17 Aug Why Stakeholder Communication is Crucial
Why Stakeholder Communication is Crucial
Startups have become a vital driving force in today’s dynamic business landscape. As these young companies aim to scale their operations and secure long-term success, the importance of establishing and fostering fruitful relationships with stakeholders (which includes stockholders, optionholders and debtholders) cannot be overstated. Having worked with startups for over 25 years, I have first-hand seen the beneficial effects of those who communicate effectively as well as how detrimental it can be when startups don’t communicate well or at all in many cases. Effective communication acts as a critical conduit between startups and their stakeholders, facilitating transparency, trust, and alignment of interests.
Most startups who raise money through venture capital financing give their investors, or a subgroup of their investors (usually referred to in Investors’ Rights Agreements as “Major Investors”), certain information rights. These information rights typically include annual and quarterly financial information, access to cap tables and annual budgets, as well as other information depending on the size of the company. Unfortunately, many companies believe that providing just this information promptly is enough in terms of communication with stakeholders. In terms of their contractual obligations, that is usually the case. What companies don’t sometimes appreciate is how critical it is to communicate regularly with their stakeholders. This blog explores the reasons why open and proactive communication is instrumental for the mutually beneficial development of startup companies and their stakeholders.
Building Investor Trust
Effective communication is the cornerstone of building trust between startups and their stakeholders. Transparent and honest communication fosters credibility, giving stakeholders confidence in the business’s operations and leadership. Regular investor updates, financial reports and performance discussions demonstrate the startup’s commitment to transparency and accountability. When stakeholders have trust in the startup, they are more likely to remain invested and possibly attract new investors through positive word-of-mouth.
Regular communication allows startups to align stakeholder expectations with their objectives. When stakeholders have a clear understanding of the startup’s goals, strategies and potential challenges, they can feel more involved and supportive. Conversely, a lack of communication or misconstrued expectations can lead to uncertainty, dissatisfaction and even investor activism. By maintaining open lines of communication, startups can actively manage stakeholders’ expectations, ensuring a shared vision and minimizing potential conflicts. It may not feel great telling your stakeholders about challenges you face, but it beats stakeholders learning about them through third parties, the media or otherwise.
Mitigating Conflicts and Minimizing Uncertainty
Startups often face uncertainties and challenges that can lead to conflicts between stakeholders and management. Effective communication acts as a preemptive measure by reducing misunderstandings and managing potential conflicts. Regular updates, meetings and open dialogue can help address stakeholders’ concerns, clarify misconceptions and ensure everyone involved has the most accurate and up-to-date information. By proactively communicating any deviations from the company’s plans or expectations, startups can alleviate stakeholder anxieties, maintain their support and avoid detrimental disruptions to their operations.
Enhancing Investor Relations
Strong investor relations play a pivotal role in a startup’s ability to raise capital, attract new investors and retain existing ones. I have seen how regular updates and communications give startups an edge in building trust with their investors. By ensuring that investors are continually informed of important developments, milestones and potential risks, startups can create an environment of transparency, demonstrating their commitment to keeping investors informed. Furthermore, regular updates and engagement opportunities serve to enhance the connection between investors and the company, fostering loyalty and potential advocacy within the investor community.
Attracting and Retaining Talent
Startups rely on attracting and retaining top talent to fuel innovation and growth. Effective communication with stakeholders showcases the startup’s vision, success stories and market potential, making it an attractive place to work for potential candidates. Furthermore, when stakeholders are fully informed about the startup’s progress, they can express their confidence to their network, influencing potential employees’ decisions. By keeping stakeholders engaged and satisfied, startups create a positive reputation in the job market, helping them attract and retain exceptional talent.
Capitalizing on Networking Opportunities
Communicating regularly with stakeholders provides startups with a unique networking opportunity. Stakeholders, who could be seasoned investors, industry experts or influential individuals, often possess valuable connections that can open doors for the startup. These networking advantages can provide long-term advantages by widening the startup’s reach and unlocking growth potential. My most successful startup clients turn their stakeholders into some of their best business development and sales professionals through regular communication!
The most successful startups I have represented were excellent at communicating with their stakeholders, in good times and bad. Large institutional investors are actively involved with their portfolio companies and know what is going on with the company. But in many cases, the earliest investors in the company, including friends and family as well as angel investors, do not know what is going on with the company and where their investment stands. That becomes very problematic when a company most needs those investors such as upon an exit (including disappointing exits to avoid shutting down the company), an IPO or whenever the company needs stockholder approval of a critical matter (e.g., expanding the stock option plan, approving a new round of financing). Making sure that stakeholders understand that a company values them will make life easier for the company in the long run as well as give stakeholders a greater sense of ownership in the company.