Worldbuilding, Storytelling and Entrepreneurship

Published July 20-27, 2023


Envisioning Tomorrow

The good thing about writing on a blog for myself is that I can cover a wide range of topics without worrying about perfection or what others will think. I can also use the blog to explore new topics. This series is about one such idea – how entrepreneurs are worldbuilders.

I have been watching Silo on AppleTV. Until I came across a review about the series, I had not heard about Silo. I love science-fiction set in different worlds. Silo was exactly that. It is a dystopian series about people living underground because the world outside is uninhabitable (or so it is claimed). Since the series is based on books by Hugh Howey, I started exploring the back story. I was fascinated by what I read. The word which stayed with me was worldbuilding. I had read about it previously in the context of what JRR Tolkien had done with Middle Earth and “Lord of the Rings” and then George Lucas had done with “Star Wars.”

It was also the time when I was thinking about how new ideas like Email Shops could improve the inbox experience for consumers and thus improve conversion rates for eCommerce brands. For that, I had started to imagine how these emails would look, how consumers would react, and what the outcomes would be. I was also thinking about new technologies which could make the shopping process much better so brands could get more from their existing customers, reduce their AdWaste, and become more profitable.

There was a third angle that came in. I was chatting with a few friends on our weekly Saturday night call. Atanu Dey spoke about how we are going to see a revolution in the next 10-15 years – something on the scale of the Industrial Revolution – thanks to rapid advances in AI and Energy. We cannot extrapolate from the past to imagine the future. A person living in the early 1700s could not have thought through how life will be completely changed in the next few centuries. Our brains are wired to think linearly; we cannot fathom exponential change – and that is what we are on the cusp of.

And then a connection happened. Worldbuilding is what entrepreneurs did! As someone selling a new idea to skeptical audiences about innovations which are exponential in their outcomes, entrepreneurs must make people imagine a dramatically different future. I did that when I was pitching Internet websites to businesses in India in the mid-1990s, and how the Internet will eliminate the barrier of distance for information, communications, and commerce. Even I could not have grasped the changes which would happen in less than a generation.

Entrepreneurs live in and build tomorrow’s world. For this, they must persuade those around them – co-founders, first employees, investors, and first customers. They have to bring to life a tomorrow which seems like fiction to many and yet is just around the corner. Entrepreneurs need to set and sell stories in this new world, just like how some writers have been doing. Worldbuilding and storytelling are the tools entrepreneurs use to make their breakthrough ideas and products succeed.



Silo (the book series) was published around 2011. Hugh Howey started with “Wool” and was followed by “Shift” and “Dust”. From the book’s description: “The remnants of humanity live underground in a vast silo. In this subterranean world, rules matter. Rules keep people alive. And no rule is more strictly enforced than to never speak of going outside. The punishment is exile and death. When the sheriff of the silo commits the ultimate sin, the most unlikely of heroes takes his place. Juliette, a mechanic from the down deep, who never met a machine she couldn’t fix nor a rule she wouldn’t break. What happens when a world built on rules is handed over to someone who sees no need for them? And what happens when a world broken to its core comes up against someone who won’t stop until things are set to right? Their world is about to fall. What – and who – will rise?”

ChatGPT: “The series starts with “Wool”, which is a collection of five short stories. The first short story was self-published by Howey in 2011. It’s set in a post-apocalyptic future where the last remnants of humanity live in a giant underground silo, with strict rules and regulations about discussing the outside world. “Shift” is the prequel to “Wool” and explains the circumstances that led to the creation of the silo. It was first published in three parts from 2012 to 2013. “Dust” is the final book in the trilogy, providing a conclusion to the series. It was published in 2013. This series has been lauded for its rich world-building, complex characters, and engaging plot, and has been a prominent example of the success an author can achieve through self-publishing.”

