One of the paramount aspects for us at Outbrain, since the day we started, is maintaining the company’s integrity. There are many different ways we make integrity the core of our company DNA, but having a “single story” is probably one of the most important ones.
The ‘single story’ principle means that there’s not the slightest difference between the spirit of what is said or expected from our team internally, to what is said to our investors, to what is said to our partners and clients or publicly to the press. If we say we stick to a certain principle, there’s no winking, or lip service, to *any* of our constituencies. For example, when we say that publishers are our true partners, there’s no backroom dealings of any kind that would undermine that in any way. When we announce publicly that we don’t accept any misleading advertisers, it’s my expectation from my team that we strive to comply with that as strictly as we can, even if it costs us dearly in lost revenue. And its the same single story that my investors (existing AND potential) would hear. It’s that same single story I wouldn’t mind having printed on the front page of the NYT’s, because I’d be proud standing behind it with all the constituents that are part of Outbrain.
So many companies in our space seem to put a facade of similar integrity, yet at the same time maintain multiple different stories – one for the market, a very different one for employees, and a very different one for investors. In the short run these facades can probably work. But I suspect that in the long run it’s impossible to hold onto different stories for different constituencies. Integrity in that sense is a lot like a pregnancy – you can’t be half-pregnant, and you can’t run a company with integrity on some fronts but not others. It’s either a principle you stick to, and then *always* do, with all constituencies. Or it’s not.
In short: Business needs can be turned on or off for integrity; but integrity can never be turned on or off in the face of business needs.