Industry Indifference to Others’ Incompetence is Your Big Risk

I’m one of the few CPG industry veterans willing to air the industry’s dirty laundry in public, so others without big industry networks don’t crash. And there is a lot of smelly laundry in a very loosely regulated industry, most of it operating in the private sector.

I also hail from academia, where incompetence is driven out through a medieval hazing process. As in, you don’t get your Ph.D., you’re off the island. It’s not fun, but it works. 

One of the most infuriating issues no one wants to discuss is the downplaying of the many risks involved in these ventures. Did you notice how positive everyone is when pitching their accelerator, trade show, etc.? There is a cringe-worthy cloud of positive psychology everywhere from Boulder to Anaheim and back again. This whoop-it-up may help motivate some founders but actually encourages naive venturing. 

The fact is that incompetency is everywhere in the private markets. It’s more common than most want to acknowledge. Yes, regulation matters, folks. 

In tightly knit, pre-modern human communities, elders and leaders drove incompetent individuals away from specific skilled areas or forced them into an apprenticeship. Not in neoliberal America. There is no regulation whatsoever of the various stakeholders you will encounter in the CPG world, except for lawyers and FINRA-licensed investors and investment brokers. 

For example, if a service provider has burned you, you could be sitting at the convergence of two kinds of incompetency: yours in vetting them and theirs in delivering muck. However, a bad experience doesn’t mean they intended to harm your business. They may just suck and not believe that they do. Oh my, don’t get me started. 

Intentional malice is not your big problem as a founder. Yes, sociopaths are out there, but there’s something more prevalent you should worry about first: well-intentioned incompetence goofily stumbling your way. 

Finally, the sad indifference of most of us to these incompetent folks (many of whom, for example, I don’t even know) is also concerning. It would be a full-time job to try to list everyone and evaluate them against objective criteria. America doesn’t have State Boards of Marketing or Sales or Supply Chain. One person cannot magically replace our collective indifference with an entire system of training and enforcement.

Incompetence flourishes in areas of society where there is mass indifference to its consequences. 

And founders have to accept that this is their reality in consumer packaged goods. No one cares if you fail. Not really. And they certainly won’t blame people who gave you disastrous advice that contributed directly to the failure. You’re ultimately responsible as an owner

Should it work this way? No, not in a healthy society. But, hey, this is neoliberal Mackey-in capitalism. As long as your intentions are conscious ones…then anything goes.

Be safe out there!

Dr. James Richardson

[email protected]