Wikipedia adds: “The story of Wool takes place on a post-apocalyptic Earth. Humanity clings to survival in the Silo, a subterranean city extending 144 stories beneath the surface. The series initially follows the character of Holston, the sheriff of the Silo, with subsequent volumes focusing on the characters of Juliette, Jahns, and Marnes. An ongoing storyline of the series focuses on the mystery behind the Silo and its secrets. Shift encompasses books six through eight and comprises a prequel to the series. Book nine, Dust, pulls the storylines together. Several studies frame the story within the dystopian genre since Howey includes several of the main features of that type of literature, i.e., a totalitarian rule, a rebellion of the main characters, or a planned separation between human areas and wild natural spaces.”

Bard on how worldbuilding is done in Silo: “Worldbuilding is the process of creating a fictional world. It involves creating a backstory, a geography, a history, and a culture. Worldbuilding is an important part of any fictional story, but it is especially important in science fiction and fantasy stories. The Silo series by Hugh Howey is a great example of how worldbuilding can be used to create a compelling and believable story.” More from Bard:

  • The silos: The silos are a central part of the story. They are the setting for most of the action, and they play a major role in the plot. The silos are also a symbol of the isolation and claustrophobia that the humans face.
  • The outside world: The outside world is a mystery. The humans know very little about it, and they are afraid of it. This mystery adds to the suspense of the story and it also helps to create a sense of hopelessness.
  • The history: The history of the silos is slowly revealed throughout the series. This history helps to explain the current situation of the humans and it also helps to create a sense of tragedy.
  • The culture: The culture of the silos is very different from the culture of the outside world. This difference helps to create a sense of alienation and it also helps to explain the problems that the humans face.

Apple’s TV series brings this world alive.


Hugh Howey

Hugh Howey, the author of the Silo series, writes: “When we sit down to write a novel, we start with a blank page. The world we create can take any shape we like. It doesn’t need to have our rules. It doesn’t need to have our history. The only constraint is our lack of imagination. Oh, but what a constraint this is. Our imaginations aren’t very good at conjuring up worlds dissimilar to the ones we know. When we create new lifeforms, they tend to look and act pretty much like us. When we predict the future, we tend to be too optimistic about some kinds of progress and technology, while being way too pessimistic about advancements we can’t seem to imagine. True world-building is hard. In reality as well as in fiction…The future as a blank canvas … this is what I spend a lot of my time thinking about. Inspiration often comes from questioning something we all take for granted…What kind of world would you paint on a blank canvas? Unleash your imagination. Assume everything you currently believe is wrong. And then start writing.”

He adds: “If world-building is the macro, storytelling is the micro. We zoom down through the history and lore, past the epic battles of time past, and we land behind the eyes of a simple character who has all of that larger stuff in their peripheral. Here’s the tricky part: the author needs to have that lore spread before them, like a map, but they need to write with the limited perspective of that character. As the reader, we will feel lost initially, but so should this person through whom we’re seeing the world. Their discovery is our discovery. That’s why we immediately relate to the first main character we’re introduced to. We like to think we’re them.”

Howey has more on storytelling: “so much of what we build comes from the stories we tell. Look at how powerful world religions have been throughout human history, and they are little more than story. All their power comes from the written and spoken word. Look at the impact that sports and contests have played, and they are at their heart little more than stories of triumph and conquest. Wars are waged because of the stories we tell about ourselves and others. Countries are created and borders drawn because of stories we accept. And few things move by the fickle of story like markets and economies…Story + Language = Us…Stories are a Trojan Horse for the human heart. Rather than repel them, we gladly bring them inside where they change us from within. The best stories then are the ones that contain truths we would reject in any other form. They are the subversive stories. The ones that feign to entertain while shifting our cores.”

I asked ChatGPT how Howey does worldbuilding.


