Implied Suspicion vs. Implied Trust

I just had an exchange with an entrepreneur that I don't know. It went something like the following via several emails over the course of a week.

Entrepreneur: I'm working on something really amazing that I'm looking for funding for. Can we get together to discuss?

Me: Can you send me a short email overview so I can tell you whether or not it's something we'd be interested in exploring? I don't want to waste your time if it's not.

Entrepreneur: I'd much rather get together face to face.

Me:Can you send me a short email overview so I can tell you whether or not it's something we'd be interested in exploring? I don't want to waste your time if it's not.

Entrepreneur: My idea is special. Will you sign an NDA first?

Me: I don't sign NDA's. If you are unwilling to send me a short overview that you are comfortable sharing, then I don't think I'm a good target for you.

<time passes>

Entrepreneur: Following is an email describing my idea. Since you won't sign an NDA, you agree that by reading beyond this paragraph you are agreeing not to share my idea with anyone, forward this email to anyone, or discuss the idea without my consent.

Me: I have not read past the end of the first paragraph ("<paragraph copied>"). I have permanently deleted this email from my inbox.

Entrepreneur: Why aren't you willing to read my email?

Me: I'm unwilling to have an implied NDA applied to me via your email. You seem to be operating from a perspective of "implied suspicion." I don't work this way — I much prefer to operate from a perspective of "implied trust." Since you clearly don't trust that I'll behave responsibly, then I don't think I'm a good match for working with you.

I've written about my "fuck me once" rule in the past. In the book Do More Faster, I have a chapter about this — Wiley made me change the title to "Two Strikes and You Are Out" but the rule is the same. I enter every new relationship from the perspective of implied trust and allow this trust to be violated once (where it's my responsibility to bring up and address the violation.) If there's a second violation of trust, I'm done with the relationship.

I've generally decided not to engage in new relationships with people that approach things from a perspective of "implied suspicion." Yes, I know there are plenty of people in the world that behave badly, but I try really hard not to be one of them and when I do, I own my bad behavior, apologize, resolve things, and try to learn from the situation. It's easy to find out about me (both the good and the bad) if you are concerned about starting a relationship from a position of "implied trust" and — if you are interested in a relationship and unwilling to do the prep work to start from this perspective, I don't really know what else to do other than disengage.

I spent some time thinking about whether this was an inappropriate, arrogant, or naive position from my perspective and decided it's not. I'm already completely maxed on "new relationships" so setting a certain type of expectation for the entry into a new relationship (namely one of "implied trust") helps filter out relationships with people who I likely won't connect with anyway since they have a 180-degree difference in their view of how to approach a new relationship.

I know there is an enormous amount of noise around the system about "how to protect your idea" and "how VCs behave around your idea" although in my experience the noise is completely disconnected from (and much louder than) the actual signal. I'm curious what entrepreneurs think about this in the context of a first engagement with a potential VC investor that they don't know.

Reprinted from Feld Thoughts

Brad Feld is a managing director at Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. He invests in software and Internet companies around the U.S., runs marathons, and reads a lot. Follow him at twitter.com/bfeld.

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