I was having a conversation one afternoon with an old acquaintance from Harvard Business School - he is now a venture capitalist at a Boston-based fund. During the course of the conversation, we began discussing interesting companies we had come across: he mentioned a recent investment in a medical diagnostic company and I mentioned an entrepreneurial friend who started a health IT firm.
Given that the VC was a nice guy and did seed-stage investments and that the entrepreneur would be raising capital soon, I offered to make an introduction. Upon suggesting that I introduce the VC and the founder by email, the VC asked an unexpected question.
"Is he credible?"
I was taken aback. I was not sure how to answer that question. No one had ever asked me directly to justify the "credibility" of someone else.
I found myself scrambling; I needed to think about the right words that quickly, convincingly, and truthfully validated the founder.
As I reflect on that question, I am convinced that we all are asked this question on a daily bases, perhaps in more subtle ways. Moreover, we unconsciously provide an answer without giving thought to whether we are doing the subject (in this case, the founder) proper justice. This exchange occurs in all aspects of life: helping friends get jobs, recommending a company's product, or helping a friend get a date. In all cases, validating a person or institution is incredibly important.
Needless to say, the first step to establishing credibility is actually being credible (my friend was), however, acquaintances still need to communicate that credibility.
Building credibility is crucial when a company tries to sell its product or service. Much of sales is about building credibility (or alternatively, decreasing risk). Having learned some sales from former Corporate Executive Board executives, they pounded into us how everything we do - from slides to the script to the website - is designed to build credibility.
In a colloquial context, however, we don't have the benefit of a professional screenshare to validate others... only a few words. What three words would you use to convey credibility for your friend? Yourself? In different contexts?
Sitting in the VC's office, I faced this dilemma. I mentioned to the VC that the founder had worked at the right institutions, had important responsibilities, and attended a prestigious B-school.
That seemed to be enough. The VC took the meeting.