A Houston expert outlines what startups and small business need to know about their communications strategy. Photo via Getty Images

Startup founders often focus on outward victories. However, if they look inward and get internal communications right, this can prioritize, inspire, and retain talent, which is the heart of the company.

Consistent internal communication helps employees to understand the company's core values and mission and the evolving internal policies and procedures — health care benefits, reorganizations, remote work — that accompany a young business. Investing in internal communications also supports external public relations efforts because the best company storytellers are well-informed employees.

Consider these tactics for effective internal communications.

Prioritize messaging

In any startup, internal procedures evolve as the company grows. Take control of the narrative while easing employees' minds by prioritizing internal messaging.

Whether transitioning to a more flexible work schedule, updating healthcare benefits, or rolling out a performance review process, planning messages in advance can help team members understand the change, the impact, and how they can contribute positively to the development.

Well-informed employees help mitigate uneasiness and tend to achieve business goals more quickly. Make sure to allow the employees time to reflect and react.

Support managers

Leaders and mid-level managers play an integral role in internal communications by cascading information throughout the organization. They regularly engage with their employees, so it is important that managers feel confident and supported in their communication skills.

Managers can benefit from a common company language, talking points, or communications training for more effective and productive conversations. By identifying, clarifying, and reinforcing common goals and key objectives for managers, companies can strengthen productivity and eliminate confusion, especially if the company changes teams' roles and responsibilities.

Be consistent

Make sure that the drumbeat remains steady, whether this includes a monthly town hall meeting or weekly CEO emails. Since communication is not necessarily one-size-fits-all, use a communication approach tailored to the workforce.

For example, there might be more effective communication methods than email for employees not behind a desk. As a smaller company, take that time to connect with the team directly because as the company swells, that one-on-one experience will become increasingly difficult to manage.

Listen to employees

Delivering top-down messaging that resonates with the workforce remains critical. However, internal communication is a two-way street.

Allow team members to give valuable feedback. Encourage team members to share their thoughts about the company, concerns, and how to improve communications. Issue internal surveys or hold face-to-face meetings to gain useful insight.

Understanding these critical proof points will enable more effective communication and quick action on any issues.

Be a human

Keep humanity at the heart of internal communications. Amid the company's transition, maintain transparency and recognize the emotional toll some changes can have on teammates. The best talent will remain when they feel connected, informed and listened to.

Greater employee engagement can help build a strong company culture of accountability, authenticity and communication, setting up the business for bigger success.

------

Melanie Taplett is a communications and public relations consultant for the technology, energy, and manufacturing industries.

Set the framework for your startup's social media policy. Tracy Le Blanc/Pexels

Houston social media expert urges startups and companies to establish a sharing policy and strategy

Guest column

While employees mean well, they may share or post company information on social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, blogs, among others) that could be misaligned with business objectives, creating a potential reputational risk for the company. For this reason, it is essential that companies big or small, including startups, develop, and implement a social media policy, so management and employees work from the same playbook.

Build the company’s social media strategy

First, management needs to define its social media to help inform its policy. How active do you want to be on social media? How do you plan to respond to comments? How involved do you want employees to be on social media as it relates to the company, specifically when involving company-issued devices or during business hours?

Companies must consider a proactive role in social media because if the company is not telling its story, someone else will fill the void. Plus, it's a great way to engage with the community and give everyone a glimpse of the company's culture.

Also, define what "social media" is for your company. Companies will likely want to cast a wide net to encompass blogs, personal websites, message boards, Wikipedia, as well as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and YouTube.

Determine the company's response process as well. Management's gut reaction might be to censor the content or take down less-than-flattering comments about the company. Management needs to understand the purpose of social media, and instead have a well-thought-out social media response process in place to ensure timely responses to questions and comments, so issues don't linger or snowball.

Once management determines the company strategy, establish tools, i.e., social media monitoring to help achieve the objectives.

