Ethics and Morals

At the end of the Berlin talk I posted yesterday, there was a question about ethics. It was directed at startups and how they build a culture of ethical behavior.

But ethics and morals is an issue that extends beyond startups. It is an issue for all businesses and business people.

The Gotham Gal recently told me a story about one of her portfolio companies. I am going to leave names out of this post because I don’t want to get in the middle of something that, at least right now, is between the parties involved.

Her portfolio company went out to raise an early Series A for a business that was in market and ramping. They met with a VC who passed on the deal. A few months later they saw a competitor emerge in the market with an identical business plan and a website that was eerily similar to their own. The CEO of the competitor was the son of the VC who passed on the deal. And the VC was the seed investor in the competitor.

There was no NDA or non-compete between the parties involved so it is not clear that anything illegal transpired here. But it sure feels unethical to me. And I bet it feels unethical to you too.

At USV, we work very hard to avoid these sorts of things. We do not start or incubate businesses. We do not have EIRs sitting in pitch meetings while they think up their next startup. We put big moats around our existing portfolio and try hard not to invest in anything competitive. If we are looking at investing in a competitor, we let the entrepreneur know that before we meet with them.

I am sure we have messed up a little bit here and there over the years on these rules. But we try really hard to live up to our ethics, values, and morals and I think we do a decent job. And we get to see great deals because of that.

This unnamed VC will not see great deals if this behavior continues. You can’t behave this way for long before the market becomes aware of it. So even if the legal system can’t take care of this situation, I believe the market will. As it should.