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Photo by Ana Frantz on Unsplash

Entrepreneurial Elephant Exam

Steve Goldberg is a partner at Finistere Ventures, an early-stage venture fund focused on food, agriculture, and sustainably feeding the world. I am surprised, but not embarrassed to say that I learned something new from almost every sentence he spoke.

I was amazed to learn just how broad foodtech is. From supply chain to web restaurant ordering. From plant-based proteins to computer-controlled farm equipment.

I bought my friend an elephant for his room…

Steve shared his favorite first question for founders. He asks about the “Elephant in the room.”

For most companies, it is the huge, well-known, entrenched competitor. For others, it may be a regulatory issue. Or difficulties with adoption.

He said, “Thanks.”

I said, “Don’t mention it.”

He can tell a lot by how the founders respond. Do they try to pretend the elephant doesn’t exist? Are they honestly unaware of it?

Or do they actually have a well-thought-out plan?

After all, if there wasn’t something difficult, someone else would have already built this company before you got there.

I often ask, in the same spirit, “Why will you succeed where so many others have failed?”

Having good answers may not get you funded or ensure your success,

white and black skull on white concrete wall
Photo by <a href=httpsunsplashcomamaituutm source=wordpress instant imagesutm medium=referralutm source=wordpress instant imagesutm medium=referral>Steve Barker<a> on <a href=httpsunsplashcomutm source=wordpress instant imagesutm medium=referral>Unsplash<a>

but not having good answers, or worse yet, not having thought about the questions is likely to lead to a sad outcome.

Do elephants cry?

How would you and your team answer questions like these?

I am deeply saddened but no longer surprised how often founders are not prepared for such questions. Still, it is much better that this happens in practice than at a live event or a meeting with an investor.

Mentors, are you asking your startups questions like these? What other questions do you include as “like these?”

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Written by Russell Brand

Russell has started three successful companies, one of which helped agencies of the federal government become very early adopters of open source software, long before that term was coined. His first project saved The American taxpayer 250 million dollars. In his work within federal agency, he was often called, “the arbiter of truth,” facilitating historically hostile groups and factions to effectively work together towards common goals

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