< View all posts


Software Companies Should Say No

“We won’t work with Nazis.”

We don’t think that statement is controversial. We think most people wouldn’t think it is controversial. But when it comes to corporations, and especially software companies, it does not seem quite as clear. Many companies tout their core values but those values often don’t extend to with whom they will or will not do business. Too often the drive for profit controls and companies will sign with almost anyone, as long as they can pay. We think that’s wrong.

In some circumstances, regardless of profit, we must say no.

You can look around and see values at play every day, and over the past year we’ve seen some high profile examples of companies publicly choosing with whom they will work. Cloudflare is one example of a company that got it right. 

After the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Cloudflare decided to terminate service for 8chan, a forum website frequented by racists, misogynists, and all manner of folk spewing hatred. Because the El Paso shooter posted to 8chan before his murder spree, the connection between the hate site and the action seems clear. Cloudflare’s CEO, Matthew Prince, posted to the Cloudflare blog announcing the decision, stating:

8chan is among the more than 19 million Internet properties that use Cloudflare’s service. We just sent notice that we are terminating 8chan as a customer effective at midnight tonight Pacific Time. The rationale is simple: they have proven themselves to be lawless and that lawlessness has caused multiple tragic deaths. Even if 8chan may not have violated the letter of the law in refusing to moderate their hate-filled community, they have created an environment that revels in violating its spirit.

Cloudflare made the right choice. Purveyors of hate should have a hard time finding a home, and businesses should not make it easy.

If you’ve kept up on the news, you know that other companies take a different route and always choose profit, even sometimes ignoring the values and vocal activism of their employees.

We recently passed on a contract with a potential customer because of their ownership structure and how profits from the company would flow to an abusive regime. Earlier this year we ended a relationship after learning that our customer made a grotesquely harmful product. 

Luckily for us these issues do not come up too often. But when they do, we say no.

We take these values-driven decisions seriously. We have a small enough team that we can still talk through the decision. One of our core values is “We do good,” and that means not doing business in ways that can produce significant harm. Our product amplifies the work that companies and organizations can do. Using Image Relay, companies can touch more people. Do more sales. If they are doing business in a way that significantly harms people or our world, we don’t want to help and we won’t be a part of it.

Unfortunately, in most industries, all the incentives are aligned towards the next sale. It’s all about profit so it’s all about getting to Yes.

But look around at the world and you see kids in detention camps and the most critical natural resource on the planet on fire, how can you not think, “What the f*ck are we doing?”

Those things happen because too many people said Yes. Too many companies said Yes.

More companies should say No.

This is especially true for software companies who create products that amplify and transform work. The impact of software is huge. The responsibility of software companies should be too.

Saying no hurts. We are a small company. Our finances are beyond tight. Saying no to a potential $20,000 subscription or terminating an existing one hurts. A lot.

Knowing that we facilitated a sale that resulted in someone getting maimed, or repressed . . . that hurts a lot worse.

We don’t have the answers; we don’t even have a solid, developed decision-making process in place yet. What is the line? We don’t know yet. What about a slippery slope? Won’t you find a reason to say no to everyone? I guess we’ll find out. The way we see it is that we, all of us, are already on a slippery slope. It just goes the other way. We’re on a slippery slope of runaway capitalism, and our environment, our communities, even our own vision of self-worth are all paying the price.

What we do know is that saying no can matter, even if it just means our team feels better about their work. If more companies say no it might make a difference. 

We recognize that changing business culture is hard, although we see some encouraging signs that reflect putting people before profit. Recently the Business Roundtable, a leading organization of the world’s largest companies, changed their definition of a corporation to include its purpose as “for the benefit of all stakeholders—customers, employees, suppliers, communities and shareholders.” This is something the B Corporation movement (of which we are a member) has pushed for more than a decade. And we agree with the B Corp founders that changes must be more than just words. Actions are all that matters. If companies want to take action and make a commitment to all stakeholders, one place to start is by saying No.

(Photo by Gemma Evans on Unsplash.)