After Nick Baum realised his social events planning startup Whereberry was essentially dead, he didn’t really know what to do next.
Before Whereberry, Baum had worked at Google for roughly five years, entering as an engineer straight out of school before transitioning into its elite associate product manager program. Despite Whereberry’s flop, he had loved the thrill of entrepreneurship and wasn’t ready to go back to a “real” job at a bigger company just yet.
As he spent his free time plotting what to do next, Baum realised he finally had time to do something he’d been passionate about for a while: Collect his dad’s stories.
His father, Axel Baum, was born in Berlin in 1930 but had moved to the US as a kid. He served in the Navy in the early 50s, then became an international lawyer and traveled all over the world. He settled in France, met his wife (and Nick’s mum) in Sweden, and raised a family in Paris.
Baum’s dad was teeming with stories, but he still lived abroad and it was hard for Baum to delve deep over long-distance phone calls. Then, when they were together and Baum thrust a tape recorder in front of him, it felt like they ended up focusing on the milestones, not the special little moments in between.
So, Baum decided to try to find a way to make capturing his dad’s stories more routine and natural. He started sending weekly emails with quirky, evocative questions like, “In college, what were you involved in outside of class?” and “What is the most selfless thing you’ve done for anyone?”
His dad loved it. Baum decided, why not get other people to try this system out, too?
He offered the service to friends and other family members. The structure was simple: One question a week that storytellers could either respond to via email or a recorded phone call. After a few months, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive and he had friends tell him that their parents loved it and that it was bringing their families closer.
“The fact that it’s a weekly email means that every week, you have at least one meaningful conversation with your family,” Baum tells Business Insider. “And most people I talk to, they might talk to their family once a week, but it’s very much like, ‘Hey! What did you do last week? What are you doing next week?’ It’s very ephemeral stuff. And so shifting those conversations onto a deeper level is really rewarding to people.”
Baum dubbed his startup Storyworth and has been officially running it for the last two years. A six-person storytelling plan costs $US49 a year and $US99 a year for up to fifteen family members. Storyworth sends out the weekly prompts and then stores all the text or audio responses privately and securely. Storyworth also gives users the option of compiling their stories into a physical book which the company will then help them print. Users have submitted more than 30,000 stories so far.
“For the people who invite their family members, it’s getting the stories and having them in a way you know you can keep them safe for the future,” Baum says. “For the people writing the story, part of it is just flattering that your family wants to know what has happened in your life. There’s also this trip down memory lane that allows storytellers to sit back in each memory. That’s part of the fun, too.”
Although not all of Storyworth’s users take advantage of the product to collect the stories of elderly loved ones, Baum says that most storytellers are in their 60s, 70s, and beyond. Storyworth not only helps them stimulate their memories, but helps prevent the loneliness or feelings of isolation that can affect older people living alone.
Here’s how Storyworth looks in action:
When you sign up, you can make profiles for all the people on one account:
You can also see what questions each storyteller has on deck:
Once a user starts logging stories, you can read everything they have written in one place:
“I love the idea that a hundred years from now, millions of people would have their great-grandparent’s full life story,” Baum says. “And not just, like, a couple odd pictures and a birth certificate but would have, ‘Here is some story about a great prank they pulled in college.’ You know? That’s a cool feeling.”