Establish social media policy and identify a social media manager

While every company's social media policy is unique, make clear to employees that the company's code of conduct must be followed online as it is followed offline. Employees must protect proprietary and intellectual property and never share any confidential or proprietary information via social media, even through private messaging.

State clearly in the policy that employees can never represent themselves as official spokespersons for the company unless given explicit permission by the company. Moreover, while there should be management support of employee comments or likes on content associated with the company, employees need to make it clear that the views they express on social media are theirs and do not represent the company.

A company should determine one person that is responsible for its public persona and social media efforts, including monitoring and posting regularly on all social media channels. The social media manager must also be the one to handle any negative comments about the company, as well as any media requests.

Conduct regular training for employees

Companies must consider training for employees. Host a brown bag luncheon with social media training to provide employees an opportunity to understand the company's social media policy better, as well as ask questions. Employees often make social media mistakes when they don't know better.

Social media has changed the role of company communications. Companies — both big and small — that build a strong social media strategy and policy see the value of delivering company messages to a broader community, monitoring for feedback, and listening to conversations about their brands.

------

Melanie Taplett is a communications professional serving energy, professional services, and healthcare companies. Contact her at mtaplett@taplycom.com or taplycom.com.

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

7 lessons from a Houston-based unicorn startup founder

taking notes

At a fireside chat at SXSW, a Houston founder pulled back the curtain on his entrepreneurial journey that's taken him from an idea of how to make the chemicals industry more sustainable to a company valued at over $2 billion.

Gaurab Chakrabarti, the CEO and co-founder of Solugen, joined the Greater Houston Partnership's Houston House at SXSW on Monday, March 13, for a discussion entitled, "Building a Tech Unicorn." In the conversation with Payal Patel, principal of Softeq Ventures, he share the trials and tribulations from the early days of founding Solugen. The company, which has raised over $600 million since its founding in 2016, has an innovative and carbon negative process of creating plant-derived substitutes for petroleum-based products.

The event, which quickly reached capacity with eager SXSW attendees, allowed Chakrabarti to instill advice on several topics — from early customer acquisition and navigating VC investing to finding the right city to grow in and setting up a strong company culture.

Here are seven pieces of startup advice from Chakrabarti's talk.

1. Don’t be near a black hole.

Chakrabarti began his discussion addressing the good luck he's had standing up Solugen. He's the first to admit that luck is an important element to his success, but he says, as a founder, you can set yourself up for luck in a handful of ways.

“You do make your own luck, but you have to be putting in the work to do it," Chakrabarti says, adding that it's not an easy thing to accomplish. “There are things you can be doing to increase your luck surface area."

One of the principals he notes on is not surrounding yourself with black holes. These are people who don't believe in your idea, or your ability to succeed, Chakrabarti explains, referencing a former dean who said he was wasting his talent on his idea for Solugen.

2. The co-founder dynamic is the most important thing.

Early on, Chakrabarti emphasizes how important having a strong co-founder relationship is, crediting Solugen's co-founder and CTO Sean Hunt for being his "intellectual ping-pong partner."

“If you have a co-founder, that is the thing that’s going to make or break your company,” he says. “It’s not your idea, and it’s not your execution — it’s your relationship with your co-founder.”

Hunt and Chakrabarti have been friends for 12 years, Chakrabarti says, and, that foundation and the fact that they've been passionate about their product since day one, has been integral for Solugen's success.

"We had a conviction that we were building something that could be impactful to the rest of the world," he says.

3. Confirm a market of customers early on.

Chakrabarti says that in the early days of starting his company, he didn't have a concept of startup accelerators or other ways to access funding — he just knew he had to get customers to create revenue as soon as possible.

He learned about the growing float spa industry, and how a huge cost for these businesses was peroxide that was used to sanitize the water in the floating pods. Chakrabarti and Hunt had created a small amount of what they were calling bioperoxide that they could sell at a cheaper cost to these spas and still pocket a profit.

