I was watching a session from AngelConf 2009 on Justin.tv the other day and one of the speakers said something that I realized is so true. It hurts to do the right thing. Otherwise, everyone would do the right thing. It is easy to see that you will always do the right thing but what about when the choice is fuzzy?
“Should I take money off the table even if it will hurt my investors?” (No. If you have trouble with this one then remember that karma is alive and well in the business world and the angel/VC world is very small. Thus, you can be selfish by doing the right thing here.)
“Should I take source code for a project I developed at my employer and use it for my personal gain?” (No. Starting a business is hard enough without getting the s%$& sued out of you. Besides, your employer already paid you for your work so you are just stealing at this point.)
“Should I change a contract during negotiations without red-lining my small change?” (No. A contract is merely a record of the trust between two parties. If you break this trust during the up-front part of the relationship then the paper contract is worthless.)
Here’s a hard one that I’ve heard some justifications for:
“My business is going to go under and folks will lose their jobs unless I do X.” (No. Think harder. There is always a better way.)
Harvard advises its business school graduates to save up enough money for a “go to hell” fund as soon as possible upon graduation. This fund gives the grad the financial means to be able to walk away from an employer if the grad is pressured to do something unethical. I like this idea of a fund because it points out that you need to think about, explore, and plan for these situations before you get into them so you will know what you need to do.