Trust in Silicon Valley

If we want the world to trust us to deliver transformative products, we need to be able to trust each other. Deceptive dealings with fellow entrepreneurs diminishes that trust.

Recently, two fellow entrepreneurs each recounted a story of a notable advisor blatantly poaching their plans. These separate stories made me reflect on the important role trust plays in our startup ecosystem.

These were not instances of one person telling another “I have a great idea: AirBNB for mongooses” and then the other person builds AirBNB for a more viable pet demographic.

This is about two seasoned entrepreneurs with articles in TechCrunch, speaking engagements, and retweets galore deceiving two younger entrepreneurs by not being open with their intentions when reviewing detailed product plans and strategies as trusted confidantes.

Basic ethics
Don’t advise a startup that is about to be a direct competitor. Don’t review product specifications when you plan to release a nearly identical product in a short matter of time.

Don’t break our trust like that.

To be sure, success follows execution,. An idea alone is not a recipe for success — vision, team, market, resources, timing, momentum, and a bit of luck are essential ingredients, too. An idea is a sapling, which could grow to become a magnificent forest or wilt and disappear.

But a blatant disregard of the trust placed in you, a seasoned, well-connected, VC-backed entrepreneur by a first-time, up-and-coming founder is a blatant disregard of all of us who labor each day to use a bit of technology to make a positive difference in people’s lives.

Why we’re here
Silicon Valley is the innovation capital of the world.

We come here to dream big. Our very ability to innovate stems from an openness that encourages idea mashups, collaboration, competition, tinkering, sharing, and boldness.

Which, in turn, relies on trust.
less trust → less openness → less innovation → less Silicon Valley

We live in an ecosystem where trust and helpfulness are the norms. If you ask a seasoned entrepreneur or VC to sign an NDA, the only question is how they will say “no”: matter-of-fact, patiently, or explanatory. In practice, an NDA = Nothing to Do with Accountability.

For the very reason that we embrace a culture of openness, we must expect each other to maintain a basic code of ethics in our dealings with users and each other. Those of us who hear a lot of startup ideas earn that privilege because our fellow entrepreneurs have faith in us to help them realize their dreams.

5 ingredients for a basic trust
At a minimum:
1. we act with integrity;
2. we attribute to others when deserved;
3. we err on the side of forthrightness;
4. we are candid about potential conflicts of interest; and
5. we don’t go around “screwing” each other.

Silicon Valley depends on trust; any breach of that trust hurts all of us. No TechCrunch article is worth that.