Corporate Espionage in the Kitchen

Last week I went to visit a good friend of mine.  She has been running her own business for several years, and it’s very different to mine.  She’s a professional baker, and runs a cooking school as well as baking wholesale, and having a weekly market stall.  We’ll call her The Baker for clarity …

As we caught up on each other’s news, The Baker started telling me a story.  And the further she got, the more irritated I became on her behalf.

The Baker is a mum, and she met a lady at a toddler group.  They have kids the same age, and became friends quickly.  They had both moved out of the capital, and were both finding their feet setting up businesses in a new town.  The other mum had run a homewares business in London, and started asking The Baker about the market where she sells her cakes.  Happy to help a fellow mumpreneur, my friend told her about the market, and over the course of the next few weeks, revealed more and more about her own business to this lady.  She told her which wholesalers she sold to, which cakes sell the best on the market.  Just things which came up in casual chatter, but equally, information which is critical to the success of The Baker’s small business.

After a few weeks of intense friendship, the new friend went on holiday, and went from contacting The Baker every day, to complete radio silence.  She returned from holiday, but still didn’t get back in touch with my friend.  My friend was wondering what was going on, when she got a call from the market.  ‘Just to let you know, there will be another baking stall on the market this week,’ the organisers informed her.  ‘We think you know the lady running it.’  You’ve guessed it … it was the lady from the toddler group.  The same lady who was now an established member of The Baker’s friendship circle.  My friend was confused.  ‘I think you might have got it wrong – she runs a homeware business.  She said she and her husband would be using the stall for interior design items?’  Nope, the market owner confirmed.  The new stall was a cake stall.

At this point my friend got in touch with this lady (who I’m now going to call The Rival), and asked what was going on.  The Rival pretended nothing was amiss and acted as if my friend had known this was the plan all along.  Confused, The Baker suggested they compare notes to make sure they didn’t both stock the same items on their stalls.  The Rival didn’t reply.  The next day, The Rival turned up at the market where The Baker has had a stall for almost a year, with a stall which was nearly identical to The Baker’s.  Not only had she used her friendship with The Baker to steal all her inside information about what would sell well … but she had also contacted The Baker’s wholesale clients, and begun undercutting her.

This lady was meant to be her friend.  And The Baker had shared information with her because she thought she was being helpful, and just chatting to a mate.

The Baker is far too nice to say anything.  In the end the other stallholders at the market complained on her behalf, because they thought it was unfair that the market were letting someone new take away business from The Baker’s stall.  And then The Rival went around to all The Baker’s friends (it’s a small community) and told them that my friend was ruining her business!

Come on ladies!  We have more self-respect than this!  This is not how you treat fellow female founders … let alone friends!  The whole story made my blood boil, and I couldn’t help thinking that it’s at times like this where women let each other down.  There’s that phrase that a rising tide raises all boats.  If one person does well, often those around her do well to.  We shouldn’t be trying to get one up, by dragging those around us down.  The Rival could have done really well at the market, if she’d set up a separate stall, in an area which fitted her expertise.  She could have used my friend’s insights of the market, to create something complimentary, which filled a gap, rather than setting up as direct competition to the one person who had helped her so much in the first place.

The moral of the story …

  1. Don’t tell people your work secrets … no matter how much you think you can trust them
  2. Treat other female founders nicely.  Business is tough enough! Don’t make it even tougher!

Charly xx

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