Can Being Deceptive Help You Build Your Business? It Worked for These 5 Entrepreneurs.

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

We all commit little acts of deception, like saying we got stuck in traffic when we were really late to the meeting because we wanted to watch the last five minutes of a favorite TV show. Little white lies? I’ve told them. You’ve told them.

But what about big lies, the kind truly lacking in integrity — like misrepresenting your sales to a prospective investor?

Obviously, there are often severe consequences to lying. Depending on the context, you could lose the trust of a peer, break a professional relationship or even face legal action. Yet, despite these consequences, lying is more common in the entrepreneurial world than you might think.

Just take as an example these five entrepreneurs, who might not be as well known or successful as they are if it weren’t for some clever acts of deception:

1. Steve Huffman (and crew) faked Reddit accounts.

According to co-founder Steve Huffman, during Reddit’s early days, the founders created tons of fake accounts, and used them as mouthpieces to create the tone they wanted for the website while simultaneously providing enough content to make the site seem popular.

The ruse worked, and in just a few years, there was enough of a real community that the fake users were no longer needed.

2. Steve Jobs hid the bugs that could have ruined the iPhone.

Instead of rescheduling the demo or announcing the bugs that still required work, Jobs intentionally used the device in a specific way that hid all the bugs, and even altered the screen to show a wireless signal much stronger than what actually existed. One Apple engineer described the misleadingly near-perfect demo as “practically a miracle.”

3. Kathy Taggares ran with a mistaken assumption.

Marriott International seemed open to the idea and even offered to help finance the deal over the course of several years — but the company was under the mistaken assumption that Taggares was trying to buy the factory for Chef Ready, rather than for herself. The deal went through before Marriott even asked or found out, and Taggares got to build her business from the ground up.

4. Elon Musk continues to spin his latest launches.

The Model 3 also did technically launch in August, but only a tiny number of the cars came out — and went only to Tesla employees. Granted, none of the announcement was technically untrue, but it certainly was misleading, while making the company look better than an announcement with the full details would have.

5. David Geffen lied about his education.

For example, he admitted to lying on an application for a talent agency, about attending and graduating from UCLA. Knowing the potential consequences of the lie, he went in early every day for months, intercepted the letter that stated he had never graduated and got rid of the evidence. Geffen admits he didn’t set a great example, but has said he doesn’t have a problem with having lied to advance his career possibilities.

The upshot of these stories? They’re not relayed here to condone lying or deception, only to serve as support for the idea that oftentimes, entrepreneurs with strong convictions are willing to do whatever it takes to be successful — even if that means temporarily bending their integrity.

If a small act of deception or lie by omission has the power to save your business, make sure to weigh the pros and cons carefully. You may find it’s a risk worth taking, just as these five entrepreneurs did.

For more content like this, be sure to check out my podcast, The Entrepreneur Cast!

CEO of EmailAnalytics (, a productivity tool that visualizes team email activity, and measures email response time. Check out the free trial!