The importance of telling stories as a technical entrepreneur

At Entrepreneur First, we interview and mentor hundreds of technologists every year, selecting the best and helping them to build world-class tech startups. As Tech Lead, and a technical interviewer for our programme, one thing has struck me about what makes candidates stand out from their equally qualified peers:

The top interview candidates tell a compelling, easy to follow, story about their tech skills and experience

Good stories have a few traits:

  • They motivate you to continue listening
  • They flow naturally from start to finish, starting from a high-level overview before focussing in on fine details
  • They are adapted to the audience

The candidates we see at interview often fail to present in this way, and this is probably the most common area we give feedback on during the selection process. They’ll dive straight into explaining the minutiae of the hardest problem they solved, or will assume too much (or little) prior knowledge. In my opinion, this stems from technologists optimising for a different communication style: one where they are trying to unambiguously express concepts to other experts in their field. I noticed this during my own studies as a mathematician, where new concepts would often be introduced by several pages of abstract definitions before you even got to the motivation. This classic scientific presentation style is not inherently bad: in fact, it is critical to rational scientific discourse. It is not, however, the best way to introduce new concepts to intelligent individuals from outside your field.

The approach I’m advocating isn’t about ‘dumbing-down’ what you’re presenting. It’s not about compromising on the accuracy of what you’re saying, or about employing ill-fitting analogies. What I am advocating for is an approach that gives your audience a motivation to engage with what you’re saying. An approach that introduces concepts in a ‘top-down’ style so that you don’t get bogged down in details straight away. An approach that gives your audience a framework to understand unfamiliar technical concepts without needing to be experts in the field.

Being a great story-teller is particularly critical for technical entrepreneurs: success or failure often hinges on whether you can quickly introduce your technology to investors, who will often be non-technical. At Entrepreneur First we recognise the value of this, and provide support, feedback, and training on how to best showcase your technology throughout the interview process and the programme itself.

If you’re a technologist who would like to develop your idea with EF, you can find out more and apply at