VC:VC Good Question

"Tell me about how you plan to differentiate yourself from the 54 other Web 2.0 social network blogging mashup wall clock destination portals out there?" Victor Cool, the VC, asked Eric Enthusiasm, the entrepreneur.

"Good question!" answered Eric confidently, with a grin and a stab of his hand into the air. Eric went on "You see, we interviewed a large group of people who use wall clocks for social networking and we discovered that ..."

Let's leave that conversation there, and consider the oft-repeated phrase: "Good question!"

It is a generally a signal that this is a question which has been asked many times before, or one which was expected, and so there is a prepared answer. Sometimes the phrase is genuinely spontaneous, but often it is like a punctuation mark signaling to listen closely to what the entrepreneur hopes will be a great answer.

Sometimes it is annoying in retrospect because the question does not get answered properly. Perhaps the entrepreneur heard one question (the expected one) but was being asked something slightly different. Perhaps the entrepreneur has a formulaic answer to a complex question, and hopes to deflect further probing through a confident but over-simple answer.

In a way, "Good question!" is like a tell in a poker game, inadvertently giving away something about the player's hand, in this case giving away that the entrepreneur is playing a strong hand.

When I hear an entrepreneur begin an answer with this phrase I will listen a little more carefully. I want to see how an entrepreneur plays to a strong hand, because that should end with a strong result.

Many poker players say you should never let another player know if you have identified a tell, even if they are your friend. A few losses should make them wiser (if poorer). Since I have played the entrepreneur's hand more than once, I identify too strongly to let that stand. So watch out for that tell!

Contrasting this for a moment with my venture cycling life - after all, this is a VC:VC posting (comparing Venture Capital to Venture Cycling). Here, I am on the other side of the table.

As board chair for Hazon, the charity which started me on a bike again (after 30 years), I find myself saying "Good question!" fairly regularly. I am answering questions of friends and colleagues who are intrigued about Hazon's mission and programs. At other times I am talking to prospective donors who are probing before considering gifts to the organization. I find it is a welcome moment to be able to say "Good question!" and launch into a prepared answer.

Sshh! I hope they can't see my tell.

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