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Being a single founder with a speech impediment (justink.svbtle.com)
47 points by nodesocket on April 25, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 45 comments

I had a moderately severe stutter growing up. You can probably still detect it when talking to me at least some of the time, but it wouldn't be the first thing that came to mind. (n.b. I think it is likely you notice it more than your conversational partners do, too.)

While I benefitted from speech therapy, the single best treatment for me was public speaking. Consider perhaps doing conferences or what have you -- speaking for 45 minutes straight on a topic near and dear to you in a mildly stressful environment is good preparation for speaking for 45 minutes straight on a topic near and dear to you in a mildly stressful environment.

There's another option which you can avail yourself of, which is "I am a technologist in the best market in history for technologists. I have a stutter. Deal with it."

Thanks for sharing Patrick. I never would have guessed that you had a stutter from your MicroConf talks.

I'm glad this topic is being discussed.

Even though I am relatively young (I turn 18 next week), can code and sell, I've always had a fear that my speech would prevent me from being a "real entrepreneur" (whatever that means), so it's good to see examples of people not letting their speech problems hinder their success.

There are thousands of people out there who are desperately looking for a "technical co-founder." Most of them will never find such a co-founder because the numbers are stacked against them.

You have an advantage here -- you can hire such a person as a professional CEO, not a co-founder, and you'll be able to find someone very good if you've got a company already making revenues. Get a lawyer to structure a deal that lets you retain 100% control of everything, and give the new person a 5% equity grant with four-year-vesting and a one-year cliff. Then you decide whether they get to stay, they report to you but can go out and raise money for you, and you get a valuable partner to help you run your business. Over time, if they prove to be an ever-increasingly important partner, you can grant them more stock options.


he is saying hire a face for the company

I have the same problem. For me it only seems to happen when I talk about things I'm passionate about, such as work. This is way I avoid the phone at all times. I have never met anyone who cared (or even mentioned it to me other than my wife). The problem with phones (for me) is that people can't see you. My stutter involves pauses which in a face to face conversation are pretty obvious that I'm right in the middle of trying to say something. On the phone these pauses are weird and when it happens it's not uncommon to hear on the other end; "Are you still there..?".

I can imagine that speaking to investors would be a major problem. Not so much that anyone would can about your stutter or stammer, but more about the frustration with yourself that you can't properly communicate your idea. You always find yourself having to compromise on what it is you're trying to bring across.

Unfortunately I have no tips or suggestions since I haven't been able to find any myself.

We seem to have very similar symptoms in regards to our speech impediments.

> You always find yourself having to compromise on what it is you're trying to bring across.

This is so true, always that feeling like I had more to say, but feared stuttering so I kept the conversation short and lacking details.

I'm currently reading this book and it's really helped me understand my speech impediment and the traits I have as a result of it - http://www.amazon.com/Out-With-It-Stuttering-Helped/dp/14516....

Sometimes I substitute simple words for more complex synonyms simply because it's easier for me to say.

Thanks, going to check the book out.

I encourage you to reconsider speech therapy, it would be time and money well spent. Even if you don't do many sessions, they could give you exercises and tips to use on your own later. Plus you may be able to find some affordable options, some quick googling brought this up: http://www.sfsu.edu/~comdis/clinic.html

Don't have a stutter, but I am hearing impaired. Also a solo founder (so far!)

So I have the following too problems

1. Conversations are never very smooth since I often have to ask the other person to repeat what they said.

2. My speech is not as legible as a non-hearing persons speech, but understandable for most part. No stutter though.

I don't think you have any solution apart from acceptance (which would help with the stress levels I guess). Accept your limitations, find someone do sales for you and in investor meetings, if there is a question that you couldn't answer very well due to the stutter, send a followup email to an investor explaining it.

Apart from that, do your best, don't measure up yourself to others and try your best to avoid replaying affected conversations after they are done.

Rod Drury CEO/Founder of Xero has a speech impediment... that doesn't seem to hold him back. See him talk here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eORNbn-wwjw

Other than stressful situations, what prompts the stutter? What causes it to go away? I think I'm probably quite similar to you, no stutter in casual situation, but more prevalent in stressful situations. If I'm stuck on a word, as soon as someone else says the word, I can say it no problem. I've heard of (but not tried) one treatment approach that involves a hearing-aid type device that replays your own voice in your ear, and is supposed to help. A quick search pulled up http://www.speecheasy.com - you could look into that.

In terms of concrete advice, this is what I would do:

Avoid any slide deck with written content you want to repeat verbatim. For me, there's often certain words I stumble over, that have synonyms that I don't, so I'd prefer to be able to paraphrase as I go, without it being so obvious that I'm substituting in a different word or phrase.

