In the summer of 1972, after seven years of running a successful business importing running shoes from Japan, Phil Knight was about to release Nike shoes to the world. The National Sporting Goods Association show in Chicago was going to make or break Knight and his fledgling company.
Despite their cool “swoosh” logo (which they paid a local artist only $35 to create), a unique company named after the Greek goddess of victory and bright orange boxes of shoes that stood out from the crowd, they had crooked logos and completely flawed shoes. With everything riding on these shoes, panic set in among the employees attending the show.
But a funny thing happened. As the buyers came through the Nike booth, peppering the employees with questions, they bought the hell out of the shoes, flaws and all.
One of the longtime salesmen asked one of their biggest accounts what was going on.
“We show up with this new Nike, and it’s totally untested, and frankly it’s not even all that good – and you guys are buying it. What gives?”
The man laughed. “We’ve been doing business with … you guys for years,” he said, “and we know that you guys tell the truth. Everyone else bullshits; you guys always shoot straight. So if you say this new shoe, this Nike, is worth a shot, we believe you.”
“Telling the truth. Who knew?” said the longtime salesman.
[Note: Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike is one of my favorite business books of all-time!]
If there is one thing I have learned in the past eight years of running my own private investigation firm, it’s that this business is filled with bullshitters.
Trust is a funny thing. It’s earned. And unfortunately for our business, we haven’t done ourselves a whole lot of favors.
So can you trust a private investigator?
Absolutely! As much as you can trust anyone else.
But there are some types of investigators that I would be particularly wary of.
“We have ‘operatives’ everywhere in the world!”
There are very few firms that have actual employees around the world. Hiring subcontractors in different parts of the world is a common practice and totally acceptable, but lots of firms like to pretend that they have people standing by the phone in any part of the country or world waiting for a call.
“We are a ‘full-service’ agency and can do everything from executive protection in Zimbabwe to a capital murder defense in Kalamazoo, Michigan, to a forensic review of a hard drive in Valencia, Spain.”
The reality is that you can’t be great at everything. And if you really think that you are good at everything, you are kidding yourself.
So, would you rather hire a firm that was mediocre at a bunch of things or great at the one thing that you need them for?
I know whom I would rather hire.
“We guarantee results!”
What did Benjamin Franklin say more than 200 years ago? There are only two things certain in life: death and taxes.
In this business, there are no guarantees. Investigators can guarantee that they will seek answers in the best possible way they know, both ethically and legally, but there are no guarantees that they are going to find that witness, force him or her to talk and have the person sign a statement of confession. Firms that do resort to guarantees may resort to illegal, unethical methods to ensure their “guaranteed” results.
Phil Knight got his multibillion-dollar business started based on honesty and trust; if you are looking to hire a private investigator, it may behoove you to look for those qualities as well.