Jul 10 2012

The Tension of Confidentiality

I’m a huge believer in TAGFEE. But I also respect confidentiality. Every company approaches this differently and it’s important to recognize which context you are in. Following is an example from an email I got (on the all@ list) from a company I’m on the board of (and yes – I checked to make sure I could post this.)

You know what they say about flattery, right? That’s an idea worth keeping in mind when someone is talking to you about what we’re doing here at as friendly compliments and questions mask an effort to obtain confidential info.

We’ve talked as a group about this frequently, but it merits another mention because we’ve seen a marked increase in the number of people that have various approached members of the team with questions that quickly get to the heart of our core technology. They pay compliments, they smile, they flatter, etc., but they’re looking to understand details that should never be discussed with outsiders, even if there is a NDA in place. As is often the case with being at a hot tech company that’s pushing the envelope on various fronts, it’s a double-edged sword. We’re doing cool stuff and people love it, but some of the attention we can do without.

So, another reminder–be wary and keep what we’re doing in house. If you’re in doubt about how to answer sensitive questions, it’s easy–don’t answer. Instead, ask for their contacts and forward them on to me.

I’m seeing this more and more from all directions. The most challenging are from VCs who have a competitive investment – it never surprises me how shameless some are about milking entrepreneurs about what they are up to when the VC has zero intention of investing. It’s also pervasive with journalists and tech bloggers who are always looking for a scoop and an angle. It’s always been something big tech companies do with startups in the guise of “business development”, but I’ve seen a few situations recently which clearly crossed a line of “wow – that wasn’t appropriate.”

So – be careful out there. Respect the power of TAGFEE but also respect when things should be kept confidential. And remember that most people out there will be asymmetric with information if you let them, especially if they use this information in their line of work.