My Dear Founders: Please Don’t Lie – The Truth Will be Found Out

New flash: Honesty is the best policy.  This is true in relationships as well as life.  But you bet your ass it’s especially true in public business dealings.

Long story short, a Seattle founder just attempted to pose as a 19 year old girl who apparently actioned off 10% of her income for the next 10 years for $125,000 investment in her startup.  But she turned out to be a he and it was all a lie.  And he was busted by GeekWire.

(Nice job GW, you totally redeemed yourself.)

Reading about the latest hoax this morning for some reason boiled my blood more than normal. Is it because I – like a lot of other Seattle founders – actually work my ass off to build great products and earn the right to be covered by media outlets? Is it because I am on high alert from the recent attacks in Boston last week, resulting in false flames and untruths thrown all over Twitter and leaving us wondering which way is up or down?

Is it because another 19 year old founder actually did make news a few weeks ago by selling his startup to Yahoo for $30 million, making me just a bit jealous he is now a millionaire before the age of 20?  Or is it because the tech media is so desperate to break the latest story they will gloss over details and hit publish too quickly – leaving openings for people to take advantage?

Who knows any more…

What I do know is honesty is the best policy.  Given the fact (and I am assuming here..) we are all adults, it’s somewhat disappointing we need to have the honesty conversation right here and in public.

Yet here we are.

False truths and lies might slip through the cracks and get you a little media coverage but they will absolutely ruin your credibility.  What Skipsnes may or may not realize is how bad he shot himself in the foot and how much more difficult it just got for him to become a successful entrepreneur.  Do you think anyone will ever believe anything that comes from his camp again?

Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice….  In business, there is no twice.

Founders take note, you cannot lie or mislead and get away with it anymore.  Your every move and every dealing is now recorded.  You now have hundreds, maybe thousands of PI’s to deal with whenever you make news.  You are probably more intelligent than perpetuator #1, but even if it’s a small fudge of a story it better be true.

As we saw with the Boston bombings, today there is no way the truth will not be found out.  Once your story hits the web and news blogs you better believe people will search you.  They will google you.  They will search your Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.  They will search the domain registry.  They will make calls and verify your story.  If you are lying they will find the inevitable cracks in your story however small they may be.

Today, you cannot hide.  We will find you.

Skipsnes’ attempt to lie his way to fame and fortune has actually placed all our integrity in question.  He is trying to concoct a story about someone he is not in an attempt to generate attention for his website/business in hopes that in the end he will benefit financially from it.

Steinar confides in his admittance post:  “I want to grow and build a business more than anyone can understand.  When you want something bad enough, you’re forced to create a path or quit.”

Yea, don’t we all want it that bad.  And aren’t we all trying to create a story and gain attention?  The difference between him and (hopefully) the rest of us is where the motivation is coming from.

So all that his actions have really accomplished is placing all of us even more under the microscope.  Skipsnes probably doesn’t realize  how this reflects on all of us other founders, the honest ones.   Are the stories we are pitching to media outlets going to be believed and covered?  Or will they brush us off and take the “more trusted” story from Amazon or Microsoft so this doesn’t happen again?

His actions now make it that much harder for honest early stage founders to gain media coverage.

So founders, get ready for much more scrutiny.  Maybe that is a good thing, since in the end a high quality product coming from a high quality team deserves media coverage.  But get ready for higher standards.

We should all be ashamed it has come to the point middle aged men are posing as teen girls to get attention from the tech media.  Should we not?

In a surreal moment, my heart sank at the same time my blood boiled as I realized this man stooped this low simply to get attention from the media.

Maybe we should step back and take a look at what our goals are as early stage founders and what media coverage actually means.  Is it the end?  Or is it a means to an end?  Do we just want to see our names or our apps on a screen among other successful companies? If we think a blog post and media coverage is our ticket to success and abundance, I think we need to take a strong look in the mirror.

If lying and posing as a young teenage girl is our only option to get noticed in today’s world, god help us all.

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