August 30, 2013


Paul Graham got into a flap by saying that strong accents interfere with founders’ entrepreneurial success. The key section makes it sound like his point is you have to be able to pitch in (fairly) fluent English:

Conversations are more of a problem, as I know from my own experience doing office hours. We talk about a lot of subtle points at office hours.  … And I know I don’t get as deeply into things with the groups that don’t speak English well. I can feel it happening; we just can’t communicate well enough. …

A startup founder is always selling. Not just literally to customers, but to current and potential employees, partners, investors, and the press as well. … And yet a lot of the people you encounter as a founder will initially be indifferent, if not skeptical. They don’t know yet that you’re going to be huge. You’re just one person they’re meeting that day. They’re not going to work to understand you. So you can’t make it be work to understand you.

At least in enterprise IT, however, I’d say that there are four points, not just one. You — and by “you” I mean the CEO, the CTO, and any contributor in sales, marketing or product management — should be able to:

My reasons for saying that start:

You can’t sell effectively without listening. This is one of the basic facts of business, yet shockingly many people forget it. You can’t pitch effectively without understanding how the prospect frames what she hears, and you can’t judge that unless you listen to what she says.

You can’t listen at maximum effectiveness without selling. Of course, that depends greatly on what you’re listening for. But commonly your goal in a conversation is one or more of:

In all those cases, you’re more likely to hear what you need if part of the discussion involves you telling the current version of your story.

Hopefully, all that helps explain why I believe:

I’m not saying that a CEO or marketing VP needs to know how to manage a complex sales cycle, nor that she must be able to write code. But she should be able to, say, write a fairly technical white paper (whether or not it’s worth her time to actually bother doing so). And she should be able to present to a customer without embarrassing herself.

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One Response to “Fluency”

  1. Marketing to a single person | Strategic Messaging on March 19th, 2018 12:26 am

    […] from a 2013 post about “fluency”, […]

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