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hyveeBelow you’ll find an unedited chapter from my upcoming book 40 Rules for Internet Business Success. To receive updates about the book and get a free digital copy of my book in its current form, enter your email address in the sidebar to the right.

When you’re building a business, you are going to face ethical quandaries about what’s good, moral and ethical to do and what’s not. Certainly, you have to follow the law and adhere to any contracts that you may have signed. However, the question of what’s right and what’s legal are often two very different things. There are moves that you can make in business that no one will ever sue you for, but you probably shouldn’t do them anyway because you’re going to wreck a relationship in the process. My good friend Deane Barker eloquently referred to this as “The Supermarket Rule.” If you’re ever going to do something in business that will sour a relationship in such a way that causes you to turn the other way when you see someone in the supermarket, just don’t do it. While succeeding in business is important, you shouldn’t build your business at the expense of a series of broken relationships.

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You might have a friend that’s developed a solid business idea. While there’s nothing legally preventing you from copying his or her business idea, it’s probably not a good idea. While you may succeed using their business model, you’re all but certain to ruin your friendship. You might legally be able to cut a business associate out of a deal to get more money for yourself, but it’s a bad idea because you’re likely going to irreparably sour that relationship. You might be able set out on your own and take a bunch of your former employer’s clients if you haven’t signed a non-compete, but that’s not always the best idea either. You’ll ruin your relationship with your former employer and those types of things tend to get out to others in your industry as well.

A Short Story…

There was a very good public example of breaking The Supermarket Rule a few years back. Leo Laporte had built a network of technology podcasts called the Twit Network (www.twit.tv). He frequently had an entrepreneur named Jason Calacanis on his network’s lead show, This Week in Tech. Calacanis had been the founder of various companies including Weblogs Inc. (Engadget), Mahalo (now Inside.com) and the Launch Conference. Calacanis had created a show called This Week in Startups with Laporte’s encouragement and blessing independent of the Twit Network. Calacanis then decided to create his own network of podcasts called ThisWeekIn. Many of the shows on the ThisWeekIn network were very similar to those on the Twit Network. After the launch of ThisWeekIn, the relationship between Laporte and Calacanis quickly soured. Laporte told Calacanis that he would no longer be invited on the Twit Network. For the years that followed, Laporte and Calacanis would periodically make remarks to defend their side of the story on their respective networks. In 2013, the ThisWeekIn Network disbanded, but as best as anyone can tell, the relationship remains broken. Calacanis had no contract with the Twit Network and was legally free to create his own version of the Twit Network, but had seriously harmed his relationship with Laporte in the process.

Don’t Break The Supermarket Rule

If you ever have a question whether or not you’re going to seriously damage a relationship in any business dealing you have, talk to the person. If you don’t want to talk to the person about it, that’s probably a good sign that you shouldn’t move forward. If you talk to the other person and they give you their blessing, you’re in the clear. Life is too short to leave a trail of broken relationships in the path of your business. Take the high-ground and don’t break the Supermarket Rule.