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Building your startup story: how to answer the most important questions

Carl Martin

Brand and Communications Lead

Being able to effectively communicate your company, idea or product is instrumental to your success. Regardless of whether you’re talking to customers, investors or your nan, you need to be able to help people understand what it is you’re building.

We often take for granted the subjectivity of language - and it’s only human for us to lean towards communicating in a way that sounds great, but might not necessarily say what needs to be said. For the benefit of a starting point, focus on simplicity and clarity. Trying too hard to sell or stand out is redundant if you first haven’t established the basics. 

Great communication isn’t just about engaging people external to your business. Great communication is fundamental to aligning your team, and plays a major role in laying the foundations for a robust strategy and roadmap. 

Every founder (and their team) should be readily prepared to answer these key questions - and the below provides you with the context for each question, and guidance on how to answer it. What you will be left with is your hymn sheet - your guide that can be shared with your extended team to help you all stay consistent and on message.

For the benefit of illustration, we will be using a totally fictional business - called Emu

 


 

Who are you?

The answer to this question should orient the person asking in the general direction of your business, without getting into any practicalities. It should leverage familiar terms or language to allow the recipient to build an early picture of your business. For example:

“We're Emu. We’re a sustainability focussed urban mobility company.”

 


 

What do you do?

The answer to this question, should almost always focus on the outcomes and impact of your work. People often creep into the ‘how’ at this point - getting too detailed and granular. Think here about the value you ultimately create for the people who use your product or service. For example:

“We move people and packages around cities with zero-carbon footprint.”

 


 

How do you do it?

You should think of this question as follows: in what way - or by what means - do you do what you do? This is your chance to talk a bit more practically about your company - where the component parts, products or people should be highlighted. In many instances, you almost certainly can’t capture this in a simple sentence, but do be extra thoughtful about the value of every word you use here. You still want to keep it snappy. For example:

“We have a network of all electric bikes, scooters and cars - available on demand or booked in advance via our mobile app - that can be utilised by our users for getting themselves or their packages from A to B.”

 


 

Who are you for?

You’d be surprised how many times people fail at answering this question well. Like any good company, having a set of personas and demographic data to define and understand your customers is important, but that data doesn’t really belong in your answer to this question. Instead opt for more general/summarising terms that are anchored in the habits, problems or desires of your target audience. For example:

“We are for young professionals who are happy to pay a premium for playing their part in protecting the planet and cleaning the air in our cities.”

 


 

Why are you different?

Now this can be a challenge to answer, and more often than not can trigger more product thinking than communication thinking. At this point, many realise they actually don’t have a point of real differentiation and therefore need to refocus on product to ensure there is a clear differentiator. 

When you identify that key differentiator, it’s important that it is clearing connected to the value you want to create for your users - the thing that will make them pick you over the incumbent or competition. For example:

“We are the only urban mobility company with an all electric fleet - that means every journey is guaranteed to be carbon neutral. Our closest competitors have no more than 70% electric fleet, and therefore not every journey will be zero-carbon.”

 

 

Carl Martin

Brand and Communications Lead

Self proclaimed artist, activist and adventurer. Looking after all things brand at Forward Partners - from comms through culture and community.

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