Ethics has become a core element of most business schools, either as courses, majors, or strategic thrusts. But in almost all these cases, the context tends to skew towards big business. What rarely ever gets discussed – never mind being the basis of a full course – is ethics in the context of entrepreneurship.
In fact, as a topic it rarely gets discussed even in the startup community. We do share stories of unethical activities and practices: entrepreneurs or startups who don’t pay employees, steal I.P., screw co-founders, fudge the numbers, back out of deals, etc. But we rarely have a larger discussion about ethics in entrepreneurship.
I wonder how much of it is due to entrepreneurship’s major distinction from big business: it’s personal. Startups are built with our ideas, our money, our souls. As entrepreneurs, we own the legal entities behind the businesses. The companies are extensions of our personalities, our preferences, and our principles.
And this distinction – that it’s personal – might make the conversation uncomfortable. After all, it’s easier to talk about a business entity than an individual person. But that doesn’t let us off the hook. On the contrary, it raises the bar.
By virtue of simply what we do, entrepreneurs and founders are leaders. We set examples not only for our teams but our industries, communities, and peers. We are expected to solve the world’s problems and fix economies. We have a responsibility to the millions of young people today who dream of being entrepreneurs. And we have a responsibility to ourselves.
As entrepreneurs, our egos are important. And one factor that drives our ego is our reputation, which isn’t based on equity ownership, profit distribution, or acquisition prices. Instead, our reputation is based on integrity and character.
And the more we discuss ethics, the more attention we will pay to those matters.