What Happened To Honesty And Integrity? A Code Of Conduct For Startups

(This article originally appeared on Forbes.)

Back when I started my first company in the 90′s dot-com boom (turned dot-com bust), there were bad actors everywhere in the startup ecosystem.

With so much wealth being created, people entered the ecosystem in droves, and the lines between right and wrong were blurred. It was truly like the “Wild West”. Dishonesty and backstabbing were the norm, and the perpetrators were rarely held accountable for their actions.

But things have changed.

If you think about it, the global startup ecosystem is very small. Sure, there are a lot of companies being created every year, but there are really only a few thousand major venture capitalists, law firms, banks, journalists, and other organizations that focus exclusively on startups. Whether you are first-time entrepreneur building an app in Asia or an industry veteran starting a venture capital fund in Silicon Valley, your “playing field” will still include many of the same circles of people.

The startup ecosystem is truly global now, and as Brad Feld has stated in his book Startup Communities, the bad actors get weeded out of startup ecosystems very quickly. In today’s global startup ecosystem, people that are dishonest and lack integrity are held accountable in relatively short order, and their longevity in the ecosystem is typically short.

More importantly, if many people in the world look up to Silicon Valley and the startup ecosystem as a hub of innovation, then isn’t it our duty to hold ourselves to a high ethical standard?

Silicon Valley was founded from a pursuit of tackling globally important problems, and it grew from a cooperative pursuit of growth. Silicon Valley didn’t grow by taking other people’s wealth – it grew by creating new technologies, new markets, and new opportunities for wealth.

Entrepreneurship is not a zero-sum game. Somebody doesn’t have to lose in order for you to win.

Zero-sum actions that are dishonest and lack of integrity are truly antithetical to the ideals of “Silicon Valley”.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen these types of actions more often than not lately (both from the countless tech scandals well covered in the news, and in recent experiences where I’ve been on the wrong end of dishonest behavior). I truly believe that startups are headed down a dark hole of ethics, and if we don’t correct ourselves, we run the risk of losing the Silicon Valley ethos and devolving into a strictly bottom-line industry like Wall Street.