(Update- I posted an apology for going over the top on this post. Sorry Rick.)
First off, I love Rick Segal. We’ve never met, but I’ve been reading his blog for years, and he comes up with some great stuff. That makes all me pretty sad that he’s lying to people pitching to him, and then watching them squirm. He’s asked in his last 30 meetings if they’d seen the latest Arthur Andersen report on OS/2’s adoption, and pretty much no one said ‘Huh?’ or ‘I hadn’t seen that’. In fact, a lot of people lied in their replies, and said something like ‘I saw a thread on Slashdot about that’.
For the record, my external reaction would be ‘Really, you’ll have to send me the info on that. So about email…’, with an internal reaction of ‘Huh?’. I’m not surprised that nobody called him on it directly, there’s only two unevasive responses. The first is ‘Are you some kind of idiot?’, and the second is ‘I know nothing about that’. I’ve tried to be better about saying ‘I don’t know’, but especially in the middle of a pitch where you’re trying to project confidence and stay on topic that’s a really tough step to take.
It’s equivalent to being on the first date with that girl you’ve dreamed of since high school, and she asks ‘Does my bum look big in these pants?’ The correct answer may be ‘A little’, but it’s a trap, the only way to preserve your integrity and not be offensive is to tap-dance away from the subject without answering.
My gut instinct is that anyone who can look me in the eye and lie on the first meeting, even as a character test, is not someone I’d want to deal with. When I found out it was a test, I’d be angry, and I’d have a hard time trusting them, it just shows a real lack of respect. I also doubt it’s effective as a filter. I bet that none of Rick’s successful investments would have made the right call on their first meeting. The only real way to work out who to trust is to know somebody over time, or rely on a recommendation from someone you trust who’s known them for a while. I expect that the answers he’d get on the 3rd or 4th meetings would be a lot more honest than during the pressure of a pitch.
VCs are surrounded by people who want their money, and are willing to do almost anything to get it. That must make it almost impossible to figure out who’s for real, and I sympathize with Rick’s struggle to find a short-cut. It just seems a low trick to play, and there’s a lot of honest questions you can ask to get the same result.