Markkula Center of Applied Ethics

Starting with Ethics

In December 1999, 40 companies brought their stocks to the public markets in IPOs that soared in the initial days of trading. In the first two months of 2001, only 10 companies made initial public offerings with much more modest results. In March 2000, the start-up heavy Nasdaq Composite Index reached its all-time high of 5,133. In March 2001, the Nasdaq dipped below 2,000.

Everything about start-ups seems to have changed—except the ethical issues. When we began looking at ethics and start-ups in 2000, we asked whether there were dilemmas particular to the start-up environment. This publication represents the answers to that question offered by a range of scholars, entrepreneurs, investors, and high-tech workers.

"A Good Start," by Kirk Hanson, outlines key steps new ventures can take to make ethics a distinguishing mark of a start-up's culture. Hanson was recently appointed executive director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. Former Director Dennis Moberg also weighs in on the subject with "The Treatment of Employees in High-tech Start-ups: A Test of Executive Character."

Two cases invite readers to consider some of the crucial ethical edges in the start-up field. "The Case of the X979 Jumpstart" looks at proprietary information while "The Case of the Underwater Options" explores how much employees are entitled to know about a start-up's finances.

In a new feature, "Viewpoints," we transcribe interviews with some of the key players in the start-up world. Investors such as Audrey MacLean, company founders such as A.C. "Mike" Markkula Jr. (formerly of Apple Computer) and Umang Gupta (Keynote Systems), and line workers discuss some of the ethical issues they face on the front lines of start-up companies.