There is no doubt that Joe Costello, the first Cadence CEO, knows how to tell a compelling company story. Under his charismatic leadership, Cadence experienced explosive growth after its formation in 1988, becoming the largest EDA company within just a few years.
It is thus fitting that the EDA Consortium (EDAC) invited Costello to speak as part of the ongoing EDAC - Jim Hogan Emerging Companies Series, in which veteran EDA investor Jim Hogan (and the audience) question an individual who can impart wisdom to those involved in emerging companies. The meeting was titled "Joe Costello Shares his Secrets for Communicating a Compelling Company Story" and it took place May 1, 2013 in a packed auditorium at Cadence San Jose headquarters.
Joe Costello (left) and Jim Hogan at May 1 EDA Consortium meeting (photo courtesy of EDA Consortium)
At the beginning of the conversation, Hogan shared why he's moderating this ongoing series - and why Costello was invited to speak at this particular meeting. "I look at 100 pitches a year, and everybody tells me how grand and glorious their technology is," he said. "But nobody tells me what they're doing with it and what the compelling reasons are. So we began this [series] to help people understand how to tell an engaging story that gets people emotionally involved."
Costello, now CEO of Orb Networks, and Hogan worked together during the early days of Cadence. "Joe is one of the best story tellers in the world," Hogan said. "It just flows through him. It's remarkable."
In a lively conversation and robust question-and-answer session, carried out in a humorous and engaging fashion, the effusive Costello proved Hogan to be correct.
Joe Costello's "Secrets" for Telling Company Stories
Story tellers aren't necessarily born that way. "I wasn't always a great story teller. I was a shy, geeky kid," Costello said. But he realized he could be a good story teller when "I got passionate about something and I just let it rip and it worked." However, everybody has their own style. "You have to have 100% genuine passion and put it on the table your way."
You need a good story. The first secret "seems obvious" but 90% of the people who tell company stories blow it. "If you're going to communicate a compelling company story, you have to have a compelling company story. You cannot dress up a pig. It's got to have punch." One tip: write the press release first, and figure out if you really have something or not.
Don't rely on slides to tell your story. "I hate slides," Costello said. "But I use them because some people force you to have them." Later, he acknowledged that "there are places where slides are useful, but in general people overuse slides dramatically. They use slides for words. Just talk!"
Know your audience. "You can't communicate until you know to whom you're communicating. There is no way to have a pitch without an object." Whether your audience is VCs, customers, or employees, the same pitch won't work for everybody.
Venture capitalists want painkillers, not vitamins. "They want to know your product is solving pain. If you have a headache, you'll do almost anything to get relief. Everybody knows they should take vitamins, but how many people really do it? It doesn't have the intensity."
When raising money, don't fear rejection. "Rejection is not a bad thing." Costello related that he once helped a networking company get venture funding, and they succeeded with the 45th VC group they talked to. "We had a compelling story; we just had to find the right person or group."
Not many VCs fund EDA, but there are options. Both Hogan and Costello noted that few VCs invest in EDA, given relatively low growth and the lack of an IPO in recent years. But there are a "selective group" of VCs who will consider it, Costello said. Angel investing is also a possibility. Costello himself has invested in two EDA startups, including Oasys Design Systems, where he serves as chairman. He noted that "non-institutional investors are the best sources for EDA investment today."
Design must move higher in abstraction. While there are always challenges on the implementation side, Costello observed that "design innovation is going up. It has to. The human brain can only deal with so many entities. But, you've got to connect to the physical world."
Talk to the customers. "You've got to raise money, but that's a tiny fraction of the communication that makes you successful. I push on the companies I get involved with to get to customer interaction as soon as they can. It's good for your products and your team, and it also gets you off the drug of raising money."
"Crazy Passion," not Money
Hogan had some astute words for would-be entrepreneurs - and for VCs. "If anyone gets into a startup to make money, those are the wrong guys. They have to be true believers. They've got to have a crazy passion in their eyes."
While the Hogan-Costello conversation was aimed primarily at people in emerging technology companies, there are some valuable tips here for anyone who has a story to tell - which is all of us, even if we're only selling our own skills and ideas.
Passionate about something? You too can tell a good story!