Communication is a two-way channel, and it can make or break your startup. Nathan Parcells, executive coach with Sharpend and co-founder of Looksharp, shares techniques for better, more resilient co-founder communication that you can scale to your whole company.
Strong communication can make or break your startup, but it’s one aspect of running a business that founders sometimes fail to properly consider until there’s a problem. Building positive, productive communication protocols begins with the co-founder relationship.
Nathan Parcells, the founder of Sharpend Coaching, has dedicated his career to helping leaders improve communication and drive better business outcomes. Prior to starting Sharpend, Nathan was co-founder of Looksharp, a job platform for students, raising over $15 million and steering the company to a successful exit. Along the way, he’s mentored startup founders through 500 Startups, Parallel18, and more.“Communication happens in two directions: it’s interpersonal dynamics between you and your co-founders, and in the opposite direction, it's the processes you have as a team that create better conversation.” - @NathanParcells Click To Tweet
“Communication happens in two directions: it’s interpersonal dynamics between you and your co-founders or executive team, and in the opposite direction, it’s the processes you have as a team that creates better conversation,” says Parcells.
Building better communication entails not just one-on-one dynamics, but processes that founders can implement company-wide.
- Practical skills on hard co-founder discussions
- Practicing difficult conversations
- Adopting processes for better relationships
- Navigating challenges through clear communication
- Making your company communicative and resilient
“It begins with strengthening one’s own communication skills. There are a number of tactics that founders can adopt in building productive communication channels,” Nathan says.
“The first step is keeping what you share as observable facts,” he says. “Especially if you’re trying to talk about something emotional or challenging, that can mean a big shift in how a lot of us respond.”
Instead of relying on assumptions about how the other person may be behaving, stating only observable facts and using one’s own feelings as a reference point can result in a helpful and positive dialogue that allows you to get to the roots of issues. The conversation will evolve in a more natural and comfortable direction.“The first step is keeping what you share as observable facts: Especially if you’re talking about something emotional or challenging, that can mean a big shift in how you respond.” - @NathanParcells Click To Tweet
“Another helpful technique for founders, particularly when it comes to more difficult conversations, is to state back what you’re hearing before responding,” Nathan says.
“Responding immediately can lead to defensiveness and subpar conversations,” he adds.
Another core communication skill is simply understanding one’s own strengths and weaknesses. That requires a good deal of self-reflection, and often experience, but it’s worth doing insofar that it can create drastically better communication processes — with your co-founders and executive team, and at your company as a whole.
Particularly with high-growth startups, one common area of conflict is in clearly defining roles. Others are as simple as differing working styles, where one founder or executive may be more direct, and another may be more introverted or reserved.
“Sometimes, founders are doing a lot at once and roles can be unclear,” Nathan adds. “The question is: How do you hold each other accountable?”“Whenever you're in a high-risk relationship over time, there are going to be challenges. A lot of startups win or lose based on: Can you work through those situations?” - @NathanParcells Click To Tweet
Remote work has created new challenges, but companies with strong communication protocols will be able to better weather the current environment. Founders should be intentional about how they use remote tools like Zoom to keep the lines of communication open.
“Do you do a check-in to hear how everyone’s doing at the beginning and help everyone get involved in the meeting, or just jump right into the issues that are going on?” Nathan says. “Even having an open-ended, 30-minute co-founder conversation every other week, where you bring up topics and issues with one another, can be a very powerful tactic.”
When it comes to co-founder communication, the stakes are high.
“In Noam Wasserman’s classic book “The Founder’s Dilemmas” he notes 65% of high-growth startups don’t make it because of people issues. So this is really common,” Nathan explains. “It usually takes around seven years to build a company, so whenever you’re in a high-risk relationship over time, there are going to be challenges. A lot of startups win or lose based on: Can you work through those situations?”
Founded in 2011, Founders Network offers lifelong peer mentorship to over 600 tech startup founders globally. Our platform, programs and high-touch service facilitate authentic experience sharing, warm introductions and long-term professional relationships. Additional benefits include over $1M in startup discounts and mentorship from 50+ Institutional Investors. Members are located in San Francisco, New York City, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Toronto, London and other tech hubs. Each month our Membership Committee admits a new cohort of full-time tech founders who are nominated by an existing member.