I have watched founders get greedy. I have watched shareholders get greedy. And I have watched investment people get greedy
The bi-product of this is that it usually trickles down into a company but not always with the greed t-shirt on.
What happens is it ‘all’ becomes about the share price, the headlines on Reuters and holding your head up high and saying, ‘I work for ‘that’ company’.
It is bad here in the UK but I have seen it much worse over in the beloved Silicon Valley. Much much worse.
Say you work for this company. Senior bosses and leaders tell you it’s okay to do certain things. Maybe bill your time for two clients even, one while you were on a plane and one while you were with actual clients. The numbers add up to 140% billable time but that's okay, because someone you trust or respect told you it’s okay to do. You do it again a few times and then at the end of each quarter you are asked to do it a little bit more but this time for the previous three months, until suddenly you have booked oh so much time and your company hits its target so that its shareholders are happy
You bandy about confidential company documents for clients. Things about their structure, finances, things that really should be confidential and send it off to the partners you are working with, fellow staff members and before you know it these confidential documents end up spreading like wildfire and on some Chinese search engine for your competition or worse to get hold off. But that's okay, because the bosses do it, and it’s about delivering to clients, getting the deal done, but most of all keeping the guys at the top happy.
Trust me, MCI Inc were not on their own when they got exposed and it is no different now.
So Facebook are in trouble. I think we all knew anyway right? Probably our own faults for laying our lives out like an open book. But hey, we also trusted that common sense would prevail. Are Facebook the only ones in trouble? Well if I was a betting man the answer would be no. Not wishing to spread rumours but I can pretty much guarantee all the other major platforms have some skeletons they don't want to come out into public.
So why is this all happening? I could be wrong but ultimately I believe the following happens:
Founder has great intentions to do the right thing at the start. However the fact they are successful is because they are a bit maverick.
Founder takes investment and the day that happens they no longer own their company and are responsible to shareholders.
Founder builds successful company that gets floated. So now they have this almost Michael Jackson type world where they don't really remember being a kid or having a normal life. They think they do but they don't. It’s a hype machine that they 'would never get sucked into' and become that person: the establishment. The same happens for the shareholders who realised their $2 million investment is now worth $1 billion. Why run after $1 billion when you can run after $2billion? Suddenly the business becomes all about the numbers for Wall Street, its shareholders and that maverick side, well that's grown a bit and taken on its own life within your business.
Next thing you know, you are probably doing things that at best are unethical and possibly at worst illegal.
People will look for scapegoats again and probably there will be a big fall out. Governments will investigate again and life will move on until someone ends up in jail.
What has happened or is happening is really, really common. I could give so many examples over the last 20 years it is crazy. And it will carry on for another 20 years.
Here is where I really worry. I see a lot of early stage companies, let’s say in the growth stage, do stuff that isn't quite right. They will usually defend their actions but as a wise old owl, I generally know when it’s not right. That worries me because their staff will think what they are doing is normal. I have not met many 20 something, energised enthusiastic developers that want to break the law. If anything they are the opposite in my experience.
Lesson learnt for us public: trust no one, AGAIN. Maybe we really need to look at why we lay our lives out there. I actually thought about deleting Facebook this morning. It actually adds no purpose to my life, in many ways it is not a very nice place. Why do I keep it? Please don't laugh - but I have family across the world. I am really bad at staying in touch. Like really bad. I went through a period of years not communicating with them. So now I have kids, it is my only way of going, yep still alive, your brother has not disappeared again and here is my lazy arse way of staying in touch. Sad I know but that's what dilemma I faced this morning.
It will be interesting to see how things unravel in the next few months. I suspect this could be a long journey!
To quote Gordon Gecko: "Greed is Good". Maybe that is what is said behind many of these tech companies.