TechCrunch covered an interesting story this morning about a blacklist of people and companies to avoid doing business with if you’re a startup – or anyone with access to the database, I guess. It’s the brainchild of The Founder Institute, a very early stage startup accelerator and entrepreneur training program, with branches throughout the world.
I’m sure that we’ve all come across companies in our careers who we certainly would never want to do business with again and who we wouldn’t recommend to our worst enemies. Whether it’s a question of unscrupulousness or incompetence, some people just are best avoided in the future, if we’ve been unlucky enough to come across them in the first place.
However, I remember thinking about this concept about 10 years ago – and I can certainly remember which company started the train of thought and would never trust them again, even though most of the employees at the time have probably long since left. I’ve even blogged some thoughts about Reputation Management over the years, including here.
But there are a number of issues about this kind of idea:
1. Justice is very often about who has the deepest pockets. If I write that Mr Bastard is not to be trusted and Mr Bastard sues me, if Mr Bastard is determined and very rich, I’m likely to back off when our combined legal costs reach a point that makes me no longer able to sleep at night. Of course, that’s an entirely fictitious Mr Bastard and I’m not suggesting for a moment that if you are actually named Mr Bastard that you’re anything but a wonderful human being and all round good egg.
The brave, Mr Adeo Ressi, the man behind the blacklist, has selected a legal firm as the first company to be featured. So we’ll quickly see how this aspect plays out, I suspect.
2. Anyone who has had any dealings with the law will find that what seems on the surface is a black-and-white case, turns out to be at best a “grey area”. Every dispute has two sides and it’s often very hard to judge where the fault lay. Company A certainly might not have delivered the website they promised. But perhaps it was because Client B failed to specify what was required, kept changing the spec and was generally very slow about giving approvals expediently.
I note that the submissions process doesn’t say anything about accused companies rights to appeal – that doesn’t mean that this process isn’t in place. But assuming that they do want to be fair, the workload involved in running such a service with any degree of scrupulousness will quickly prove to be very challenging if done properly – and worthless if not.
3. I’ve long suspected that the smart answer to this involves some kind of peer-sourced justice (crowd sourcing spreads the net too wide). This would be where the original submissions was reviewed by a small team of proven business people, who have no vested interest in the outcome – perhaps easier said than done, in reality. They can invite the blacklistee to appeal and at that stage, come up with a judgment. This wouldn’t avoid any subsequent litigation, but would share the workload and provide more transparency. But then the peers would need some kind of reassurance that they wouldn’t be embroiled in the subsequent legal penalties.
I certainly praise Adeo Ressi for his bravery and desire to level the playing field and bring justice for his mentees. And maybe the best result we can hope for out of this is that it inspires someone to stand on his shoulders and elegantly solve problems that exist in the Version 1.0.
Keep an eye on the field of Reputation Management – big prizes available for those who get it right.