People are always jumping to conclusions.
So, when you're asked "Are you going to eat that?", you assume that whoever is asking is asking for your leftovers. If you ask "How do you dispose of a dead body?", you'll see people scoping out the exits and react immediately with nervous laughter. I posted "Question: what's the most epic way to say you're sorry?" to Facebook the other day . . . and more than 1 person assumed I did something epically wrong - probably to my wife (which I hadn't, on this occasion).
In business, people also jump to conclusions. They make these jumps based on the way you look, the way you act, and especially the way you speak and the questions you ask. Let me explain.
Last week, Jason Bailey and I spoke to a group of entrepreneurs at AcceleratorYYC last week, and we gave some pretty basic advice. Jason said something like "don't be a douche; you're here to find a co-founder, not to make friends". My advice was to show credibility - if you're going to share a business idea with me, show me that you've done your homework - tell me something I don't know about that business, or show me that you've done the research, and that you're ready to send me a document within the next 2 hours. Otherwise, it's all idle chit-chat, and I'm sure we could all be doing something better than "networking" (networking rant later in this post).
So, the first question we get is, "What's more important: the entrepreneur, or the idea?". Why not ask me "What if I suck, or my idea sucks?" or "I have no ideas, and I'm not all that smart. So should I work on becoming smarter, or should I try to find an amazing idea?".
My answer is simple: yes. Yes, I think the entrepreneur is important. Everyone wants to work with amazingly sharp and resoundingly determined entrepreneurs. And yes, you want entrepreneurs like that to bring you amazing, world-changing ideas.
I don't know this person was looking for an answer, or just looking to start a conversation. Either way, there are few stupid questions that I refuse to answer. That's one of them. Here are some others:
- "What's the one thing you did to become successful?" - Anyone who has achieved any kind of success at anything knows that it takes a combination of things to become successful. If you're asking this question, you're saying "I'm lazy.Tell me the one thing I need to do to succeed".
- "What are you investing in these days?" - If I don't know you, I'm interpreting this question as "give me money, I'm desperate". I don't usually give money to, or talk about investments with people I don't know. Random strangers that ask me for money usually fall into two groups: homeless people and entrepreneurs. Go figure.
- "So, how do you like your (car, house, guitar, or anything else that I don't currently have in my possession - but somehow, the inquirer knows a little too much about)?" - creepy and awkward. Is that really what they wanted to know?
Here are the kind of conversations you should be having:
- Direct and honest: for example, stop the posturing. Don't say that you have huge scaling problems when you don't. Say what you're working on, what you've been successful at, and where you need help.
- Pointed and purposeful: ask for advice and suggestions, but don't create obligation. You'll find that most people are willing to give at least some advice, but you'll have to be really interesting if you want your audience to do homework for you - so let that one play itself out.
- Information-rich: don't be stingy with info if you want a real conversation. Nothing kills a conversation like "I need you to sign an NDA before we can talk further". If you're pitching, give the best 30 second pitch on your company, product, and performance to date.
- Interesting: "networking event" is just code for "consultants and service providers in a room with crappy food and free drinks so that they can corner you and sell you stuff". If you're a legit entrepreneur with a real business at one of these events, you'll be the belle of the ball.
So, while there may be no such thing as a stupid question, your questions might just lead others to jump to conclusions about the type of entrepreneur that you are.