Can Deception Help You Build a Business? It Worked For These 5 Entrepreneurs

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

We all commit little acts of deception, like saying you got stuck in traffic when you’re really late to the meeting because you wanted to watch the last five minutes of your favorite TV show. But what about big lies, 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. Even so, lying is more common in the entrepreneurial world than you might think.

Just take 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. Reddit currently stands as one of the most powerful sites and most influential communities on the internet, with more than 1.5 billion monthly unique users. But in the early days, if you posted on the fast-growing forum, there was a good chance you were communicating with a fake user. According to co-founder Steve Huffman, during the early days of Reddit, the founders created tons of fake accounts, and used them as mouthpieces to create the tone they wanted for the website and simultaneously provide 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 weren’t needed any longer.

2. Steve Jobs hid the bugs that could have ruined the iPhone. In 2007, the iPhone hadn’t yet led the world to our still-fresh smartphone revolution. Steve Jobs knew the technology had enormous potential, but shortly before the long-scheduled initial demo of the product, it was still riddled with bugs; the device seemed to crash after every media play, and in response to certain app switches. 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. Kathy Taggares of KT’s Kitchens, once a $32 million business, got her start after failing to disclose an important piece of information. Working for a company called Chef Ready, Taggares approached Marriott International in an attempt to purchase one of its salad dressing factories for $5 million. Marriott International seemed open to the idea and even offered to help finance it over the course of several years — but under the assumption that she was trying to buy the factory for Chef Ready, rather than for herself. The deal went through before they ever asked for found out, and Taggares got to build her business from the ground up.

4. Elon Musk continues to spin his latest launches. Last year, Elon Musk announced that the Tesla Model 3 would be ready to ship in August 2017 and cost $35,000, except neither of those things are completely true. The bare-bones Model 3, without the highly-coveted Autopilot feature, costs $35,000. But on top of that, you’ll need to spend $5,000 for Autopilot, $3,000 for full self-driving capabilities, $9,000 for upgraded range and interior, and $1,500 for a home charger. The Model 3 also did technically launch in August, but only a tiny number of them — and only to Tesla employees. Granted, none of the announcement was technically untrue, but it certainly was misleading, but it does make the company look better than a similar announcement that gave the full details would have.

5. David Geffen lied about his education. Business magnate David Geffen co-created Asylum Records, Geffen Records, DGC Records and DreamWorks SKG during the course of his career. He’s currently worth $8.1 billion. But according to Fortune, he may not have gotten as far or as fast as he did had he not lied on his resume. On an application for a talent agency, Geffen admits to lying about attending and graduating from UCLA. Knowing the potential consequences from the lie, he went in early every day for months, intercepted the letter that stated he never graduated and got rid of the evidence. Geffen admits he didn’t set a great example, but doesn’t have a problem with lying to advance his career possibilities.

This article isn’t meant to condone lying or deception, but it does 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 like 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!