Deep Tech; most people don’t understand you, the rest don’t believe you

Phil Morle

Great ideas don’t mean much if they’re not communicated properly. When it comes to deep tech, founders often tend to believe that there’s no point communicating their idea to the public until the technology is ready.

It’s understandable – the technology does need to work in order to progress the company, but to what milestone? Why should the public suddenly care about technology that they’ve never heard of before, especially when it’s a solution to a problem they haven’t noticed?

Main Sequence partner Phil Morle

This is one of the biggest undoings for startups that I have witnessed in the venture capital industry, and in the research sector in general.

Scientists have a tendency to keep knowledge to themselves until they know what they want to do with it and then find themselves without the public support to make things happen. In other words, we jump to finding a solution before informing the public about the problem.

Too many great ideas are abandoned or delayed for this exact reason. When people don’t understand something, they don’t want to invest in it.

Communication is key

The answer is so simple it’s almost cliché – communication is key. As simple as this sounds, clear-concise communication skills don’t always come naturally to the science-minded.

Scientists are taught their whole careers to communicate precisely and to be sceptical about their work; to present a hypothesis and look for all the ways it could be wrong by bringing together all the pieces of the puzzle and dissecting how they fit together.

This is without a doubt the best way to uncover new knowledge with as much accuracy as possible.

Unfortunately, this method is also incredibly complex, verbose and highlights doubts or possible failings of the technology that would cause most entrepreneurs to lose interest.

For example, when I first met the Future Feed team, I learnt that they were using asparagopsis to reduce ruminant enteric methane production in vitro. It sounded incredibly impressive, but it took me a considerable amount of time to understand what it meant.

To break it down, they make a feed supplement that is fed to cows and reduces methane emissions by up to 99 per cent in an industry that produces a third of human produced greenhouse gas emissions.

When put simply like that, investors are suddenly interested. Everyone from farmers, regulators, food producers, retailers and consumers can understand that this is a game-changer, and they want to buy. This then makes others start to pay attention too and suddenly, the wheels start to turn.

The power of the ‘public interface’

When I talk to researchers and aspiring founders, my first piece of advice is to build a public interface from the very beginning. If your idea or research stands to change the way we live or work, make sure the relevant people know.

This doesn’t have to be a major resource commitment, efforts as simple as having a website and social media platform that outline what the technology is and share progress updates will make all the difference in getting the word out to the right people and building credibility in the eye of the public.

Likewise, knowing what your company voice sounds like and having consistent and clear messaging that you can share with the people you meet, and with the media, will make all the difference when it comes to how the public, and most importantly, investors perceive you.

Create your messaging playbook early, or work with an agency to build one with you.

Make your idea infectious

Part of communicating the value of your idea is getting the word out there in the world. However, for an idea to be infectious, other people need to spread it.

The simplest way I think about this is to ask myself how will this idea reach as many people as possible? The answer to this is not to book appointments with each person on earth and spend time walking them through an idea — this is often a common mistake researchers make.

Instead, you need to think about how you can capture the idea and why it is valuable into the simplest container so that others can spread it for you.

This probably means ‘dumbing down the idea,’ or making a claim about what might happen in the future if we are right and designing in some emotional aspect to make people want to spread it. It will go against the grain for most scientists at first.

The biggest mistake a scientist can make when communicating their innovation is to use their training. Remember who you are talking to, zoom out to the big picture and start building your public message from the get-go.

It will feel like hype. But we are not in the lab right now. We are on the stage of the world, beginning a movement.

Phil Morle is a Partner at Australian venture capital firm Main Sequence Ventures

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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