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#AskGGV: How do startups communicate with investors?

Communication is part and parcel of our everyday lives.

Beyond our personal connections with family, friends, and lovers, communication also plays a key role in the world of business - especially if you're a founder looking to convince investors like GGV to invest in your startup.

Communication is an inherent part of human connectivity, engagement and progress. Real people communicate, and so do businesses. Communicating effectively improves every layer of an organisation – from streamlining work processes to enhancing team productivity and forming good relationships with stakeholders.

If communication is so important, why is it so relegated? It could be due to a lack of appreciation or a complete understanding of how it can help the firm. In some cases, shy or introverted founders might shrink away from open communication by force of habit. 

To help you better understand and appreciate the importance of effective communications, we put together this guide with our top tips on what you should keep in mind in future meetings with investors. 

Here’s a quick summary of what to expect:

  • Be consistent within and outside your business
  • Add a clear ‘Why’ to your communications
  • Know who you are
  • Ask thoughtful questions 

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1. Be consistent within and outside your business

Successful entrepreneurship starts with high-quality communication. A clear vision is essential, but how effectively and powerfully you talk about it can make or break your business. 

The key to good communication starts with your pitch to investors. Articulating your vision and sharing your personal journey demonstrates drive and determination, but it also shows that you have a clear framework of priorities and goals. 

A successful strategy ensures that the way you communicate gets everyone – this includes stakeholders, investors, and employees –  on board with the same goal. Your message should align with your startup’s purpose, create synergies, and enable connections. 

Demonstrate consistency across all channels, from emails and internal bulletins to media announcements and events. Insist on open, clear and transparent internal communications to help keep people inspired, engaged, educated and informed at all times.

Don’t forget that it’s essential not to limit open communication to good news stories. When a business faces headwinds, negative rumours and a sense of uncertainty can spread fast across an organisation and its investors. 

Take the example of e-commerce giant Sea Limited. CEO Forrest Li penned a 900-word memo to his team, addressing the steep stock decline in his company’s value since late 2021. This was a far cry from his tendency to be secretive about Sea’s business decisions and practices. 

Yet it was through this step that Li was able to restore the trust of Sea’s investors, as they appreciated the transparency he conveyed through this step. 

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2. Add a clear ‘Why’ to your communications

Employees, customers, and other stakeholders constantly need information, making it tempting to urgently clock meeting hours instead of careful planning. But if we present without addressing our audience’s key questions of what, how, and why, we’ll sow more confusion than we bring clarity.

Articulating the ‘Why’ is an act of empathy. Respond to sceptics and resistance by addressing potential perspectives you’ve eliminated. Consider what future possibilities are currently visible but not yet seen. This way, you’ll effectively demonstrate your thoroughness in thinking through every possibility in the book.

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3. Know who you are

At the heart of any successful brand is its people. With the right startup culture, a founder can bring people together to meet daunting challenges head-on.

In an interview with GGV Capital, Ming Maa, President of Grab, shared, 

“The key to remaining humble, hyper-local, and close to [our] customers, is by spending as much time as possible with our drivers, passengers, merchants, and restaurants. We seek to understand their problems and find ways to solve them.”

In an interview with Irving Fain, founder and CEO of Bowery Farming, GGV’s Hans Tung lauded his ability to respond with precise analysis and data when presented with hard questions, thus acquiring trust in his leadership. As Irving said,

“When somebody asks you a follow-up question, your ability to answer with credibility is the difference between just generating enthusiasm from somebody and generating actual conviction. What you need from people at the end of the day, especially with investors, is conviction.”

While there are many vital skills that a startup founder should have, the ability to share knowledge and receive feedback from investors and stakeholders is a critical skill. 

As your startup expands and grows, startup leaders must show the way by looking at the broader context of improving communication skills to inform, persuade, coach, and inspire.

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4. Ask thoughtful questions

When you pitch to your investors, do you spend all your time impressing them? While showcasing your startup’s potential and results is important, it’s worth remembering that these meetings are fantastic opportunities to get valuable insights from investors.

So don’t be afraid to come up with questions to ask during your pitches. Take the time to make sure that these questions are meaningful and value-add to the discussion too – this will help to enrich the sessions and make them more fruitful.

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Communicate well for success

As globally-recognised leadership educator John Baldoni said, “effective communication is the glue that holds an organisation together. It is the means by which we exchange ideas, learn from each other, and perhaps most importantly, connect to each other.”

Indeed, establishing good communication fundamentals goes a long way in driving long-term growth and success for your startup. So go out there and put those communication skills to good use!

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