“We ended up owning 80 percent of the float spa market,” Chakrabarti says. “That taught us that, ‘wow, there’s something here.”

While it was unglamourous work to call down Texas float spas, his efforts secured Solugen's first 100 or so customers and identified a path to profitability early on.

“Find your niche market that allows you to justify that your technology or product that has a customer basis,” Chakrabarti says on the lesson he learned through this process.

4. Find city-company fit.

While Chakrabarti has lived in Houston most of his life, the reason Solugen is headquartered in Houston is not due to loyalty of his hometown.

In fact, Chakrabarti shared a story of how a potential seed investor asked Chakrabarti and Hunt to move their company to the Bay Area, and the co-founders refused the offer and the investment.

“There’s no way our business could succeed in the Bay Area," Chakrabarti says. He and Hunt firmly believed this at the time — and still do.

“For our business, if you look at the density of chemical engineers, the density of our potential customers, and the density of people who know how to do enzyme engineering, Houston happened to be that perfect trifecta for us," he explains.

He argues that every company — software, hardware, etc. — has an opportunity to find their ideal city-company fit, something that's important to its success.

5. Prove your ability to execute.

When asked about pivots, Chakrabarti told a little-known story of how Solugen started a commercial cleaning brand. The product line was called Ode to Clean, and it was marketed as eco-friendly peroxide wipes. At the time, Solugen was just three employees, and the scrappy team was fulfilling orders and figuring out consumer marketing for the first time.

He says his network was laughing at the idea of Chakrabarti creating this direct-to-consumer cleaning product, and it was funny to him too, but the sales told another story.

At launch, they sold out $1 million of inventory in one week. But that wasn't it.

“Within three months, we got three acquisition offers," Chakrabarti says.

The move led to a brand acquisition of the product line, with the acquirer being the nation's largest cleaning wipe provider. It meant three years of predictable revenue that de-risked the business for new investors — which were now knocking on Solugen's door with their own investment term sheets.

“It told the market more about us as a company,” he says. “It taught the market that Solugen is a company that is going to survive no matter what. … And we’re a team that can execute.”

What started as a silly idea led to Solugen being one step closer to accomplishing its long-term goals.

“That pivot was one of the most important pivots in the company’s history that accelerated our company’s trajectory by four or five years," Chakrabarti says.

6. Adopt and maintain a miso-management style.

There's one lesson Chakrabarti says he learned the hard way, and that was how to manage his company's growing team. He shares that he "let go of the reins a bit" at the company's $400-$500 million point. He says that, while there's this idea that successful business leaders can hire the best talent that allows them to step back from the day-to-day responsibilities, that was not the right move for him.

“Only founders really understand the pain points of the business," Chakrabarti says. "Because it’s emotionally tied to you, you actually feel it."

Rather than a micro or macro-management style, Chakrabarti's describes his leadership as meso-management — something in between.

The only difference, Chakrabarti says, is how he manages his board. For that group, he micromanages to ensure that they are doing what's best for his vision for Solugen.

7. Your culture should be polarizing.

Chakrabarti wrapped up his story on talking about hiring and setting up a company culture for Solugen. The company's atmosphere is not for everyone, he explains.

“If you’re not polarizing some people, it’s not a culture,” Chakrabarti says, encouraging founders to create a culture that's not one size fits all.

He says he was attracted to early employees who got mad at the same things he did — that passion is what makes his team different from others.

Houston tech company to acquire IT infrastructure startup

M&A moves

Hewlett Packard Enterprise has announced its plans to acquire a San Jose, California-based startup.

HPE, which relocated its headquarters to Houston from the Bay Area a couple years ago, has agreed to acquire OpsRamp, a software-as-a-service company with an IT operations management, or ITOM, platform that can monitor, automate, and manage IT infrastructure, cloud resources, and more.

According to a news release from HPE, the OpsRamp platform will be merged with the HPE GreenLake edge-to-cloud platform, which supports more than 65,000 customers, powers over two million connected devices, and manages more than one exabyte of data with customers worldwide.

