Steve Blank wrapped up his fireside chat at Dalhousie University last Tuesday with words that really resonated with me. 

The famed entreprenurial educator was in Halifax to receive an honorary degree from Dal, and brought his abundant wit and charm to various events around the campus. His final point in a wide-ranging fireside chat was to urge his listeners to learn how to communicate better. 

"In Silicon Valley, if you don't know how to communicate, you shouldn't start a company because you will be competing against people who know how to tell a story," Blank told his audience of about 400.

Think about that for a second. SIlicon Valley is the global hotbed for technical talent and digital innovation. It's probably bigger than the next three or four communities combined in terms of development talent and ICT entrepreneurship. But Steve Blank, the father of lean methodology, believes there is a criterion that should disqualify founders, and it has nothing to do with vision or technical expertise. 

It's communication. 

It's ability to use language to explain to people what your technology does, why people will buy it, and why you are the person to bring it to market. 

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This wasn't the most inspirational quote to pass Blank's lips on Tuesday -- I mean, the guy's a quote machine, as you can see from my coverage last week. I attended a few of his events and interviewed him for about 10 minutes. The point that he kept returning to was that he was "blown away" by the science he witnessed in Atlantic Canada. That's important because Blank was the driving force behind the Innovation Corps in the U.S., which President Obama and both houses of Congress set up to improve the commercialization of academic research. I pressed Blank on the point, saying he must see great science everywhere he travels. He insisted he was being sincere about the quality of work being carried out here. 

But the quote that caught my attention was the one about communication. The ability to explain what you're doing is generally considered a soft skill by founders. They generally see it as a good thing to have, but by no way essential. They may be right, as there are plenty of CEOs of great companies whose verbiage baffles every listener within earshot. It was heartening to hear Steve Blank not only say that communications are important, but that they are especially important in Silicon Valley. 

I regularly give seminars on communication, and the thing that I stress more than anything is clarity. You have to make sure your audience understands what you're doing and how you can make money doing it. This especially important in the early stages of a company's development, because you have to get the backing of friends, family, angel investors and bureacrats -- often peopel without technical expertise. They have to understand your technology and its commercial potential. If you fail to make them understand it, they won't say they don't understand it. They don't want to look stupid. They'll just find an excuse for not backing you. 

I deliver the same line early in all my seminars. "Good communications will not guarantee that your startup will succeed. But bad communications will greatly increase the chances of failure."

What I like about Blank's quote is that he rachets it up a notch. He says that in the big leagues, you're competing against great story tellers. So it's not just the ability to explain your company. It's the ability to captivate people whose support you will need.


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