Becoming a Storyteller

Advice for Tough Tech Founder-CEOs

By Ann DeWitt, General Partner at The Engine & Fran Barros, Operating Partner & Chief Design Officer at The Engine

Ann DeWitt is a General Partner at The Engine. She was most recently at Sanofi where she held senior roles in business development and strategic venture investment. Prior to Sanofi, she was at Flagship Pioneering. Ann started her career in R&D at 3M Company, working across fields of materials, biology and engineering. Ann holds an MBA from Harvard and a PhD in Chemical Engineering from MIT. She served on the Board of Women in the Enterprise of Science and Technology and is on the Life Science Council of Springboard Enterprises.
  • Highlight the benefits of the tech, not the tech itself. It’s difficult for technical founders not to go deep into the specifics of the technology and get trapped there. Always lead with the benefits of the technology and why it really matters. There will always be time to dive into the tech: if you have made investors care, they will do the work to understand.
  • Develop verbal cues. Be intentional about the language and structure of your presentation. Use verbal cues to clearly convey what you are talking about — is it today, on the path to get there, or in the future? These verbal cues may be small, but important for both parties in building credibility and trust. Verbal cues may be: “in the fullness of time” (future) or “in the next phase” (plan to get there) or “we expect X in 2 years” (plan to get there) or “we have already shown” (today) or “to date, we have demonstrated” (today).
  • Split the voices. We have seen founder-CEOs work with their co-founders or teams, namely CSOs or CTOs, to have them discuss and answer scientific and technical questions, even when the CEO is highly technically competent.
  • Highlight credibility factors. Highlight the accomplishments and achievements of the founding team, advisors, and the technology itself. This can help founder-CEOs quickly feel comfortable and shift into the storytelling mindset by intentionally laying out credibility markers.
Fran Barros is an Operating Partner and Chief Design Officer at The Engine. She is a formally trained designer with over 15 years of experience. Fran spent five years at IDEO, where she was a project leader developing brand, strategy, and service design for startups and corporate ventures. At The Engine, she works on overall strategy, and directly with the founders. She holds a BA in Design from Pontificia Universidad Catolica in Chile and Graduate Degree in Entrepreneurship from Boston University. She serves on the Advisory Board of Women in the Enterprise of Science and Technology.

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