How To Spot A Charlatan In The Minnesota Tech Community

Char·la·tan: a person practicing quackery or some similar confidence trick in order to obtain money, fame or other advantages via false pretense or deception.

Perhaps you’ve encountered a charlatan in the Minnesota tech community or maybe you know one intimately.  They’re not unique to Minnesota, though can be harder to spot sometimes because of the culture here.  For the uninitiated, this is a quick charlatan test to consider using out there:

  • Do their actions match their words?
    • A basic means of character assessment.
  • Have they actually done what they claim to know about?
    • Full stop.
  • Does the history add up?
    • Hyperbole and storytelling are just part of the process.
  • Is it clear what they actually do and how they get paid?

    • The illusion of production is no substitute for the real thing.
  • Name dropping…

    • Charlatan’s live off the credibility and successes of others.
  • Bonus: oddly precise numbers and percentages?
    • If that figure sounds suspiciously and unnecessarily specific, chalk it up to charlatanism.

Is there anything you would add?


  • LittleDuke

    The “con” in conman comes from the word “confidence” — as in they gain yours.

    Some of the other “tells” that you’re dealing with a fraud include:

    “The Victim Card” — the person has been wronged in some heinous and grievous way — in fact listen to their stories long enough and you might spot a trend. Keep in mind that there are ALWAYS three sides to every story: his, hers and the truth. I often think of the demotivator poster of the shipwreck with the tag line: “It could be that the purpose of your life is only to serve as a warning to others”

    “Drama Rama” — from grand entrances to the pantomime of self-effacing stories that start with the condescending pattern of, “I worked for a little company…maybe you’ve heard of (IBM, Apple, Google)”

    “Nouveau Riche” — leased BMW’s with lottery tickets on the floor. Keys on the table make noise — like a baby’s rattle — they always seem to end logo side up…

    “Excuse me while I trade up” — in addition to Jeff’s name dropping, the hucksters will leap up at first chance to go make their presence known to someone else they’ve spotted in the room.

    “Switchboard” — the person’s phone is ringing and buzzing and they are constantly checking it. It’s one thing to say at the beginning of a meeting, “Hey I’m waiting on an important call (phone tag, car repair, xyz) — it’s another to constantly be checking to see who is/has called or texted. I’ve overheard more than call that was obviously from a bill collector.

    “Desperate entourage” — does the person seem to have one to many people hanging around? I’ve met frauds who end up duping people into doing work for them and then don’t pay them or pay them just enough to keep them around. People who need to make rent and are hoping that you’re the next meal ticket.

  • Chris Smith

    Has a “company” with no customers or users…

    • Jeff Pesek

      you’ll have to expand on that one Chris because basically every startup begins with no customers or users. another one is always being “so busy” overtly conveying importance.

      it’s all about pattern recognition…

      • Chris Smith

        I am a fan of writing an MVP and locking up a customer or ten before you waste a bunch of money on legal fees starting a company.

        • Jeff Pesek

          Sure, a wiser approach, though do disagree that it makes someone a charlatan based on definition above…doesn’t imply false pretense or deception.

  • Casey Allen

    The shockingly easy but effective test for founders is this:

    If a person says they invest in startups you should ask them “what are a few of them that you’ve invested in?”

    Them giving an excuse why they don’t want to list them is like a NFL coach refusing to list some of the players he’s recruited. It’s a red flag and defies logic. They should JUMP at the chance to brag about this.

    Same goes for any sort of paid advisor.

    Same goes for any startup attorney.

    Refusing to name at least three startups by name means you should invest zero minutes into this person moving forward. There’s simply no sane, logical, reputational reason why this info is somehow sacred and secret.

    And if you’ve never heard of these companies it generally means they are not succeeding. If the companies are not succeeding then you should likewise invest zero minutes into this person moving forward.

  • Zach Robins

    Will this be a new feature? “Get to know a MinneCharlatan!”