Last Thursday, as I travelled to Toronto for an industry event about the legislative changes at the root of our Ontario Construction News project, I received a call from one of my colleagues with some painful news.
We had managed to successfully engineer the Ontario Construction News’ launch, ending a 30-year legal notice publishing monopoly by another organization, and had just reached a critical milestone: Sustainable profitability with a solid core of repeat clients.
However, as I found a quiet space outside the conference centre meeting room, I learned that someone we had considered hiring as an editor had gone behind our back, and encouraged a group of industry organizations to add a “daily construction newspaper” to their planned new service — and they were launching a competitive product that, on the surface, would be cheaper to manage, while offering a lower price and faster service to clients.
In other words, looking at the initiative, it looked like he had taken our proprietary information and engineered a formidable competitor.
We hadn’t insisted on non-disclosure agreements in conversing with the individual, so he felt free to go ahead and plot his scheme. At best, he betrayed our trust.
Painful news, indeed.
Then I went to work on solving the problem.
I can’t tell you what we are doing in a public forum — if anything I’ve been reminded you should keep future business operations under wraps until you are really ready for everyone (including competitors) to know about them, but they combine a number of simple and creative steps, some that will be implemented quickly, and others that will take more time or will be held in reserve for “springing” when necessary.
I counted my blessings. We had indeed pulled off a start-up and created a viable business with solid risk management and effective product delivery. And in the days since the news, our clients continue to purchase our services, creating healthy cash flow and profitability.
Yes, in hindsight I realize I should have been firmer about NDAs and controlling the flow of information but I’m not sure if I want to create a business environment where trust must always give way to suspicion.