Don’t ever answer a question that forces you to speculate.
Forcing you to speculate is a tactic that reporters, investors, executives, and spouses use to put you on the defensive. Don’t play the game. You can’t win.
As soon as you accept the invitation to speculation, the boundaries of the hypothetical problem you need to solve are beyond your control. The other person can change the situation as needed to throw you off your balance. For example:
"What would you do if Google launched a competitor?"
- Every Investor, Ever.
No direct answer will make you look good. There’s a bear trap behind every door you open:
"But Google has billions of dollars in cash, you don’t."
"Google can instantly scale their product because of their vast technical resources."
"Google could have a hundred top engineers working on this by lunch."
It’s impossible to answer a question like this without complete context, and if you start speculating, the context is whatever the investor wants it to be.
How do you answer, then?
Use the question as an opportunity to re-iterate your message. You’ve got a message, right? When asking for money, my message is usually: "This is a huge market opportunity, and my team is perfectly suited to tackle it."
When I get the “what-if competition” question, my response is:
"Well, who knows if that will ever happen, but I’ll say this: with such a big opportunity in front of us, there are tons of challenges. My team and I love difficult problems, and we’ve already done some amazing things that nobody else has pulled off, for example, …."
Shut down the speculation and get back on message. Yes, this it the “non-answer answer” you see on TV all the time. You see it on TV because the people giving these answers have had media training and have learned how to completely own the conversation.
It feels corny the first time, but it’s a cheat code for any adversarial conversation.