Communication is a critical skill for founders.

The best founders are often legendary communicators. If you don’t already think communication matters, read more here. As a founder, you must be a strong communicator.

Luckily, communication is a skill you can learn.

Bad communication is only natural.

Most people naturally communicate badly. They communicate from their own perspective, giving too much detail up front, and this natural communication style limits their potential.

At Entrepreneur First, once founders have met their cofounder and started working on an idea, Entrepreneur First has to decide whether or not to invest in the company. To help founders practice for raising investment outside Entrepreneur First, which they’ll have to do at some point, the founders pitch their company to some of the investors on the EF team.

Even teams we think are high potential, because we’ve met them many times, will struggle. By default, almost every team fails to convince the investors in this meeting. Usually, this is because they can’t communicate well. Here’s some of the feedback we might get:

Investor 1: “Extremely confusing pitch. Very unclear why there is a real value proposition here. I think refining and re-structuring the articulation of the problem would be extremely helpful”

Investor 2: “X’s communication style is too languid. comes across as unsure and not knowing their stuff. Needs to be snappier and get to the key points faster“

Investor 3: “I felt like I was having to order their thoughts for them”

How does this happen? When pitching, most founders naturally answer questions like this:

“Here’s a ton of detail about something that happened and it made us think this thing that was actually wrong, but it turned out to be right and so we then changed our minds, but actually the interesting thing is what happened next…”

Continue with:

“So once we had been through that process we felt slightly more confident about a couple of things”

And finish with:

“Which means that X is true”

As a listener, and a reader, this is tough. You spend most of the conversation trying to understand why what you’re being told is relevant. And, by the time you understand the punchline, often you’ll find you already agreed and didn’t need the preamble.

You can learn to communicate well.

People are often hard to understand because they aren’t thinking about their listener. As a listener, you just want to understand the key points as quickly as possible, and then ask questions about the areas you’re most interested in. We recommend communicating using the Pyramid Principle.

The Pyramid Principle means starting with the answer, and having ready arguments to justify that answer and evidence to support those arguments. 

Start with the answer. That’s the top of your pyramid. This tells your listener why they should care. It’s the punchline, the ‘so what?’. It should be a clear statement that can stand on its own. If your listener already agrees or doesn’t need to ask questions, you move on.
But what if your listener disagrees or wants to know more? Well, they can ask, and you can justify your statement. You justify using your arguments. That’s the middle layer of your pyramid. They are your answers to ‘why?’ or ‘I don’t know if I agree’. You should aim to have just a few arguments that don’t overlap and provide the strongest justifications to the most important critiques.
But what if your listener disagrees further or wants to know even more? Well, they can ask, and you can further support your arguments. You support using your evidence. That’s the bottom layer of your pyramid. You should aim to have uncontroversial evidence to back up each argument you’ve made.
Once you’ve built your pyramid, you’re prepared for any direction the conversation might take. You can let your listener guide the conversation to things they’re most interested in, or don’t understand. It’s fast and to the point communication, with detail where it matters.

Here’s an example of a pyramid for Entrepreneur First company, Pencil.

It’s good, but not perfect. Maybe you can try taking the top of their pyramid and making it even more punchy.

Practice makes good communication natural.

You can use the Pyramid Principle in almost every situation. When you give feedback to your co-founder, when you sell to your customers, or when you pitch investors. Before the conversation, or before you reply, pause briefly to prepare a pyramid and use it.

At first, it might feel strange and unnatural. But, over time, it will become automatic. So practice the Pyramid Principle until you don’t have to think about it anymore. Your listeners will thank you for it.

More resources

Why communication matters for founders.

Your ability to communicate can help or hinder you in every interaction you have. And as a founder, you’re constantly interacting with other people. You must be a good communicator.

How many co-founders should you have?

If you want to start a startup, we recommend finding a co-founder. But then, how many co-founders do you need?

Should you find a co-founder?

Perhaps the first question you have when starting a startup is, should you find a co-founder? After helping thousands of founders start companies, our recommendation is a clear yes.

Should you give your co-founder feedback?

A co-founder relationship is unlike any other relationship you’ll have. Your co-founder is not your friend, your colleague, or your lover. At Entrepreneur First, we have helped thousands of people start companies with complete strangers.

How should you split your company with your co-founder?

When you’re planning to start a company with someone, it’s important you establish the ownership split from the beginning. Dividing the company between co-founders can be a contentious issue.

The Co-Founder Agreement Checklist

You’ve done enough testing to think you want to work with your co-founder long-term. Now what? While specific legal elements of establishing your company will vary from country to country, some core issues remain universally important.

Why do you need founder equity vesting?

We recommend an equal equity split for co-founders. Many of the problems founders worry about with equal equity split are resolved by having a good vesting schedule.

How do you give your co-founder feedback?

Giving feedback is one of the most important things you can do for your co-founder and for your team. But giving bad feedback can damage relationships, even with the best intentions. So, as a founder, it’s your job to get good at giving feedback, fast.