Author: Upkar S Sharma, Founder, Crea Worldwide
In today’s time if you are a startup’s founder then you are over-loaded with communication. The communication is in the form of scores of emails piling up in your inbox, phone calls, client meetings, VC presentations, supplier meetings etc. To top it all, the undeniable fact is that the world of entrepreneurship today is a “sing for your supper” world- if you can’t sing, you go hungry!
So critical is the skill of effective communication that the proverbial nerdy, shy, fly-on-the-wall characters like Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and so on, have worked on themselves to become rather persuasive communicators. Youtube any of Mark Zuckerberg’s town halls from the past three years and you would see the metamorphosis in a communicator.
In today’s entrepreneurial landscape, it is not just desirable but imperative too for a founder to be an effective communicator for a successful business. Being a good one proves itself to be a an asset in the following phases in an entrepreneur’s journey.
1. Starting Up
You have an idea; you know how to do it. You feel all you need is a team, a band of believers if you will, who would march along on the road to victory. How would you do it? This is a stage where you need to have a buy-in of people to join you, to be your platoon. How would you convince them that taking a risk of joining you may very well change their lives forever & better? How would you translate the sparkle of your eyes, visualising the immense scope of your business idea for them to understand, absorb and imbibe? You would need the power of words for them to be invested emotionally to exciting shout out a big ‘yes’!
2. Getting funded
By no means, being able to communicate well should be construed as “bullshitting your way to the bank”! Being an entrepreneur is different from being a snake oil salesman, and a big part of communication is the integrity with which you communicate.
Founders need to be methodical, analytical and crisp in their pitch. It does not come without being an able communicator. For a VC to buy into your dreams, first you need to be able to define with thoroughness and precision, the potential of your idea, the potential pitfalls and what will you do to mitigate risk when you get the cheque, so ardently you seek!
You talked your way to the bank, the job actually begins there. Apart from the burning of the proverbial midnight oil, the glare of the spotlight is challenging. Suddenly as a founder, you find yourself thrust into the forefront of ’a single person PR company role’. You liaison with government agencies, media, partners, employees, potential partners, investors and even the competition! This is where the chink in your communication armour is most susceptible to exposure. The stakes are high hence any communication slip can potentially cost a bomb.
You can’t go into radio silence and you cannot over communicate either. Balance is the key and balance in the form of communication is the desired skill. The lines between your personal and professional thoughts begin to blur at this juncture and you cannot get away with gaffes like you could in the early stage. Events leading to the departure of housing.com CEO is an excellent example of the era of blurred lines.
Murphy’s Law is not a bad thing; it just states the eventual surety of any possible outcome – what can happen, will happen! Any business that has lasted, grown or become an industry leader has at sometime in its life cycle faced a backbreaking crisis. So often you see that in times of crisis, the top management retreats in a huddle – going virtually incognito! It strokes fears in the market and among the employees. And, ever so often, it’s the consequent ‘Chinese whispers’ that damage the business far more than the original crisis. Every founder must be cognizant of the fact that it is only the good and great communication skills that will able to convey calm and grit with an honesty of purpose in such difficult circumstances. A founder must be able to step up and face tough questions, convey an action plan and the resolve to tide over the crisis. Here is when an able communicator is able to buy time to solve a crisis by the power of words.
Probably the most ignored topic till the run of original founder/s is over. When the time comes to pass on the baton, most businesses flounder. While this aspect has as much to do with good planning, as it has to do with communication, the role of communication in smooth transition is almost always ignored. The founder is in a unique position to communicate well in time to the relevant stakeholders and aspirants for the coveted job the true essence of the company they have created and what it will be going forward. Able communicators are able to navigate the succession issue far more easily and with far more authority than others. Apple, handled the succession issue very well and the results are there for everyone to see. We all know who was at the helm of Apple and what his greatest skill was!
Often, we confuse effective communication with verbosity. Communication is a much more complex skill than just being able to talk well or talk a lot. It’s about being able to gauge reactions, thoughts, being open to feedback, know when to speak up and when to listen, and being able to navigate complex topics with simplicity of presentation. A lot more goes into being an able communicator than just words, but the most of what is needed in a founder to be a great communicator is a dash of charm and truckloads of integrity!
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