When Gary and I had our fashion brands, our company strengths lay in our ability to create innovative and unique strategies both in design and marketing.
Since our showroom was connected to the offices of our finance company, there were constantly clients and competitors in our office, and we had to be careful about what was lying around or in open view. As it turned out, we needed to be a bit more careful than just that…
Note: This post is the first of many posts in the category of this blog entitled, what not to do in business . After reading this post, if you want to read more posts in this category please click the link and it will take you to all of the articles in that section.
Back to the story…
Opening The Door To The Competition
Both the art computer and my personal computer had all the future designs and layouts we had planned for the upcoming seasons. Every night before I left the office, I would shut off the computer and close my door just to make sure no one would snoop around or look at anything that I did not want anyone to see.
As a few seasons went by, I started to notice that some of our designs and advertising ideas would spring up from our competitors. I suspected it was beyond coincidence, as many of these ideas were way too far out there for our competitors to think of.
One day, I saw a business prospectus lying on the desk of the head of the sales organization that represented our brand. I picked it up and read the first page, and then the second, then the third. It was nearly a word for word copy of our company business prospectus, which had taken Gary and I a very long time to complete. Sixty plus pages on market conditions, financial projections, management requirements, selling tactics, public relations efforts, you name it… I remember thinking, ‘how the he** did he get an entire copy of my business prospectus?’ Even if he had stolen a physical copy, it was way too intricate to retype and format as the the name of the principals and the name of the brand had been replaced with the name of a competitor of ours. Some how and in some way, he had gotten a hold of the file digitally. How I hadn’t a clue.
Keep Your Friends Close And Your Enemies Closer
First and most importantly, understand that the people that work for, with, and around you will, more often than not, eventually move on to the next opportunity. Because of this, you have to be very careful about the people with whom you are closest as your deepest company secrets can turn into public knowledge in a matter of seconds.
If you are a lover of The Godfather (which I very much hope you are) you will remember when Marlon Brando, playing the part of Don Corleone utters the words, “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” That line in itself tells us to keep our eyes on everyone, friend or foe. Fortunately or unfortunately, entrepreneurs need to be a bit paranoid about things as friends can very often turn into enemies (or competitors) for a variety of reasons. I have found, most of the time it is due to ambition or greed.
Here’s the thing: I don’t blame the person who has ambition. If I am dumb enough to give someone enough information that it can be used against me, well, that’s on me. No matter how great you are as an employer, unless you own the company, a person will always be open for a bigger and better opportunity as, most of the time he or she wants to be the owner one day, just like you. That is ambition. Greed, on the other hand, I don’t like. I have learned to expect it, but I still don’t like it.
In this example, I had entrusted someone who represented both my company as well as a competitor (whose brand name was in the business plan I found). As it turned out, unbeknownst to me, when I left the office he would go into my computer from time to time and get information and give it to the other company (my competitor). This is how my competitor got all my information. I hadn’t done anything different from the norm, as it was common for sales reps to represent similar brands as they have the same distribution channels (which is why you hire them). What I didn’t take into account is that he would leverage my company’s private information to negotiate better terms with this other company.
One of the most common business mistakes entrepreneurs make in business is the lack of protecting proprietary information that can easily be used against them. So here’s a few tips that I do now to prevent this from happening:
1) Set a password for your computer so that only you can enter your hard drive after you shut it down… and don’t tell a soul what the password is.
2) Set another password for your screensaver and set your screensaver to thirty seconds, no matter how many times you have to type in your password throughout the day.
3) Take any flash or external drives and take them home or lock them up so they can’t be put into another computer.
As it turned out, he had stolen my customer list as well, and sold it to my competitor. I guess I should have watched The Godfather more often…
Have a great day!
The following is an excerpt from How To Ruin A Business Without Really Trying… To receive complimentary chapters, sign up at the top right of the page to get a download link. For more information about the book Click Here