The Dark Side of Entrepreneurship

Today, we are going to take a look at a story that has been in the news recently, and reflect on a little discussed topic: the dark side of entrepreneurship.

If you’re not sure what I’m referring to, picture the child labor practices common during the Industrial Revolution, or think about the behavior of the robber barons during railroad times.  While capitalism and entrepreneurship are the major drivers of our economy, left unchecked they can ruin cultures and countries as well as enrich them.

The event we are going to talk about is the ongoing case against the founder of the Silk Road online marketplace, one Ross William Ulbricht.  If you’re not familiar with the Silk Road, it achieved notoriety by its stance of absolute anonymity for users.  This led to organized crime and other undesirable elements populating the marketplace, and a person could easily buy drugs, prostitutes, or even contract killing services on the site.  Many users also accepted payment for these questionable services in Bitcoin, the basically untraceable cryptocurrency, making things even more difficult for authorities.

How does this tie into online marketing?

Well, for one, the Silk Road, despite the various goods of ill repute which ended up being traded on the site, was a model of creating a new sales structure from scratch, fulfilling an entirely new need.  If you’re able to put the criminality aside, the creation of this marketplace is an incredible technical and social achievement, akin to the development of EBay or Amazon.

The fact that this website grew so successful so quickly (Ulbricht’s net worth is estimated to be over $100 million U.S.) just goes to show that the digital revolution has not finished changing the way out purchasing takes place, not by a long shot.  It also demonstrates that there are plenty of available opportunities left for people to create digital and online business models without needing to produce any additional products themselves.

While we of course do not condone illegal activity, and hope Mr. Ulbricht faces a trial and receives just punishment for his crimes, his technical achievement is still worth studying.  We can learn from the dark side of entrepreneurship just as we can from more positive developments.

Do you have any stories of the dark side of business that you would like to share?

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