Business pirates must walk the regulation plank

Be More Pirate – a book challenging entrepreneurs to draw on the strategy and success of the Golden Age of Pirates – has just been published. Whether pirates were innovators or invidious – or a bit of both – it’s telling that many entrepreneurs feel more affinity with the swashbucklers of children’s stories than the navy. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised – after all, it takes a maverick spirit to navigate the high seas.

But is an increasing influx of regulations hindering the next generation of entrepreneurs from disrupting the status quo, or is it a necessary evil in order to tame the excesses of enterprise?

Two significant forces are battling it out in key areas of our lives – the ever-increasing potential of tech innovation on the one hand, and the corresponding rise of regulations on the other, designed to counteract the more nefarious ways of obviating them. Whether AI, AR or VR, driverless cars or drones, we are on the cusp of a number of technological revolutions.

But as can be seen with incoming data protection and privacy legislation, governments fear negative consequences from the new wave of pirates. And it’s not just data – regulations around employment, fundraising, taxation, and competition are all on the government’s radar. These are tough areas for the authorities to regulate.

It’s hard to distinguish between those employers who use contractors to fulfil a legitimate business need, and those who may choose to do so because of the preferential tax treatment and absence of employment rights. Similarly, many lawful tax avoidance schemes are being clamped down upon, as they aren’t in the spirit of the legislation. As we move into unchartered waters, new technology will inevitably lead to new regulations.

However, regulations can be a double-edged cutlass – while they can set clear parameters, which guide business owners and restrict unlawful or uncommercial behaviour, there will always be the risk that regulations impede the next generation of innovators and disruptors by raising the barriers to growth and development.

Disruption is inevitable, but who will be the next innovators? Perhaps not the behemoths seeking to outsmart and sidestep the regulators, but a new wave of businesses able to respond to the changing way in which consumers are demanding they be treated.

It seems that the next generation of business owners may be more focused on doing the right thing – not just by their shareholders, or even their employees, but society at large. Corporate responsibility was not foremost in the pirate’s mind, but many businesses now have mission statements that are not just about making money.

Entrepreneurs want to be responsible and ethical, not least as employees want to be proud of where they work, and consumers want to buy from businesses they can respect and believe in. For them, proportionate regulations are a central plank of doing business – and it’s a plank that the next wave of entrepreneurs will need to walk.