working so hard for so little. I was close to declaring bankruptcy. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. Through relationships with a few clients, I was able to make it through that period.
Time to Pivot
That fall, I had this moment of recognition. Some changes were necessary to ensure the future success of my business. I needed to rethink things. I integrated my background in improv and comedy into the storytelling space and broadened the mission of the company to go from helping people tell amazing stories to helping people find their voices.
It’s been about a year and I’ve brought workshops that I used to do for other organizations under my own company umbrella. Now I’m helping people not only tell amazing stories but find their voices and transform their lives. It’s a slight change in focus, but it’s really meaningful.
The True Value of Storytelling
Storytelling is extremely important. Its value in the corporate environment is finally being recognized in a professional way. I’ve worked with a lot of people to get incredible results, helping them understand the meaning of their journeys and enabling them to leverage their experiences as a way to connect deeply with others.
You can read more about Andrew and other fascinating people in my new book Winning the Game of Work: Career Happiness and Success on Your Own Terms available at Amazon and other book retailers.