July Notes

I’m the majority shareholder and CEO of a small but global company. That gives me some degree of authority and influence over roughly 40 people (Blueliner’s staff or as I prefer to call them, “The Blueliner Family”) in three countries. If you work the network effect from there, and assume each of these people has direct influence over at least 5 people (their close family and friends), that circle grows to 200. A couple of degrees out from there, and we’re into the mid-thousands. The point is this – with leadership, comes responsibility and opportunity to influence others. At least I see it as a responsibility; others may not. What we do with that opportunity, to a large part, defines our character. They say that to find out who someone really is, give them power and see what they do with it.

On that note, I’ve been struggling for a long time with the whole setup of free markets and how the concept seems toclash with ethics and the greater good for a society, and the world at large. The free market concept basically presumes – “if people consume it, then there’s a market and suppliers should compete to provide it (whatever IT may be).” A lot of products may be up for debate as to whether they are truly good for people and society. I do believe that most things in moderation are alright for us – but who am I to judge? Where this bothers me the most is in the category called “vices”, which is comprised of cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, military arms and guns, pornography and gambling. I simply have a hard time getting myself motivated to work on behalf of these industries. Does it matter whether I do or not? Obviously, there is good money to be made and someone is going to snag the business; already, the marketing machines behind these industries are vast and well-developed. They could really care less about some small agency’s CEO running around on his high horse. For me, it’s not about them – it’s about me, and the small but significant circle of influence that I do have. If I say “no to vices clients”, then it sends a message to the Blueliner Family and their families, and so on. Plus, I can sleep better at night, knowing that, while we are in a business that plays on consumer psychology attempting to influence people through all kinds of messaging, we’re at least not contributing to the influence of people towards what I consider negative and detrimental products.

“Business is business” so they say. “It’s tough out there. You can’t turn away a major category of opportunity.” Well, yes I can. This is one of the reasons that I decided to start my own companies 15+ years back; I don’t care for the politics or bureaucracy of debating such issues that in my mind are very clear cut. There is other business to be won. We’ll turn our attention elsewhere with the confidence in our hearts that we do stand for something.

Do you know anyone who has gotten terminal lung cancer? How about someone who died in a drunken driving accident? Gone to rehab for drug addiction? Lost thousands of hard-earned dollars or gone in to debt gambling? Been killed by guns, missiles, rockets or bombs – on the streets or in the battlefield? I do, all of the above. The thought of promoting any of the products that are directly responsible for preying on human weakness and abetting these tragedies is one that I cannot consciously accept. Even under the financial pressure of growing a global business across several countries, I have decided that Blueliner will stand for something. We will not support the vices category of business.

While I have always held these views, and rejected many lucrative offers to enter the vices business before – predominantly porn and gambling web design and internet marketing offers – I have never issued a formal statement. What prompted this statement was a recent meeting, a few weeks back, that I will recall for you. So I was sitting in a meeting with two of my colleagues at a major tobacco company’s headquarters – name withheld for confidentiality purposes – and left with a splitting headache. The room smelled like smoke. It was like a scene from Devil’s Advocate. “There’s a lot of money to be made here” I thought. As soon as we walked out, I started chuckling and looked over to Arbab while we shook our heads. “No way” I thought, “I don’t want this account.”

Porn is the #1 business on the Internet. Gambling is the #2 business on the web. We’re walking away from both of those “opportunities” because this opportunity – the responsibility that I feel as a leader of a small but important group of people – is one that I don’t want to miss. I strive to be a conscious and ethical business man, and hope to encourage others to be the same. The footprint that we leave in our career path and our lives does matter. The marketplace offers many, many opportunities to earn a good living while also doing what’s right and productive for society. And there are consequences to our actions, whether we like to believe it or not, whether we feel it now or later, whether or not we can connect the karmic dots. This marketer has gone through the internal conflicts and is now drawing a clear line in the sand. Every day, I’ll continue to monitor this line and see what I believe belongs on the right and wrong side of it. From this process, the intention is created which will attract companies that we feel good about, who feel good about us, and that we can put our SEO, Social Media, Web Design and Web Development skills to work for.