Hugh Howey’s Silo series is a masterclass in worldbuilding, a crucial aspect of storytelling that involves the creation of an imaginary world that is both complex and consistent. Here are a few ways Howey achieves this in the Silo series:

  1. Detailed Settings: Howey constructs the physical world of the silos meticulously. Each silo is a multi-level subterranean structure, designed to support human life in a post-apocalyptic world. He describes the various levels in detail, such as the upper levels for administration, middle levels for living and commerce, and lower levels for manual labor and mechanical operations. These settings provide a tangible sense of place and structure the social hierarchy within the silo.
  2. Society and Culture: Howey also builds a unique society and culture within the silos. The rules and norms are dictated by the need to preserve human life in a confined space, which creates a unique set of social dynamics. For example, discussing the outside world is taboo and can lead to being sent outside, an effective death sentence. This cultural norm is both a form of social control and a response to the harsh realities of their world.
  3. Historical Context: Through the prequel “Shift”, Howey provides a historical context for the existence of the silos, explaining how the world came to be in its present state. This background deepens the reader’s understanding of the world and its characters, making them more believable and engaging.
  4. Character Perspectives: Howey uses multiple character perspectives to explore different aspects of silo life, effectively showing the reader how the world looks and feels from different vantage points. This allows for a deep exploration of the world’s complexities and contradictions.
  5. Evolution of Knowledge: The world of the silos is gradually revealed to the reader, mirroring the characters’ own discovery of their world’s true nature. This gradual revelation is an effective worldbuilding technique, as it keeps the reader engaged and eager to learn more.

By combining these elements, Howey creates a rich, immersive world that serves as the backdrop for the plot and characters of the Silo series.



Wikipedia: “Worldbuilding is the process of constructing a world, originally an imaginary one, sometimes associated with a fictional universe. Developing an imaginary setting with coherent qualities such as a history, geography, and ecology is a key task for many science fiction or fantasy writers. Worldbuilding often involves the creation of geography, a backstory, flora, fauna, inhabitants, technology and often if writing speculative fiction, different races. This may include social customs as well as invented languages for the world. The world could encompass different planets spanning vast distances of space or be limited in scope to a single small village.[6]: 104  Worldbuilding exists in novels, tabletop role-playing games, and visual media such as films, video games and comics.”

Masterclass: “The purpose of worldbuilding for writers is to give their story structure and somewhere real to live. A starting point should be to establish the rules and boundaries of your imaginary world and how everything exists within it. Even if the world you’re building is exactly like our world, it’s going to have rules. In the real world, those rules are built-in, since most readers already know what they are. In a fantasy world, the rules may be different—and part of what makes your setting interesting. Having a general idea of what your main characters will be up against in this new world, both against external conflicts and one another, will help you flesh out the nature of your setting and your world.”


Explain worldbuilding in 200 words along with some of the best examples of worldbuilding.


Worldbuilding is the process of creating an imaginary world or universe. It involves developing detailed settings, history, culture, ecology, politics, economy, and more, creating a fully-realized backdrop for a story. Worldbuilding is vital in genres like fantasy and science fiction, though it’s used in other genres as well.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Middle-earth” in “The Lord of the Rings” is a prime example of worldbuilding. Tolkien created intricate languages, histories, and cultures for his various races, providing a deep, immersive backdrop.

George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series, adapted into the “Game of Thrones” TV series, is another great example, with its elaborate societies, complex political systems, and detailed maps.

Frank Herbert’s “Dune” series offers a meticulously crafted universe, including an intricate socio-political-economic system and detailed ecological descriptions.

J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series showcases worldbuilding in a contemporary setting, weaving magic into the modern world in a way that feels believable and immersive.

These examples represent a range of approaches to worldbuilding, demonstrating its importance in creating compelling, believable stories.


Give a few more examples — like Star Wars and Expanse.


