Don’t Forget the Context

I spoke with a founder who shared some of his plans with me. He hesitated to reveal one detail, but I encouraged him to keep chatting. He planned to sell merchandise to customers in addition to his core technology product. I asked him why he wanted to do that and why he hadn’t wanted to tell me. He was worried, he said, that I’d think the merchandise was a distraction from the company’s core product and that he was scattered and unfocused. He sees the merchandise as important to building a brand and community.

Founders who are talking about their initiatives and ideas often get excited. They dive straight into the details of what they want to do. It’s very common; I used to do it myself. But the person listening usually doesn’t have the same context. They haven’t been thinking about this problem day and night. They don’t understand the customers and the market. Since they don’t understand the bigger picture, they’re left to wonder. Why are you doing this? The missing why prevents them from wrapping their minds around the details the founder is sharing.

Before founders explain what they want to do, they should tell their audience why they want to do it. Start with the high level and then get into the details. It’s a flow that’s much easier for a non-founder to digest because it provides context.

This founder has a great merchandise plan, and it makes sense. I think he should let other people know about it. When he does, he should begin with his big why: to create a moat with loyal customers by building a brand and community. With that high-level context, the merchandise plan doesn’t sound like a distraction. It sounds like a shrewd strategy.