Betrayal…Straight up F#$%ing Betrayal
The antithesis of trust — the very fabric of humanity.
So the past 2mths have been an interesting ride.
I went from being the CEO of the company I founded, to being ousted, then ripped off and forced to watch everything I built over 2yrs torn apart — all whilst being led on by a lying little fuck posing as my ‘friend’.
This ‘experience’ just gave me a little fire to write & explore this concept of trust…
Betrayal & Trust…
Our very social fabric is built on the concept of “trust”. In fact, it’s been proven that trust (in shared fictions) is one of the key factors in how modern humans (homo-sapiens) came to be the dominant species on Earth.
Well — the ability to mutually conceptualise something that is fictional is unique to our species. I don’t mean lying, because monkeys and other animals have been proven to be able to lie — I’m talking about the ability to conceptualise, believe & agree upon something like a religion, a corporate constitution, laws, nationality, rules or that; “the lion is the spirit guardian of our tribe” (credit: Yuval Noah Harari).
This allows our species to create complex social structures that no other species can. Let me explain a little further:
To build a tribe or social structure, trust must exist. Now, for species that are not human (or more correctly; not homo-sapien), Orangutang’s for example, they build trust through personal connection. They need to interact, touch, see, smell, each other. In fact, it was the same with prehistoric humans (even early homo-sapiens > 70,000yrs ago).
Now; the techical maximum for the personal connections is 150. It’s the same for most tribal / social creatures & in fact it’s why you see maximums in Ape tribes, and remains the same for us modern humans (with respect to maximum personal connections).
So, if ‘personal connection’ is the pre-requisite for trust, and social constructs are built on trust, how the hell were we able to build farms, buildings, cities, countries, religions, businesses, etc if 150 is the maximum?
That’s where shared fictions come in. We’re able to conceptualise then mutually believe in things that we agree to be “real” for the purpose of creating trust.
It’s how two Russians who’ve never met, can instantly have a base level of trust in order to communicate (nationality). It’s how two people from different companies (tribes) on different sides of the planet can do business (contract), and how thousands of Christians who’ve never met can go pray together at some place in Italy called the Vatican (religion).
They’re all fictitious concepts, but because they’re shared, and believed in, they create a social fabric which we can trust & operate within.
So anyway — I hope that rant gives a bit of background as to why trust is a pretty important thing. It’s basically the fabric of what makes us human — and maybe that’s why betrayal hurts so much…
But what happens when trust is broken?
It’s an ugly feeling. It feels like the very humanity in the person / people you trusted just disappears, and depending on how much trust there was before it can be gut-wrenching; it actually does hurt.
We call it by many names; betrayal, lies, stabbed in the back, deceit, etc.
All my life I’ve been overly trusting. I’ve had business partners steal from me, I’ve had suppliers go bust owing me millions, I’ve had people who I’d helped turn their backs on me when I needed them, and most recently I’ve had a greedy board take over a company only to drive it into the ground & go pheonix into a new entity all to avoid giving the original team & founders their fair share. I’ve seen it all. My reaction to it all?
Definitely hurt, for a few days, anger, I lost faith in humanity, but, ultimately I stopped feeling sorry for myself and made a come back.
In each experience, the important things are the lessons I’ve gleaned, which I’ll try to distill here (at least in a business context):
- Selection is paramount.
Before you enter into a relationship of any sort, you should really explore each other. This actually comes in 2parts:
a) An alignment of values is crucial. If you’re not aligned, you will ultimately move in different directions — which if you don’t have some sort of written contract will most probably wind up in a break down of the invisible social contact you share.
b) The RIGHT values for what you’re doing is next. For example, if you’re a fast growing business & are in the start up stage where paperwork & contracts are slowing shit down, then you MUST ONLY involve people who value trust extremely highly. Trust (and loyalty) above success, above power, above significance, above most things in fact. If you have the time to set up foundations and paperwork, then you can go bring on the sharks knowing you have your ass covered.
This ties back into the above. In business, the larger you grow, the less you can rely on the invisible ‘social’ trust frameworks because the values alignment between all your people is impossible to maintain, unless you want robots, which you don’t! You need to have diversity in people’s personality, their values, etc.
So as you grow, the only way to maintain trust is to begin to put more visible (eg; written) contracts in place; which can come in many forms, from the obvious employment contracts, to rules of engagement, handbooks, etc.
3. Finally, It’s all a spectrum.
There is no right or wrong answer. You need to pick the right mix for where you’re at. If you’re starting with friends/family, aside from the usual headache you get with them, you can generally assume they’re not out to get you (although I have seen it).
If you’re bringing experienced sharks on (which I did) then you need to get your contracts sorted & cover your ass. There’s a time for niceties & that’s not contractual paperwork.
For a little context; where did I go wrong?
Probably a blend of both.
With the timing, I guess we were growing pretty fast — and I should’ve put some time in earlier on to solidify the shareholder agreements & my rights as CEO, the rights of the team, etc. Had I had this in place, it would’ve been more difficult for them to have the influence they had over the other innocent investors & the bullshit they fed them to pull this off. In saying that, we were still an organisation with less than 30 people total (board & investors included) so based on that, I would say it was more an error in selection.
More importantly though, some of the people who I kept close to me were poorly selected. I was too focused on raising the capital we needed to fund the business than I was with being selective about the kind of people I brought into the company. Had I brought a couple of them on a little later on in the piece perhaps things would’ve been different.
But so it goes, and as with all experiences, the value found in reflection.
Don’t Trust Anybody
I’ll make a quick note here. In some business books, or street smart guides, you’ll hear people talk about “DTA”. That’s all well & good if you want to be a lonely mofo, but it’s neither a very useful general belief in life, nor does it require much courage on your part.
People who live with that attitude wind up alone, bitter, cold, judgmental, paranoid, or something related to those.
So my 2c on DTA? It’s bullshit and it’s piss weak. I could go ahead & do that in my life. I have enough references to say that everyone is fucked & I shouldn’t trust anyone; but that’s a limited view of the world and it puts the responsibility outside of me.
To build & grow anything in life, you need to have trust. It’s fundamental. Trust is always a 2 way street, and although it may take time to develop, it needs to start from somewhere, & the person to go first is the one who has the courage to do so.
I hope the lessons above help you ‘manage the process’ a little better, but don’t give up on trust; you’ll always need it ;)
Investors, founders, team members, your board & everyone involved will never be 100% aligned — but what’s super important is your role in the initial selection process, following which keeping an open, honest communication is paramount. If this becomes a 1-way street, it’s going to end in tears, so you either need to solve that or move onto something new (depending on how intertwined everyone & everything is).
Hope that helps!
**Note** The information in the body was inspired by Yuval Noah Harari’s book; Homo-Sapiens. If you haven’t read that book yet — GO READ IT!