If, like me, it helps when someone else says the word you're stumbling over, perhaps take someone aside before the meeting, explain the situation, and ask them to prompt you with that word. That would probably also help by creating a shared bond.

Be comfortable with, when you start stuttering, being able to say "sorry, but sometimes I have a speech impediment, bear with me here." I've had that happen before on phone screens, and it's never seemed to be an issue.

Feel free to email me (in profile) if you want to talk more.

Thanks for the feedback, is your stutter mild? Mine can be severe when its really bad with breaks and gaps up to 30 seconds to a minute.

I have a very close relative with a stutter who went into sales (yes, that's right...sales) not too long ago. We have discussed this topic quite a bit and they actually started creating a podcast and interviewed speech pathologists about various aspects of it. In general, I agree that educated folks do not care about a speech impediment, especially people who are close to people with a stutter or similar. Still, it can have an effect and just the stress of that can inevitably make things worse.

If you are interested in talking to someone else with a speech impediment, reply to this and I can link you up.

I think you can be fairly confident, though, that 99.99% of people you would ever care to work with could not possibly care less that you have a stutter and will be more than patient. Often, the stress of trying to speak and not being able to get the words out can start a vicious cycle. You can almost guarantee that they are more than happy to hear what you have to say and won't pay any attention to any speech impediment.

Love a link to the pod-cast and an intro. Is his stutter on the milder side?

It varies a lot based on the environment and who the other party is. It can be anywhere from not-noticeable to severe. I'll email you an intro and link to the podcast.

I'd love a link to the podcast too (email in profile).

I guess the podcast hasn't had much attention recently (too busy selling). I'll email you a link though.

1. Having a working product and customer traction is a big deal because a lot of startups have neither. Many people have stress and anxiety when talking about their businesses. I'm sure a speech impediment doesn't make things easier, but you should try to remind yourself that you're coming to the table with a lot more than most.

2. Investor relationships can be like marriages. If a prospective investor focuses in on something that is absolutely meaningless in the overall scheme of things, consider it a reverse filter that enables you to avoid jumping into bed with somebody you'd probably want to divorce in a year anyway.

3. As for customer interaction, there are people who love to sell and people who don't. Most people don't. If this isn't what you want to be doing anyway, it sounds like you're at or approaching the stage where you have enough validation to bring on somebody who can take on the sales role.

Some techniques I've used:

* Speaking in an accent. It doesn't have to be a good accent or super overt, just anything to change your voice. I've found focusing on pulling off the accent forces you to concentrate on you speech more and you end up stuttering less. Possibly a good jumping off point would be audiobooks of accent lessons (such as Received or Standard Pronunciation) for actors.

* Swaping out words you get stuck on. Like how Porky Pig's trademark is "That's all folks!" (since he can't get through saying "The End"), you can substitute words and phrases when you find yourself stuck on something.

* Memorizing, word for word, your presentation. Whenever I have to give a presentation, I'll write down everything that I'm going to say and memorize it like a script (as compared to presenting from an outline). Don't know why this works for me, but it does.

I know this will be a bit controversial, but would it be silly to suggest trying marijuana? Obviously you don't want to talk to investors high, but there is certainly a middle ground.

edit: Really? Downvoting? There is plenty of anecdotal evidence of it helping people with stuttering.

In the same vein, drinking a bit of alcohol as badely as it sounds does help reduce my stuttering. Obviously making a habit of having a few beers before investor meetings or sales calls is not a viable solution.

Have you considered propanolol? It doesn't pass the blood brain barrier, and side effects are incredibly minimal. Since it sounds like stress agitates your speech, this may be a pretty good option. It's often prescribed for public speaking anxiety, but I'm sure most doctors would prescribe it for investor meetings if you asked.

I have a stutter and I've tried marijuana a few times. It might help a bit, but it can also make it worse.

My own anecdotal evidence shows no effect. Also, nice username.

Or maybe something legal like Xanax.

I'm in the same boat as you. I have a moderately severe stutter that gets exponentially worse when I'm trying to sell my ideas to anyone. It sucks to have to swap words and not use the pitch you practiced in your head 100x times.

I don't recommend getting a partner solely to be the face of your company if your only concern is your speech. I recommend The McGuire Program. It is a 3 day intensive course that really helped me. It's not a silver bullet but in the end you will be comfortable speaking in high stress public speaking situations. I'm going to be attending their course in DC this year. Feel free to msg me if you have any questions.

I have a very severe underbite which makes it tough for me to pronounce Rs correctly (really fun when your name is Ryan—I literally can't pronounce my own name correctly without concentrating).

