Why Startup Founders Fail: They Won’t Screw People Over

You’re going to come face to face with ethical choices and you need to be prepared

Joe Procopio


image by borjandreu

When I was seven years old, I sucker-punched a bully.

He wanted something I had, and he demanded it from me. I said no. Then he did that thing where he puffed himself up and got in my face to intimidate me. I was staring at his feet the whole time, but then, without thinking, I reared back and hit him in the stomach as hard as I could. He went down like a bag of hammers.

I had never done anything like that. And I felt absolutely great about it.

I received the spoils of my victory. I got left alone. So did a few other people, but I didn’t care about them and they didn’t give me any credit. Life is not a Disney movie.

I also got into a world of trouble for it. Teachers, parents, and other figures of authority immediately stepped in and started screaming at me and grounding me. There were no winks and no nudges.

Life is not a Disney movie.

But I’m glad it happened that way, because I soon felt horrible about it. And that would go on to shape who I became.

Unfortunately, the person I became isn’t as successful as the person I might have become.

Because I’m not OK with screwing people over.

That is to my detriment. And I’ve accepted it.

Look, I’m no saint. I’m not trying to tell you which side of the ethical fence you should live on. I’m just trying to remind you that you will eventually and frequently come face to face with having to make an ethical sacrifice in order to succeed. And if you’re not prepared to make the right decision — sometimes on the spot — you’ll be inclined to make the wrong one for you.

This cuts both ways. For every two decisions I’ve made to keep myself on the clean side of the ethical fence, I’ve made one that kept me from rightfully getting ahead — for no good reason. In other words, I’ve definitely thrown hurdles in my own way based on my own stupid prudence.

In a discussion with a mentor just last week, we were talking about a specific business model and how far up to…



Joe Procopio

I'm a multi-exit, multi-failure entrepreneur. NLG pioneer. Building TeachingStartup.com & GROWERS. Write at Inc.com and BuiltIn.com. More at joeprocopio.com