Certainly, both “Star Wars” and “The Expanse” are outstanding examples of worldbuilding in science fiction:

  1. Star Wars: The Star Wars universe, created by George Lucas, is one of the most iconic in film history. It features a galaxy teeming with diverse alien species, intricate political systems, and numerous planets each with its own unique environments and cultures. Lucas also introduced the concept of the Force, a mystical energy field that adds a spiritual dimension to the series. From the desert planet of Tatooine to the forest moon of Endor and the city planet of Coruscant, the detailed settings make the Star Wars universe feel incredibly vast and real.
  2. The Expanse: Initially a book series by James S.A. Corey, later adapted into a television series, “The Expanse” features a well-constructed future where humanity has colonized the solar system. The series presents a detailed political landscape with Earth, Mars, and the Belt often at odds, each with their distinct cultures and socio-political structures. The realistic portrayal of life and technology in space, based on actual physics and future projection of technologies, adds to the believability of its worldbuilding. The series also delves into the societal and political consequences of sudden technological and extraterrestrial discoveries, giving it a level of depth and complexity.

These examples underline the importance of worldbuilding in creating a believable and immersive environment that can engage the audience and support rich storytelling.


Can entrepreneurs be thought of as worldbuilders?


Absolutely. Entrepreneurs can indeed be thought of as worldbuilders, especially when they are creating innovative products, services, or business models that fundamentally change the way we live, work, or interact with each other. They envision a new “world” or future state and then take steps to actualize it.

Here are a few examples:

  1. Elon Musk: As the CEO of companies like SpaceX and Tesla, Musk is literally and figuratively building new worlds. SpaceX aims to make human life multiplanetary, starting with Mars, while Tesla is changing the world of transportation through electric vehicles and potentially autonomous driving.
  2. Steve Jobs: With Apple, Jobs transformed multiple industries, including personal computing, music, and mobile phones. His vision of user-friendly design and functionality has shaped the digital world we live in today.
  3. Jeff Bezos: With Amazon, Bezos has fundamentally changed the way people shop, creating a world where virtually anything can be delivered to your doorstep. His company, Blue Origin, also aims to build a future where millions of people can live and work in space.
  4. Satoshi Nakamoto: As the presumed pseudonymous person or persons who developed bitcoin, Nakamoto has created a new world of decentralized digital currency that operates without a central bank.

Just like worldbuilding in literature or film, these entrepreneurs create a vision of the world, set the rules (in the form of business models, technologies, etc.), and then work to make that vision a reality. Their “worlds” can be as small as a new app that changes how we interact with each other, or as large as a new industry or even a human colony on another planet.


My Worlds

IndiaWorld was my first successful venture. I started work on it in late 1994 (after having failed in many of my previous entrepreneurial ventures), launched it in March 1995, and sold it in November 1999 for $115 million. IndiaWorld was a made-for-Internet business. As I experienced the Web first-hand in September and October 1994 during my visit to the US in search of new opportunities, ideas started forming. Many entrepreneurs were starting to talk about what the Internet could do – essentially imagining new worlds. I started doing the same for Indians outside of India and those interested in India. My dream was to build an electronic information marketplace to connect Indians worldwide. In the early months, I imagined IndiaWorld as a virtual mall and would draw it as such when I spoke to people. The word “portal” was still in its infancy then.

IndiaWorld solved the problem of accessing news and information on India by eliminating the barriers of time and distance. That is what many first-generation Internet companies focused on. Because I sold the business in late 1999, I missed the subsequent generations of the Internet – better search, eCommerce, social networks, and mobile apps for virtually everything. The second and subsequent generations of companies were where the real fortunes were made. Think Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook versus Yahoo, Excite, Netscape, AOL.

During my years running IndiaWorld, I was always imagining new “worlds” that we could create. But my definition of “world” was quite narrow. Having been chastened by multiple past failures, I wanted to make something successful. So, I stuck to what was working and built incrementally around India-centric content. As I look back almost 30 years later, perhaps I should have been bolder and reimagined what our future world would look like.

IndiaWorld was my first and last B2C venture. While I did make some small attempts in the early years of the mobile era, none worked, and I decided to keep Netcore’s focus on B2B products. Worldbuilding is harder when selling to marketers worried about how they will meet their revenue targets for the month!

