We Burned the Future to Obey Our Conscience

by Jun 1, 2016Integrity

In December 1985, my seven-month-old company published its first newsletter about the new, ground-breaking, Hewlett Packard laptop.

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Not knowing anything about publishing or business, it took a determined focus through a maze of obstacles and ignorance to finish, print and mail the issue .

How Could We Reach Potential Customers?

Fortunately, both our customers and Hewlett-Packard liked the first issue a lot. Unfortunately, even given our incredible 20% of 2000 direct mail response, not enough new owners sent in registration cards to sustain our business. Somehow, in the pre-Internet, pre-Social Media 1980’s, we had to reach more HP Portable users.

Before moving to Fairfield, I worked at HP. My last position was with the customer support team, so I knew management and the phone help staff. My thought was to send a direct mail solicitation to the thousands of people who called HP technical support about their Portable.

The General Manager of the support division loved the newsletter, liked me, and understood the benefit for callers having the publication. However, because of strict company policy against giving away names and addresses of support callers, he said, ‘no.’ His hands were tied.

I mentioned the dilemma to a former colleague who worked on the phone in HP support. About a week and a half later, a large unmarked envelope arrived containing a printout of names and addresses of over 9000 HP Portable users!

We were buzzed! Not only would we benefit, but HP and HP customers would be better off with a wide distribution of The Portable Paper. More knowledgeable and enthusiastic HP laptop owners would mean more buzz, more word-of-mouth sales for HP.

However, Rita and I hesitated even though sending the mailing would mean prosperity for the business and the ability to support ourselves and others in Fairfield.

Maharishi always said, “Do what you know to be right.” We wanted to feel good about the company we had just begun. We didn’t want the business to be based on a lack of integrity.

Burn Baby, Burn — in Good Conscience

After much soul-searching, in the backyard of our modest two-bedroom home, we created a ceremony. We built a small fire in a burn barrel. Then, page by page, taking turns, Rita and I threw the names in the fire.

In my 27 years running the company, I consider “the burning” the most important action we took. It served as a foundation, a genesis of a company, still successful 30 years later.

We knew deep down that burning those leads was the right thing to do. We were able to ignore common sense, a good rationale, and expediency to let go and destroy the ill-gotten leads.