I've found the only thing I can do is slow my speech down a lot. I have a tendency to talk way too fast and I end up tripping over my words—it feels like I'm falling forwards. I panic and then try to talk even faster just to get to the end of my thought.

When I slow down and speak very deliberately, I've found I can do quite well and even enjoy public speaking. I just have to avoid that mid-sentence anxiety attack.

My full name is only 9 letters long, yet I can pronounce neither my first nor my last name correctly. They both contain an "r" and despite being 100% native, I have never been able to pronounce the letter like it's normally pronounced in my language.

This is an aside, but just to let you know you're not alone. :)

Wow, thanks for writing this. This hit really close to home. As a 17 year old web developer and entrepreneur, one of my greatest fears is that my stutter will make it impossible to raise funding or do sales.

I don't think most educated people care about a speech impediment, as least I've never heard anyone comment to me about a colleague's disability or affliction. I certainly never have.

In fact I remember them.. they stood out to me.

My boss at a big telecom co (CEO) had a terrible tick, and talked very slowly. I noticed that I listened to him more intently.

He used to call his "tick" and his Bugatti his sex appeal.... but thats a story for another time..

Just FYI, it's spelled "tic" without the k.


I had a friend in high school who had some minor tics. Funnily enough, he also talked rather slowly and deliberately.

Sure, everybody says its fine, no worries, but not being able to articulate the business vision and answer their questions subconsciously lingers and I believe ultimately affects their decision.

I also had a stutter and some other speech problems as a child that are pretty much gone, but can flare up when I'm nervous. My solution has been public speaking. Now I'm less nervous when speaking and I know how to handle any stuttering that slips through as gracefully as possible.

I have a mild stutter as well. I've found staying in good shape physically helps a lot with severity. Go to bed on time, exercise, and eat well.

And know that if an investor turns you down for this, he is probably not really worth working with anyways. Good luck.

I had a mild stutter when I was younger. It was mainly because I have a tendency to talk too quickly and stumble over my own words. I recommend trying to consciously slow the speed at which you talk. Perhaps that will solve the stuttering.

FWIW, Elon Musk also has a bit of a stutter.

Why somebody would flag this post, I'm not sure, but plunged to page three off the first page.

It set off the voting ring detector. Probably a false positive. We'll reset it.

Thanks. The feedback has been amazing and valuable for me. Hopefully others as well.

Dang, unfortunately seems to have triggered again, plummeted to 4th page.

Take propranolol. It will probably solve all your problems.

I started my company on my own years ago and now I'm at it again.

In my case I when I go without verbal communication for a while (like doing long days & nights of computer science), my enunciation is compromised during the first few live conversations after that.

When I know an important phone call or personal appearance needs to be accomplished, I will prepare by "warming up". For me, it helps to play some familiar vocal music and sing along distinctly and loudly as a practice session. It warms up the voice for better quality and gets the brain into more of the presentational flow that I know I am capable of.

It always helps the confidence and that flow is more easily carried into remaining conversations for the rest of the day, once the brain has had some preliminary guidance along the path under non-challenging conditions to begin with.

I might imagine you can probably sing along with the radio or your favorite CD without stuttering.

Or maybe read aloud from a familiar book or document. These can help. It may be worthwhile to recite something that has been memorized, it's not essential, but give it a try too.

With pop music or the printed word you do often end up uttering things that will not be part of your regular vocabulary, and that is good. When you are talking to people later on, your conversation actually becomes less of a stretch than the practice session was, which makes it easier.

When I talk about my life's work, I know it's important and sometimes there is a lot at stake, but I don't want to rehearse what I am actually going to say or it may be too "canned", instead I just rehearse some vocals to get in shape, then wing it from there.

It's my life's work, and I do have more answers than anybody else on the subject.

Still I do look forward to having a representative and/or spokesperson once I get to be a CEO again. A highly technical person needs this more than a regular technical person, if nothing else so I can concentrate more on creating the science that no one else is doing. I've already got a few anxious associates who would love for me to get funded so they can come on board. It might be a good idea to start "recruiting" a strong spokesperson yourself, especially a close friend who might make a good partner or associate later when you can afford to bring them on. Until then it would be great to practice 1:1 with them when you can, concentrating on smoothness of conversation yourself while letting them casually learn more about your life's work as you go along.

That way if you don't end up landing an investor on your own before too long, you will might be able to have your "assistant" accompany you to a meeting or two and see how that goes.

hoppe this helps, dano

interesting, I have the same experience. after taking a public speaking class, I learned that warming up my vocal chords allowed me to have precision control over my words and allowed me to speak from my chest which projects words much further

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