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I have a friend who for the purposes of this question we'll refer to as Paul. Paul is a University professor who hasn't been actively involved in business outside of academia. He's shown me some very interesting algorithms he's developed with serious business applications. There are a few in particular that I think could make him significant money.

My former employer, who we'll call Bob, is not someone I'd work with again. I'm hesitant to disclose the details of why I don't trust Bob for fear of indirectly identifying him (or myself), but suffice it to say I believe my reasons are sound and not specific to my experiences with him. I would have serious concerns for anyone working with him.

Recently Bob began contracting with Paul and attempting to make some money off these ideas and algorithms. I'm not privy to the exact details of their situation, but I have a bad feeling that Bob may not have made everything fair. There may be nothing to worry about, but if my fears are correct Paul may be headed for a very bad situation.

On one hand, my friend is an adult and perfectly capable of making his own decisions. On the other hand, I would've greatly appreciated someone warning me what Bob was really like before I started working with him.

Should I warn my friend about Bob or leave it alone and mind my own business?

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    He may be an adult perfectly capable of making his own decisions, but keep in mind that, like everyone else, he'd be a lot more capable of making good decisions when he has good information to base them off of. – Mason Wheeler Jul 24 '15 at 21:31
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    Why would you not do that? It's not as if you're spreading unfounded rumours, or making the decision for him. – tomasz Jul 24 '15 at 21:59
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    A sidenote: If Paul knows that you worked for Bob once and also knows that you know about his affiliation with Bob, he may consider your silence on this matter as evidence that Bob cannot be a very horrible person. – Wrzlprmft Jul 24 '15 at 22:48
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    If he is your friend, you should tell him. – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Jul 26 '15 at 8:09
  • How did this turn out? – Myles Apr 21 '16 at 19:27
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Tell him about your experiences with this person and why you think it would be a bad business fit while also letting him know that this is his decision to make. Give some examples via your personal experiences to convey your point.

"Hey Paul, I know you are eager to make money, but I want to help you do it with the right person and I don't think Bob is that person because of x, y, and z. Ultimately it's up to you, but I felt that I should tell you this before you decide to work with him."

There's a reason websites like Glassdoor exist for these types of things.

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    Thank you for your answer. You kept the advice general, professional and clear. I also quite enjoyed the Glassdoor comment. – Aabglov Jul 24 '15 at 15:24
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    Absolutely. We now live in a world of transparency. "Minding your own business" in our new world means bad things in this context. In the information age, bad business practices get exposed and anyone who is ignorant to this deserves what they get IMO. – Lawrence Aiello Jul 24 '15 at 15:26
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    @LawrenceAiello: Yes but you have to be really careful with that. It is impossible to distinguish helpful advice from slander at first glance. That's one of the reasons such transparency didn't exist in the "old world", and one of the reasons that the advances of the digital age aren't always a good thing. We don't need ten million vigilantes going around stirring up shit about everybody. – Lightness Races with Monica Jul 24 '15 at 20:13
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    I advise you to advise Paul to be cautious or prepared with the information. For instance, Paul shouldn't act like someone who knows something about Bob that could have come from only a few people including you. Say Bob is, idk, a heavy drinker and then Paul is asked to go out drinking. What does Paul say/do ? – BCLC Jul 25 '15 at 11:55
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    "before I let you work with him" ??? That's strange wording. "before you contract with him" is probably better. – user15729 Jul 25 '15 at 14:56
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As Paul is your friend he does deserve the benefit of your experience. You would warn your friend if you heard they were going to a mechanic that you've had bad experiences with so why not a business contact. Be a friend and don't let your friend get burned.

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    I really like the example of a bad mechanic in your answer, it put my situation into perspective. – Aabglov Jul 24 '15 at 15:21
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If you withhold the data of your own experience with Bob, you are not looking out for Paul.

Yes, Paul is an adult and he makes his own decisions, but he can only make decisions based on the data that's available to him - you are skewing the game by not making available to him the data of your experience with Bob. Don't tell us that Paul is making an informed decision, if you are not lifting a finger to inform him.

If, after having shared your experience with Paul, Paul still decides to go ahead, that's his decision. If he decides to go ahead, he should do so on full alert and with some solid precautions in place. Like escape clauses in any contract that he signs with Bob in case Bob feels a (im)moral obligation or dastardly urge to screw Paul in the same way that hurts that Bob screwed you.

  • Good point about putting him on full alert. He may not take my advice, but it would still help him make good decisions while working with Bob – Aabglov Jul 24 '15 at 15:22
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Should I warn my friend about Bob or leave it alone and mind my own business?

Warning your friend is both personally and professionally prudent and the ethical thing to do. Without being seen as engaging in slander, you can simply tell your friend something to the effect of "Given the nature of your work, I would be cautious about working with Bob or his company as in my experience I've dealt with xyz when working with Bob".

While your friend is an adult, all of us can benefit from knowledge not readily at our disposal from our own research and efforts. If your friend respects you, he will appreciate your advice/warning both personally and professionally. A bad business deal is bad no matter how you try to dress it, and no one wise enough would knowingly walk into a bad one with the likely downside consequences of it presented beforehand.

protected by enderland Jul 28 '15 at 16:33

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