The Importance of Communication in a Startup – Part II

The Importance of Communication in a Startup – Part II

What there is in for me:

  • Why communication is a key attribute for entrepreneurs
  • Good news and bad news, which one to share with my team
  • How to build trust and motivate your team using communication

Continuing my last Communicating with Investors, now let’s talk about:

Communicating with the Team
If you’re really aiming to create a great company, you and your team are onboarding in a very tough journey. The problems with communications usually start in setting the expectation. As working in a startup is cool nowadays, everyone wants to work in one, but few are willing to face the struggle and work the long hours necessary to create a great company.

Startups need a talented and dedicated team, so it’s important to set the expectation to the new employees upfront and make sure they are willing to commit together with the rest of the team in this endeavor.

The other problem that many entrepreneurs face related to communication with their team is the difficult to inspire the team toward the dream the entrepreneurs have. Sometimes the entrepreneurs can’t articulate in a proper manner his mission, and other times is just a lack of communicating it well to the team.

If a CEO wants their employees to give all their sweat and blood for the startup, he needs a clear Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal (BHAG) and communicate clear and constantly to all members of his team. Elon Musk uses SpaceX BHAG to motivate his team to achieve unthinkable results, here follows its statement:

“SpaceX was founded in 2002 to revolutionize space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets.”

That is a quite powerful goal to motivate SpaceX team, even during the many arduous times they face!

Another common communication problem entrepreneurs have is not delivering bad news.

Is part of the human nature to not like it to deliver bad news; we don’t want to disappoint people or make them feel bad.

Therefore, founders tend to only communicate good news to their team. When a big account is won, they celebrate; when an investment round is closed, they celebrate even more! However, when they lose the most valuable client or when the startup has a month of cash…silence! During these situations is exactly when you can identify the great entrepreneurs. They inform, take responsibility, and work together with their team in a plan to turn the situation around!

If you worked hard to hire an amazing team, don’t expect them to be stupid and don’t discover what is happening in the company. Also, remember the equation from the post Part I:

CHANGE + UNCERTAINTY = CHAOS

Although there will always be change, good and bad, in a startup, entrepreneurs can reduce the uncertainty by communicating the situation, preventing gossips and speculations that can lead the team into chaos.

Google has a meeting called TGIF ( “Thank God is Friday”) where any employee can ask any question to the founders, that shows a culture of communication and transparency.
When times are hard, it isn’t the lack of information that will save a company. Rather, a great leadership and a motivated team are needed to overcome this situation. For your team to work hard for you, they need to trust you! And they won’t trust you if you’re hiding the situation from them.
Concluding, communication problems with team can have a huge impact on a startup performance, for better or worst! Start a culture of communication while your team it isn’t that big, changing it in the future is going to be a bigger challenge!

Key Takeaways:

  • Have a great Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal (BHAG) and communicate it
  • Sharing bad news is as important as sharing good news
  • Don’t hide bad news; your team isn’t dumb
  • If you hired the right team, trust them
  • Change + Uncertainty = CHAOS

The Importance of Communication in a Startup – Part I

The Importance of Communication in a Startup – Part I

What there is in for me:

  • Why communication is a key attribute for entrepreneurs
  • How to build trust using communication
  • How to communicate bad news

It amazes me how few people talk about communication and transparency for early stage startups. Communication is probably the most underestimated skill for entrepreneurs, although everyone knows that is an important skill for great leaders.

I’m not talking about the ability to speak well and inspire people, although that is also an important skill, I’m talking about the ability to keep people informed about relevant information.

People tend to communicate well when times are good but shut them down when things go badly, however, these times are the ones that need to overcommunicate to prevent even worst things to happen, to not break trust, and to get help.

Harry Kraemer, a Kellogg professor about Leadership (I highly recommend his book From Values to Action), tells a simple equation:

CHANGE + UNCERTAINTY = CHAOS

In a startup, change is constant. Nonetheless, uncertainty is only created when people don’t communicate properly about the changes to the stakeholders.

There are two important stakeholders that invested literally their career and money into the startup, and that need to be aware of what is going on with. Your team and your investors!

I will break this topic into two posts, one for the investors and the other for the team.

Communicating with your Investors
I think most first time entrepreneurs are afraid of their investors and don’t want to show their weakness and mistakes. They only report the good news, leaving the bad stuff hidden. Although that seems logical, good investors know no entrepreneur will ever get everything right. Shits happen! Investors are more concerned how the entrepreneur react when that happens than the problem itself. If your investors expect you to get everything right, I’m sorry to say you this, but you probably got the wrong investors!

If entrepreneurs report only good news, this will lead investors to mistakenly believe everything is fine while it isn’t. When the investors discover what is really going on, they won’t trust anymore the entrepreneurs, leading to a micromanagement and a lot more reports.
When something serious happens with the startup, entrepreneurs should immediately contact the investors; I know its not easy but you need to do it. Making a parallel, if your friend gets seriously injured, you know you need to call their parents to give the news, it isn’t easy but is the right thing to do. Although investors aren’t your parents, they not only are in this endeavor together with you but also is in their best interest to help you out!

Frequently and direct communication with your investors is key to building confidence.

When I worked at Wayra Brazil as the responsible for the acceleration process, we had a one-page monthly report with the main KPIs of each startup with some business updates.

The startups that were struggling kept complaining about not having time to fill the reports. Interesting enough, the best startups delivered the report on time and without any complain, and they had much more work than the previous one.

My conclusion is that the best entrepreneurs understand that communication is key to develop trust with investors, and communication is a characteristic of great leaders. In the second part of this post, I will explore how to communicate with your team.

Key Takeaways:

  • Report frequently to your investors
  • Report good news as well as bad news
  • Report critical news as soon as they happen and ask for help
  • Don’t be afraid of your early stage investors; they invested in your startup mostly because they believed in you
  • Change + Uncertainty = CHAOS