Over the past year or so, ideas like AMP for Email and Atomic Rewards have brought the possibilities for the future back in focus. In Muniverse: A Brand New World, I imagine how the lives of Arun (a consumer) and Jeni (a marketing manager) can be transformed with micro-incentives in a world I term as “Muniverse.” Even now as I think about ideas like Email 2.0, Email Shops, QuizMails, and ProfitXL, I imagine a day in the life of users.

My worldbuilding is at a very small level. Going forward, I need to think bigger – and that is where books like Silo come in. They force us to start from scratch rather than extrapolate from the past. Because that is what tomorrow’s world is about – an exponential change like the Industrial Revolution. And this will happen in years, rather than decades or centuries.


New Futures

Entrepreneurs are the authors of reality, the architects of the future, much like the creators of Middle Earth or the Star Wars galaxy. They envision a world not yet in existence and take bold steps to bring it to life. The parallel between worldbuilding in literature and entrepreneurship isn’t merely symbolic – it’s strikingly practical and tangible.

Consider Elon Musk, who is steadfastly striving to make humans an interplanetary species through SpaceX. His worldbuilding involves the literal formation of a new society on Mars. Or think of Jeff Bezos, who, with Amazon, has redefined the concept of shopping, creating a world where virtually anything can be delivered to your doorstep. Now, through his venture Blue Origin, he also aims to help humanity explore and inhabit space. These entrepreneurs don’t just imagine new worlds, they set out to construct them.

For entrepreneurs, worldbuilding is a necessary part of their work, but it is storytelling that brings these worlds to life for the rest of us. Stories make the vision comprehensible, relatable, and engaging. They bridge the gap between the reality of today and the possibilities of tomorrow. Entrepreneurs tell stories to illustrate their vision, to inspire their teams, to convince investors, and to persuade customers.

Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, was a master storyteller. When he introduced the iPhone in 2007, he didn’t just present a new product; he painted a picture of a world where a single device could be your phone, your music player, and your connection to the internet. He told a compelling story of transformation that made people eager to be a part of that new world. (I was so persuaded that I bought an iPhone from Apple’s New York store within weeks of its launch. A friend helped do the jailbreak to ensure I could use it with an Indian SIM.)

Similarly, when I envisaged how email shops could revolutionize the inbox experience, it wasn’t just about the concept or the technology. I had to imagine and describe a world where consumers could have a seamless shopping experience right from their inbox, where brands could get more from their existing customers, reduce their ad waste, and increase profitability. This narrative is as important as the idea itself, if not more so.

Worldbuilding and storytelling are thus two sides of the same coin, and entrepreneurs must excel in both to succeed. But there’s a third element that’s equally crucial – belief. Entrepreneurs must believe in the world they’re building, in the story they’re telling. Their conviction fuels their journey and inspires others to join them.

Entrepreneurs leading the charge in this era of accelerating change are the worldbuilders of our time. They see beyond the linear, grasp the potential of the exponential, and weave narratives that make the rest of us believe in a future that’s not just possible, but imminent. And as they shape this future, they continue the grand tradition of worldbuilding, crafting not just products or services, but whole new realities. Worldbuilding and entrepreneurship bridged by storytelling is what has always moved our lives forward and futures better.


Getting Started

The first step in entrepreneurial worldbuilding is imagining a future reality that solves a problem or improves a situation in a significant way. This vision is grounded in understanding the market, the customer, and the technology landscape. It’s about seeing possibilities where others see limitations.

Next comes the task of constructing this world. Entrepreneurs do this by developing innovative products, services, or business models. It’s about creating the infrastructure, systems, and rules that define how this new world operates. For instance, when Airbnb was founded, it didn’t merely create a platform for people to rent out their homes. It envisioned and built a world where travel was more personal, affordable, and local – or as Brian Chesky put it recently, a “physical social network.”

