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An Interview with a Young Entrepreneur
Not everyone is willing to be as honest as is this young man, who has worked for several Silicon Valley start-ups. He is now in sales at one new venture while simultaneously laying the groundwork for his own company. Out of respect for his candor, we have omitted his name. We have also changed the names of the companies involved.
In the start-up environment, where employees can work 60, 70 or even 80 hours a week, it is often hard to determine what is company time and what is personal time. If employees bring work homeusing their own computers and suppliesis it reasonable for them to use the companys tool, such as e-mail or copy machine, for their personal needs? When employees are moonlighting or developing their own ventures, these distinctions become even more significant and touch on conflicts of interest. Heres what one young entrepreneur had to say about these questions:
While I was at a local company, some of the engineering founders had left the company to start their own business. One guy, who had been a friend of mine, gave me a call and asked if I was interested in helping them out a bit. They needed consultation, market research and sales stuff from me. This was a totally volunteer project, which I did on my own time, and their product was not competitive with our company's.
One late afternoon, I was at my company writing up a whole marketing plan and organizational structure for my friends company. I put together an e-mail with all the information, but I made a mistake. I intended to send the e-mail to my distribution list for the new company, but instead I sent the e-mail to everyone at my company.
The next day, I was called to a high-level meeting including the CEO. He was concerned that this other company was a competitor. My stance was that it was not, and that I was doing this consulting on my own time. No one had ever complained that I was not getting my work done for our own company.
The end result was that I was suspended for a day. My company objected to my using their e-mail system for private work, and they objected to the time at which I did it. I got caught, but I can tell you I know many people who work on multiple projects. I think the question comes down to when youre working on [outside projects] and how much time youre spending on them.
I cant say Im a 100 percent ethical person; Im pretty entrepreneurial. I dont think its right to use company property for other things besides work because your company has bought stuff for you in faith that youre using it for company projects. Even though everyone does it, I strongly believe that if you have something else going, you should use your own property.
Still, you do have a right to work on other projects. If you have standard hourssay, 8 to 5it would have to be before or after that. But any time before or after should be your call. The lines are drawn when you start using the companys intellectual property. For example, Im in sales, and I could easily use my customers here for the company Im starting.
For me, it comes down to if Im going to be hurting my employer, stealing their intellectual property, then I dont do it. If it will help my own venture and not hurt the company I'm working for, then I look at each individual situation . There are two ways to think about it. One is: This is the company's customer and we have relationship because of the company, so I cant trade on that relationship for my own gain. But another is: The customer has needs our company's products meet and other needs as well. Filling the other needs wont hurt or affect our company at all. If I have built a personal relationship with this customer, I dont see any problem with solving another issue for them. I mean, whose basic customer is itwho owns the customer?
There are two issues I look at. 1) Is [my pursuing the customer] economically hurting my companyis it competing with my company? And 2) Are my dealings with a customer taking time away from my time as an employee? If the answer to those two questions is no, I think its perfectly legitimate.
|Issues in Ethics - V. 12, N. 1 Spring 2001|
|Starting with Ethics|
|A Good Start|
|The Treatment of Employees in High-tech Start-ups|
|a case in point|
|The X979 Jumpstart|
|Guilt (and Reliability) by Association|
|Who is a Customer?|
|Ethics and Company Folklore|
|Who's Holding the Bag?|
|The Vendor as Investor|
|Reputation and Venture Funding|
|Questions and Assignments|
|issues in ethics tools|