Startup Ethics: To Steal or Not To Steal?

[Editorial Notes : Cofounders of a startup share their experience with some of the fellow entrepreneurs. We normally do not publish articles under anonymous names, but this time we decided to, owing to the fact that cofounders are focusing on a certain issue (which is for real, i.e. lack of ethics in certain people) and not names of individuals.]

Before we get into it, we want to make it clear that this isn’t a blanket statement for all entrepreneurs in India & abroad, and maybe we have been faced with a few bad apples. We are also totally OK with competition, we see it as healthy and productive to the community as a whole – but when you meet entrepreneurs under false pretenses it’s where we draw the line and consider you, well, a scumbag.startup-business-ethics

Now this has happened to us a couple of times, so maybe we are just an unlucky bunch. But, we’ll tell you the story of one of those times. Let it serve as a warning to all the entrepreneurs out there who are normally led to believe it’s better to share your ideas (especially with fellow entrepreneurs), get feedback, and learn from seasoned vets. What you don’t hear about is the few of these people who may be preying on early-stage entrepreneurs who are building something in a space that they want to enter.

One of these times includes a seasoned entrepreneur who runs a “successful” company that has been invested in by a well-known VC firm. We met this entrepreneur through the entrepreneur’s original Angel Investor. Now, this entrepreneur met us under the guise of potentially wanting to invest.
We met 3 times and shared a lot of information with this person. We even suspected that maybe this person wants to enter our space, so we called up the original investor who introduced us to express our concerns, and without hesitation the Angel stated, “Why would we enter your space, you guys are like our kids, (my co-founder and I are much younger than these guys) we only want to help you.”

Fast forward to the present. This entrepreneur launches a direct competitor of our product with learnings, insights and ideas we shared from our successes, failures and hard work.

What you may be thinking is “quit whining, it happens all the time” and you’re right – it does, and we have no issue with competition, like we said. If this person or any of the other people we have met had simply been honest and said “we are thinking of getting in the [blank] space, can you share some of your insights” there’s no doubt in my mind we would have met with them. Would we have shared all the info we did? Probably not.
Does that make the other entrepreneur smarter than us? Some may say so. In our mind though, this person is weak. We met through a warm introduction so we had a level of trust, and were intentionally misled. That shit is not cool. Shows true character – for real though, this person couldn’t even come up with an original name or domain name for the product.

What happened to morals and values in our community? We’re supposed to be lifting each other up as entrepreneurs, not trying to tear each other down. At least, that’s the way we see it. We meet with a lot of entrepreneurs and try to help them and some come to us with great ideas but the thought has never crossed our mind to try and build what they are building.

We think the major question to our fellow entrepreneurs is where do you draw the line from healthy competition to being a complete phony? Competitive research is necessary but we’re of the school that this should be done ethically, like the consummate professional you claim to be. Furthermore, we understand hyper-competitive environments are a perfect breeding ground for unethical tactics, but we’re of the belief that the business sector has karma intertwined as well. We’ll keep our heads up and move forward knowing that it will catch up to these people…eventually.

Our message to other young entrepreneurs is simple: be very careful whom you meet with. Whether it’s successful entrepreneurs, investors, or strategic partners. It’s exciting and fun taking meetings with some of the more successful people who have been through the ringer, but they may have a completely ulterior motive when meeting with you.

Co-Founders of a Startup in India

Recommended Read: One Fix Needed in the Indian Startup Space : Need Respect From Corporates

Image credit : shutterstock

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