The new integrated system "will reduce the operational complexity of multi-vendor and multi-cloud IT environments that are in the public cloud, colocations, and on-premises," per the statement.

“Customers today are managing several different cloud environments, with different IT operational models and tools, which dramatically increases the cost and complexity of digital operations management,” says HPE's CTO Fidelma Russo in the release. “The combination of OpsRamp and HPE will remove these barriers by providing customers with an integrated edge-to-cloud platform that can more effectively manage and transform multi-vendor and multi-cloud IT estates.

"This acquisition advances HPE hybrid cloud leadership and expands the reach of the HPE GreenLake platform into IT Operations Management,” she continues.

HPE's corporate venture arm, Pathfinder, invested in OpsRamp in 2020. The company raised $57.5 million prior to the acquisition. Other investors included Morgan Stanley Expansion Capital and Sapphire Ventures, per TechCrunch.

“The integration of OpsRamp’s hybrid digital operations management solution with the HPE GreenLake platform will provide an unmatched offering for organizations seeking to innovate and thrive in a complex, multi-cloud world. Partners and the channel will also play a pivotal role to advance their as-a-service offerings, as enterprises look for a unified approach to better manage their operations from the edge to the cloud,” says Varma Kunaparaju, CEO of OpsRamp, in the release.

“We look forward to leveraging the scale and reach of HPE’s global go-to-market engine to deliver our unique offering and are excited for this journey ahead as part of HPE.”

3 Houston innovators to know this week

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from space tech to software development — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.


Michael Suffredini, CEO and president of Axiom Space

Axiom's CEO announced a new mission and space suit design. Photo courtesy of Axiom Space

It was a big news week for Axiom Space. The Houston company announced its next commercial space mission with NASA to the International Space Station a day before it unveiled its newly design space suit that will be donned by the astronauts headed to the moon.

“We’re carrying on NASA’s legacy by designing an advanced spacesuit that will allow astronauts to operate safely and effectively on the Moon,” says Micahel Suffredini, CEO of Axiom, in a statement. “Axiom Space’s Artemis III spacesuit will be ready to meet the complex challenges of the lunar south pole and help grow our understanding of the Moon in order to enable a long-term presence there.”

Called the Axiom Extravehicular Mobility Unit, or AxEMU, the prototype was revealed at Space Center Houston’s Moon 2 Mars Festival on March 15. According to Axiom, a full fleet of training spacesuits will be delivered to NASA by late this summer. Read more.

Julie King, president of NB Realty Partners

Houston's access to lab space continues to be a challenge for biotech companies. Photo via Getty Images

In terms of Houston developing as an attractive hub for biotech companies, Julie King says the city still has one major obstacle: Available lab space.

She writes in a guest column for InnovationMap that biotech startups need specialized space that can hold the right equipment. That's not cheap, and it's usually a challenge for newer companies to incur that cost.

"However, with realistic expectations about these challenges, the good news is that once settled into a facility that is a fit, Houston’s emerging biotech companies can thrive and grow," she writes. Read more.

Owen Goode, executive vice president at Zaelot

Houston software development firm Axon is planning its Texas expansion thanks to its recent acquisition. Photo via LinkedIn

Owen Goode is a huge fan of Houston. That's why when his software design firm, Axon, got acquired by Zaelot, led by CEO Jeff Lombard, in January, he made sure the deal would mean growth in the region.

Zaelot is a global, software firm with a presence in 14 countries, mostly focused in the United States, Uruguay, and Iceland. With the acquisition of Axon, the combined company is poised to expand in Texas, beginning in Houston, Goode says.

“Together we have a strong suite of offerings across a wide variety of domains including full-stack development, cloud/data engineering, design, staff augmentation, project management, and software architecture. We also have experience in multiple domains, including health care, aviation, defense, finance, and startups,” says Goode. Read more.