Confessions Of A Pack Rat (aka My Document Retention Policy)

I keep everything that might ever be valuable and I hate to throw stuff out. It drives the Gotham Gal nuts. On most things, she wins. But when it comes to my office and my stuff, I win. It stays.

Yesterday my friend and former colleague Dan Malven sent me an email looking for the investment memo we wrote at Flatiron recommending our initial investment in Sina.com in the winter of 1998/1999. Apparently Kellogg business school is doing a case study on that investment, as well they should. It was one of our really good investments at Flatiron.

I went to spotlight, typed sina and about six documents came up, including several drafts of the investment memo, the cap table, and a few other related documents. I put them in a folder, compressed them up, and sent them off to Dan and Kellogg. And I felt great. That's a little bit of history there, preserved by yours truly.

People are surprised that I save every important document and email. It goes against popular wisdom that you should shred, delete, and otherwise destroy documents so they can't be used against you in court.

Well I've been sued a few times and deposed a few more times. I've had to submit my relevent documents in discovery a bunch of times. And I've never been hurt by it. And in several instances, our case was helped dramatically by it.

Here's my thinking. If you are a bad person who does bad things to people, then by all means destroy the evidence before someone can get at it. But if you try to be a good person and do the right thing, then you should be saving the evidence so when someone tries to paint you as a bad person, you can pull out the email or document and wave it in their face and remind them who did what to whom.

I know that sounds terribly arrogant, self righteous and naive and it is at some level. Wrong and right aren't always so clear cut and sometimes an email can be read in a different light years later.

I take things like fiduciary responsibility and contractual agreements very seriously and try very hard to do the right thing and treat people well and fairly. There are people out there who will try to screw you over and paint you as the bad guy anyway. Having the smoking gun pays dividends big time and it would really suck if you shredded it or deleted it because of some stupid document retention policy.

I hope and expect this post will get some good debate and discussion. And I particularly hope the lawyers in the community stop by and weigh in. It's a worthwhile conversation to be having.