This is the most productive question you can ask a founder (or intrapreneur) after meeting for the first time. It’s the first question I ask after pleasantries are exchanged because I know how valuable a founder’s time is. Unfortunately the most common (albeit well-intentioned) question that founders get asked is actually, how’s it all going?

Experience tells me they’re spending 100-hour weeks building products, selling and forging partnerships, nurturing teams and managing finance and operations, all in the face of achieving one win for every 10 setbacks. Asking how’s it all going? will almost certainly result in a founder thinking where do I begin and how much time have you got? before providing (at best) a brief bullet-point summary of achievements and maybe insight into an upcoming milestone.

I find these interactions underwhelming because neither the founder or the person asking the question end up any wiser or better off.

How can I help? however instantly changes the tone of the conversation.

Instead of continuing in ‘always on’ sales mode, the founder can quickly dive into a subject the questioner is well positioned to help with and receive assistance.The net result is both parties having a richer interaction that increases the questioner’s understanding of the venture and helps address an issue the founder is trying to resolve.

Next time you catch up with a founder, ask how you can help and see what happens.