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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Lerner

Here's 2 question pairs to help you separate luck from skill.

But some of the best startups had no traction for months or even years before they took off. 🚀

And others got lucky and stumbled into traction, only to stumble right back out of it a few years later.

So how do you spot a rocket ship before the numbers pick up? Or, if they do have traction, how do you know if it’s down to skill or luck?

Either way, it's down to one thing: Are they learning?

Find out with these question pairs:

How question pairs work

Question pairs are constructed to uncover more depth and detail than single questions. When they respond, listen to what they say and how they say it.

The best answers will be specific and nuanced, with a dash of humility and an internal locus of control. Here’s what I mean…

Question pair 1: “From your experience so far, who is your ideal customer? And what do you enable them to do?”

Good answers are specific and open-minded. For example, “It looks like the keenest prospects are people who recently moved to a new city, and want to get out and meet other active, culturally literate people without the awkwardness of dating apps.”

Bad answers are vague and confident, like “We sell to insurance companies, we help them save time.” Insurance companies have thousands of employees; who is the buyer? Where does the budget come from? Which 5 stakeholders need to sign off? If they just say “insurance companies,” they don’t actually know, but the real danger is they think they do.

Question pair 2: “What's working on the growth side? And what’s not?"

(This question helps figure out if they understand why they’re growing, plus if they’re  committed to working on growth as a team – Growth is a team sport!)

Good answers are specific and demonstrate ownership. “If people actually use our free trial, they tend to convert, but few signups actually get past the first screen, so we need to improve that.”

Bad answers are basically the opposite of the good ones: Vague, with only a high-level understanding of what’s broken, e.g. “The marketers can’t find a channel that scales." They tend to blame others: "Our last 2 heads of growth were no good” or “We tried this agency and they wasted a bunch of money."

So, use these question pairs or construct your own, but dig deep enough to find out what the company knows about its growth. Either way, you’re listening for granularity, curiosity and ownership. 

Remember: Traction doesn’t matter if they don’t know how they got it.

I hope this helps!

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