Can An IT Business Succeed Ethically?


I have (no comments, please) almost 20 years in the IT field, if you count the year I spent hawking software at Egghead Software.  More if you count my first job, mailing out 5 1/4 floppies for a guy in Encinitas who sold shareware.  I was paid in illegal copies of games.   I tend to lean liberal, and along the way, took note of business practices in the IT field that I didn’t approve of, and swore I would never repeat if I started my own firm.

Among them – the time honored Reseller traditions of:

  • Take a Freaky Smart Guy out to the client for the sales pitch, then send out the New Guy when there’s work to be done.
  • Regardless of what the client asks for, you’re an expert in it.  Sharepoint? Sure. VoIP? Sure!  Camel Hoofing? You bet!
  • Upscale every solution item – need a simple file server?  Here’s a $50,000 fully redundant solution we know you’ll never buy, but it’ll make you feel happy when you wind up spending only $25,000, which is 10K more than you needed to spend.

I could go on and on, but you get the drift.  When I started Flying Buttress, I was terrified of two things – of Failure, of course, but also of the fear that in order to succeed, I’d have to compromise my principles.  That the IT solutions business is a zero-sum game, with one winner and one loser in every transaction.

Every Reseller you meet will use the phrase “We want to be your Partner”.  I never met one who really acted like it when the chips were down.  At some point, the overhead from salaries becomes a revenue-eating monster, which can only be fed by new clients and new projects.

I don’t want to be a firm’s Partner.  I want to be a tool they use to get the job done or fill a need – whatever it is – and get the hell out of the way so they can get back to doing Design.  But out there, in the world, every Reseller I’ve ever met has business practices that I don’t approve of.  And I wonder: are they like that because they *need* to be, just to survive?  Or are they greedy?  If they *need* to be to survive, then I should shutter Flying Buttress right now, and save myself some trouble.  If they’re just greedy – then I’m safe.

And that goes for the people who work for FB, as well.  Don’t pay them the minimum you *can* pay them – pay them what you think is fair.  As the business does well, let the rising sea lift all the ships.  Do what you can to make sure they’re in as much of a healthy, stress-free environment as one can be in with IT.  People first, profits second.  Always.

Because if it means that I can provide an excellent service to firms that need it, and employ people at a livable wage, with 10% profit ethically versus 30% doing business slightly shadily – I’ll take the 10% and the ability to sleep at night, thank you.