Markkula Center of Applied Ethics

Trust during the Dot-com Boom

By Jessica Silliman

Reyna Allen had her pick of jobs upon graduation as a communication major from Santa Clara University. She and her friends were graduating at what seemed like the perfect time-at the height of the dot-com boom. But Reyna's professors had warned her about possible problems in the rose-colored job market. Though the demand for workers far outweighed the supply, thus creating high salaries for those just starting out, many companies, her professors predicted, wouldn't make it in the long term.

At one particular dot-com upstart in Silicon Valley, Reyna was pursuing an entry-level corporate communications position. But she had the sense during the interview process that the company wasn't going to make it; the product they provided lacked innovation and the company wavered in its organization. Reyna saw them as just another boom-era company that may last awhile before going under. Despite what she thought, the company gave her an attractive job offer and aggressively pursued her once the offer was on the table: over the two-week period when she had to decide whether to take the offer or pass, they routinely sent her flowers and, after one week, upped the original offer.

After Reyna received the better job offer, she received a call from one of the major venture capitalist firms that was funding the dot-com. This top-tier VC firm said that they were giving the dot-com full funding for the fourth quarter. The company hoped that reassurance from the VC firm would help pull Reyna into the dot-com. This information changed Reyna's mind. She figured that if they were continuing to get funding, then maybe the company could survive past the one-year mark.

Reyna took the job.

But after just a week in the office, she realized the other employees were incompetent. In the interview process Reyna was exposed only to the hiring team and didn't get a chance to meet the other employees. But she quickly saw that they were inefficient and lacked motivation. Nobody ever seemed to be working.

Three weeks later, nearing the beginning of the fourth quarter, the company came within inches of not getting their next round of funding from venture capitalists.

Reyna felt betrayed by the venture capitalist firm that gave her initial hope. Though they had told her they would be giving the dot-com full funding, they, in actuality, only gave a small amount for the quarter in which they promised full funding, causing the company to inch closer to bankruptcy.

Just weeks later, the CEO of the dot-com suddenly moved to New York and the whole company shut down. Reyna was without a job after only two months with the organization. After just getting settled, Reyna had to learn a quick, hard lesson about the dot-com industry. She was back on the job market.

"In Silicon Valley, people say what they need to say," said Reyna.

Discussion Questions:

  • Was Reyna treated fairly in the situation?
  • Was the venture capitalist firm ethically wrong by lying about the amount o f funding?
  • Is it Reyna's fault for not looking into the company or is it the company' s fault for misleading Reyna?

Jessica Silliman was a 2006-07 Hackworth Fellow at The Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.

June 2007

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