However, a world, no matter how well-constructed, remains lifeless without inhabitants. This is where storytelling comes into play. Entrepreneurs need to articulate their vision in a way that resonates with different stakeholders – be it co-founders, employees, investors, or customers. Reading and watching science-fiction, playing games, mindwandering, writing – these are what you will find in an entrepreneur’s toolbox.

A good entrepreneurial story is not just about what the product does, but why it matters. It paints a picture of a better future and positions the product or service as a means to that end. It humanises the company, making it easier for people to connect with its mission.

When Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone, he didn’t just talk about its features. He painted a picture of a world where communication, entertainment, and information were seamlessly integrated into a single device. He told a story that resonated with people’s desires and aspirations, making the iPhone not just a product, but a key to a better, more convenient life.

Moreover, the most effective stories are often the ones that tap into universal human experiences and emotions. They present the company’s mission as a shared journey, where every stakeholder is a crucial participant. This narrative strategy is powerful because it makes people feel a part of something bigger than themselves.

Entrepreneurs thus need to become storytellers – imagining and even living in the future. They are building for a world a few years ahead because that is what it takes to go from an idea to customers. That world must be alive in their mind all through this time. Entrepreneurs compete for different visions of the future. Battles are first won by the stories because that is what the early adopters buy into.

But storytelling isn’t a one-time act. As the world evolves, so must the narrative. Entrepreneurs need to continually update their stories to reflect new developments, challenges, and opportunities. They need to keep the narrative engaging and relevant, maintaining the connection with their audience.


Advice to Entrepreneurs

In worldbuilding, you are creating an entire world from scratch. You need to come up with a backstory, a geography, a history, and a culture. You need to think about the different types of people who might live in this world, and the challenges they might face.

In entrepreneurship, you are also creating something new. You are starting a business from scratch, and you need to come up with a product or service that people want. You need to think about the market, the competition, and how you can make your business stand out.

Worldbuilding and entrepreneurship are two seemingly different concepts, but they actually have a lot in common. Both require creativity, problem-solving skills, and the ability to think outside the box.

Here are some suggestions for entrepreneurs to incorporate worldbuilding and storytelling in their ventures.

  1. Identify Your Vision: The first step is to understand the world you want to create. What problem are you solving? What change do you want to see in the world? How will your product or service contribute to that change? Your vision is the foundation of your worldbuilding and storytelling efforts. For example, with IndiaWorld, my vision was of Indians worldwide connected to each other, content, and products. With Email Shops, my vision is where the inbox becomes a mall, a shopping cart, and a payment instrument.
  2. Understand Your Audience: Who are the inhabitants of your new world? They could be your customers, investors, employees, or any other stakeholders. What are their needs, desires, and fears? Understanding your audience allows you to tailor your world and your story to resonate with them. Each target audience may need a version of the story tailored to their problems and needs.
  3. Build Your World: Start building the features of your world. How does it work? How does it solve the problem you identified? What makes it unique? Create demos to show, rather than tell. If possible, make people experience the new world you are creating themselves. With AMP, I have people play a quiz or do a search on their mobile right inside their email inbox – that’s when the blinkers disappear.
  4. Craft Your Story: Use the details of your world to craft a compelling narrative. Connect your world’s features to the problem it solves and the change it brings. Make your audience the protagonist of your story, showing them how your world can transform their lives. Going back to the Email Shops example, I ask people how removing the friction of the clickthrough will change their browsing and purchase behaviour.
  5. Share Your Story: Use every channel available to you – your website, social media, public speaking opportunities, press releases, and more. Engage with your audience, listen to their feedback, and continue to refine your story. It is what I do with the blog – I write to help me think better and create material I can share internally to make others see the world we are trying to build through my lens.


Worldbuilding and storytelling are thus indispensable tools in an entrepreneur’s arsenal. They allow entrepreneurs to not just envision and build new realities, but also bring others along on their journey. In the rapidly changing landscape of business and innovation, these skills can make the difference between success and failure. They help entrepreneurs – and the inhabitants (customers) – climb “mountains beyond mountains.”