It’s been a busy start to the Fall season in my world of startups.  A new class has just started at IndieBio.  UCSF Catalyst recently finished a round of progress updates for its awardees and is already looking at the next round of proposals. UC Davis is gearing up its Venture Catalyst companies to prep for investor events.

All of this activity involves communication. It reminds me of the importance for startup companies (and all of us) to learn focus and tailoring in presenting our message.

I remember how struck I was at the last IndieBio demo day for the spring class. Quite an evolution from where they started out four months earlier. The companies had made key leaps in messaging their offerings.

Focus and refine the points.  Certain messages resonate with an audience.  And what resonates may dependent on the type of audience. The class presenting at the demo day refined their presentations to focus on key attributes that made their startups stand out from others in the field.  They highlighted features of their products that were attractive to their target investors.

Clean it up.  The “how” of communication can make a big impact.  One of the biggest improvements that I witnessed was the presentation of a clean message.  The slides were clear, no long bullet point lists. The pitches were not lost in the weeds of the technology. They didn’t present technical details for the sake of highlighting the “neat-o” science.  Instead, the talks used tangible examples of the product to show progress and to demonstrate real world relevance. They employed ties to emotions and attention-grabbing issues to stake their place in the landscape. 

Clear communication isn’t just important at formal pitch events.  Having a clear and tailored message helps attract attention in other settings.  For example, in reaching out to potential advisors, it is helpful to state your mission and your needs for advice with clarity.  When the message is muddy, it is difficult for potential advisors to fathom how they can be of help. I have encountered founders who reach out for IP help, yet can’t seem to communicate their aims for a product or service.

I understand it can be hard to strike the right balance.  Some founders don’t want to give away secrets and as a result, speak so generically you could confuse their aims for covering an entire field (such as diagnosing cancer with no real specifics to distinguish it from the multitude of ideas already out there).  Other founders aren’t yet clear which of their ideas is the strongest and thus try to cover every variation.  And then others are so focused on the technology that pulling it out of the realm of TMI is a challenge.

Some points for consideration:

  • Who is your audience?
  • What aspects of your start-up will be of most interest to that audience?
  • What makes you start-up unique and exciting to real-world problems and solutions?
  • What is the end-goal of your presentation? Be clear in your ask (funding, business advice, referral contacts).
  • When time is short, keep the message simple.