7 essentials skills every founder should possess

Story crafting / story telling

One of the most important skills for startup founders or co founder is to develop the ability to tell a great story.

What is story telling?

At its core, story telling is the ability to get your audience to feel something. It could be good, bad, angry, sad, happy, scared or shamed / embarrased. Great storytelling allows the audience to feel as many of these emotions, in a smooth way.

Pride and Prejudice, To Kill A Mockingbird, The Godfather, Brave New World – (apart from being classics) what is common across all these stories? Its that the reader feels & experiences something. Personally, I hated To Kill A Mockingbird. I couldn’t connect to the story, I was frustrated and bored by it. But that’s the point – I felt something.

Here’s another example – how do you feel when you see a photo of Donald Trump?

Like him or loath him – its irrelevant. One thing you can say about Trump, is that he is able to get his audience to feel something.

Yes but, he’s a sexist / poor business man / no skills / bad at public speaking etc. etc. If this is going through your mind, you’ve missed the point. (See emotional intelligence).

The ability to pitch

At its core, story telling is just entertainment. You feel something. The next important skill a startup founder needs to master is the ability to pitch. It’s the ability to have the right person feel the right emotion at the right time.

Ever interviewed a technical co founder, and they just mumbled off a whole lot of technical founders nonsense that you didn’t understand?

Its the most basic mistake any technical person will make.

I’ve been a technical founder or adviser for dozens of startups and everytime when meeting a potential co founder, I’ll always balance:

Confidence – is it technically possible to do the thing they want?

Experience – where have I done this before?

Fear – what could go wrong? How likely is it that this thing could happen?

Fun – how fun is this person? Does this person make me smile? Can I make them smile? (Or are the too serious?)

A simple management skill is to balance fun with professionalism.

A marketing and sales ninja

You don’t need to be a ninja, but any successful business will have a well developed sales and marketing plan.

Strategic thinking on how to:

  • Reach people that have never heard of you before
  • An understanding of what their challenges are
  • The ability to describe how you can help
  • A compelling offer where they want to take action

Articulate what you want, how you want it and by when

Its such a clique to say that “communication is essential for all startups”. In my experience, most founders will sit on the fence. “We could do this”, “the business might do that…”

Of course, its all true. If an investor dropped $5 million into your bank account tomorrow, I would certainly hope some of those “could” will become “done”.

Successful startup founders use a bit of basic business acumen will observe the current situation and understand a “most likely” outcome. Again, it would be great to have 1,000 new customer tomorrow. But is that probably? If not, what is?

Have a guess! It doesn’t matter if you’re wrong, it only matters by how much. Saying you expect 10 new corporate clients this quarter and you only got 8 – no one will be too dissapointed.

Saying you’re going to get 20,000 new customers this month, and the reality is 500 – just makes you look bad.

Develop your management skills, take some time to reflect and know what you want, how it is to be delivered to you and by when.

Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence (or sometimes referred to as E.Q.) is the ability to understand and manage your own emotions in a constructive way that communicates your needs, manages the stress of yourself and others, empathize with those around you and resolve challenges and conflicts.

Its the abilty to take a step back, listen to what has been communicated, and then ask yourself:

  • Why am I reacting this way?
  • Is there some truth that I do not want to face?
  • What is going on for the other person? Are they angry / happy / sad / scared / shamed (or embarrased)?

The skills take some founders years to develop. It requires a level of patience, focus and understanding.

Ever had that friend who would fly off at the handle at the first provication? Have you seen young men at a pub or bar, just itching for some sort of physical conflict?

Alternatively, have you seen the person who was patient, deliberate and attentitve? Not weak, or passive. But focused, clear on what they want, and a certainty that they will get it?

The movie “John Wick”, where Keanu Reeves plays a character that avenges the death of his dog, is a great example of emotional intelligence. Its not that he isn’t angry, its the way he channels his emotions to achieve what he wants.

The ability to ask a great question

A simplistic view of asking a question is to get an answer. But what if you’re trying to make a point? Especially with someone who either doesn’t know, or isn’t comfortable admitting perhaps a weakness or an area where they need some assistance.

A great question will never be answered with a yes or no. Great questions will prompt conversation, engage the audience and make them feel something. Anything.

Know when to SHUT UP!

How often does any training on communication skills cover when not to talk? Pregnant pauses & uncomfortable silences are a great way to gain unlimited access to a prospects thoughts & fears.

This was a skill I learnt in the early days of startups. Ask a leading question (Why do you think PROBLEM / SITUATION has happened?) Its a subtle leadership that invites the person to stop and reflect on their situation.

Any startup ceo / startup founder will tell you there’s no overnight success. Those Founders that develop a strong skill set in these will find their team and company startup culture directly to adding tangible value to the customer.

If you want to build a successful company, master these 7 skills. You got this!


Christian Payne is a technologist and entrepreneur with a passion for innovation. He has over 20 years of experience in engineering and product development across enterprise and consumer sectors. He has experience at both small start-ups and enterprise level generating +$2M per month. When he's not hard at work on his latest project, he spends his time involved in Men’s Support Groups, Leadership training and Mentoring.

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