What are your moral limits in a new business?


Everyone has their own moral compass... Some sell weapons in war-zones, while others think that selling candy is a bad thing because of cavities, diabetes and obesity...

Where do you draw the line?

If you had a video streaming website, would you allow users to load pornography and limit the viewing to people over 18 (the legal requirement) or would you block that? Is it a question of morals, or a business decision?

There are many more scenarios, from selling cigarettes and alcohol to a product or services that causes pollution... So where do you draw the line?


asked Nov 8 '09 at 05:34
Ron Ga
2,181 points

5 Answers


In a general sense (and especially as applied to your question), morality is highly personal and subjective. And not only that, but it changes all the time. What you think is immoral today ("charing customers for customer service") will inevitably shift as your situation and personal beliefs change.

If you ask Richard Stallman, non-free software is "a crime against humanity." Heck, even associating with propietry vendors is imoral and, those who do, are traitors to the movement. Communitists say the same thing about the profit. My point being that, no matter what you do, someone will tell you that you're being immoral.

Instead of figuring out where your (or anyone else's) "moral limits" are, you need to be prepared and feel confident that you can handle those "on the edge" descisions. Situations will come up that will break your moral rules, and sometimes that's okay : you've been wrong about other things before, and it's possible that your rule was wrong.

Most importantly, don't publicize your moral limits. It offers almost no benefit because basically no one really cares that you "are always green" or "will never do business with military contractors". Worse, it pigeonholes you into a (probably stupid) position that you will want to get out of.

Remember that "Straight Edge" thing that kids were doing back in the early 90's? It was like a lifetime commitment to no drinking, no sex, no meat, and other stupid counter-culture crap. Some teens were so into Straight Edge that they got big-ass tattoos on their arms and legs. Now just think of how embarassing that has to be today, as an adult, while they're out enjoying a steak and a glass of wine with some friends.

And if you feel the need to absolutely positively tell everyone how moral you are, then use completely vague and meaningless statements like "do no evil". It'll reel in the "ooh wow, they're a moral company" suckers and not prevent you from making tough decisions.

answered Nov 8 '09 at 07:07
Alex Papadimoulis
5,901 points


Never violate your conscience.

Whatever your moral compass, it's vital to maintain integration of who you are. The idea we can separate our 'personal' morality from our professional decisions is a myth. Sanity, integrity, and longevity can only be maintained if you function as a whole person. This demands your business decisions to be rooted in your own sense of integrity. Over time it'll make you respected as a person and successful in life.

answered Nov 8 '09 at 08:09
Keith De Long
5,091 points


Your morals will decide the business decisions, otherwise you will be conflicted and your passion will be drained, from the endeavor.

So, as you build the culture you need to decide what type of values will be the driving force in the company, and ensure that that is built into every decision and rule, that you be consistent, otherwise you will have problems where employees will need to make decisions and it is unknown which values they should follow, the written one or the one they think you follow, and the company may be in hot water.

I so often see where companies state one set of values, but in their day-to-day business you see a different dynamic.

For me, I am a big proponent of personal privacy, so I would never release the information of anyone, even if that means that all the logs have to be encrypted and the public key is split amongst several people, most outside of the US, so that the authorities can't force me to give them the unencrypted data, as I don't have the key, and they can't force those with the key to give up their part.

So, every decision should be based on ensuring the protection of the individual's privacy, within the legal limits, so, if the authorities wanted I can give them the encrypted data, and if the NSA can break it, more power to them. :)

answered Nov 8 '09 at 07:14
James Black
2,642 points


My moral crisis begins when you ask me to sign some kind of non-compete agreement, especially when bringing me on as a 'key player'. If you want to cut me a check for $500k, to replace what I could have made had I not met you, feel free :)

Otherwise, the standard NDA will work, thanks.

Lesson learned: Your company will not be as successful as you hoped, you will likely make a plethora of bad decisions without listening to me and I can't be encumbered to go down with your highly unproven ship for a period of (xx) years.

Well, you asked.

answered Nov 8 '09 at 05:50
Tim Post
633 points
  • I was referring to moral or immoral business plans... Signing an NDA is not the moral dilemma I was thinking about... I have had instances where friends asked me to sign NDAs before asking me for advice regarding their start-up ideas, and I didn't sign, so in some cases they asked for advice anyway, and in another case they didn't... Either way, there is no moral dilemma there the way I see it. – Ron Ga 14 years ago


I agree with the others here that you should not take actions that violate your conscience. Whether it is a new business or an established one, stay true to your ideals.

You're already giving up a lot to start a business: A steady paycheck, reasonable working hours, etc. But you don't have to give up your integrity.

answered Nov 8 '09 at 08:58
D Thrasher
894 points

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