Stiffing The Hand That Feeds You
This morning on NPR an article came up about some guy who was against the American Revolution, but because he was in America and the rest of the people wanted their independence, he went along with the rest of the group. He was a merchant who relied on his reputation to do business with companies and individuals overseas. He risked everything to do what he could to help finance the revolutionary war. I forget his name. It would be easy enough to lookup. But I’m at work and it’s just not that important to what I want to say.
As a merchant, this guy had to work with other people around the world to conduct business. Whatever commodity he specialized in, he exchanged it for other commodities that other people specialized in. This was truly amazing because when somebody was shipping a commodity across the globe, they could go months, even years before they would get payment. And there wasn’t a repossession mechanism in place if somebody decided to stiff you. You couldn’t get on the phone and call your credit card company to bitch about not getting a payment. You were totally depending on somebody else’s sense of integrity to stay in business.
Just imagine operating with that kind of business model these days. Just imagine what would happen if Wal-Mart or Target letting customers take goods with the promise to pay later. Chances are pretty good that the company so loose with its credit policy would be out of business in hours if not minutes. Unfortunately, not enough people have that kind of honor these days. Too many people don’t have anything close to integrity or anything else like it.
I was recently reminded of this fact with the little startup I started with my misses. Trying to get a software consulting business started the vast majority of our business is with people in different states and in different countries. So far, my little company’s managed to get a little more than a dozen customers in two months. One customer didn’t have the funds to pay for the software that was designed, and so we agreed to a payment plan. They put half the money down, and would submit two payments over the next two months.
After using the software for about a month, the customer wanted to update the software with a couple of small changes that ran about a hundred dollars. We made the changes and sent a new version of the software to the customer. This happened just the past weekend, a few days after their first payment was due. The customer got the updated software and skipped without so much as a “sayonara” for our troubles.
It really bummed me out that the customer wanted to stiff us like that. We worked hard to design a custom software solution that worked above and beyond what they were asking for. Forgive me for trying to break my arm as I pay ourselves on the back, but we did one hell of a job getting the software to work the way it does. In the end, they made the choice to build their business around the software. We googled this customer’s business name and went to their website. We were surprised to see that these people put reports generated by our software on their website as they marketed themselves to gain their own customers. And they are stiffing us.
At least they are trying to stiff us. With all the things this software does for the customer, one feature they didn’t count on was a kill switch embedded in its software. In a couple of weeks, the software will prompt the customer for a payment authorization code. It’s a hardcoded trigger that will be activated on a certain date. Without the code, the software will not operate and becomes useless. If they built their business around our software, their business will be shut down.
I don’t relish shutting a customer down. These people are a brand new startup just like us. We should be helping each other. But like many people these days, their sense of integrity isn’t all that. And unfortunately for them, my sense of trust isn’t what it should be either.