October 11, 2018

Needing advice: should we stop providing service to a customer who's sued for misconduct?

Hey guys,

My partner @cystan and I run a scheduling software CozyCal. Recently we have received an email from someone informing us that one of our customers is being sued by a local government, and is asking us to stop providing services to this customer.

Apparently this customer who's running an animal adoption center has had long-term issues with non-compliance and facility mismanagement.

This informant also shared with us police reports of this customer's misconduct. We also found local news source has reported the city lawsuit filed against this customer. So it's confirmed that this is not a made-up case.

We are considering terminating this customer's SaaS subscription and refund the remaining balance.

But before we pull the trigger, we'd love to hear what you think. If this happened to you, how would you deal with it and what would you tell your customer?

Thanks in advance!

  1. 17

    I think you shouldn't get involved in other's squabbles or politics .

    If you pull business infrastructure from them, they might in turn sue you for loss of business.

    Of course you can take a moral stance but I would wait till their was an actual successful prosecution otherwise you would be judging them based on info from an informant who probably has a grudge (rightly or wrongly) against the business.

    You could frame the story in another way, "Business trying to help abandoned animals faces financial problems - unable to care properly for animals with limited resources."

    1. 1

      Point taken. Thanks Paul.

      I think we'll wait and see how the case is going to unfold and make a decision later on.

      After some googling, we found out that this informant is likely to be a journalist. I wonder if she will take action and launch a smear campaign against us if we choose to ignore her alert.

      How should I respond to her message, that's if such a response is necessary at all?

      1. 3

        I don't think you need to respond at all. Wait for the court case to rap up, if they aren't allowed to continue business then they'll probably cancel the subscription anyway. It's not worth responding to the journalist because you have nothing to gain from the interaction, there is no way you get a good resolution out of it. Stay silent and be patient.

        1. 2

          Silent and patient we will stay. Thanks for your advice!

  2. 12

    Unless your software is being used to break the law I wouldn't get involved, and cancelling a paying customer's service is getting involved.

    1. 1


      For us, we're rather in a moral quagmire more than a legal one. Though I'm not quite sure if the scheduling service we're providing is considered breaking the law.

      More details for the context, we're told that this customer is using CozyCal to schedule adoptions of animals with health issues that are unbeknownst to the adopters. The adopters have to seek extensive vet care for the adopted pets.

      Will that being considered as being involved in breaking the law?

      1. 2

        Absolutely not. Your company is not breaking the law at all. An equivalent would be if they were using outlook.com for their emails and organising adoptions via email. Outlook.com was not the one misleading people and has no responsibility for those actions.

  3. 9

    I’ve become opposed to extra-judicial civil punishments. By which I mean people getting fired or having services withdrawn by private companies. If someone does wrong, they should be subject to the law, not to random punishments dealt out by private entities. Otherwise you get a weird parallel justice system that works via hearsay and outrage. So no, I would not terminate the contract.

    1. 1

      Thanks for your input @jf_.

      1. 1

        You’re welcome, but do you agree or disagree?

  4. 5

    The fact that you're even considering terminating infrastructure you provide to a customer makes me hesitate to ever do business with you (though I'm probably not in your target market anyway).

    A business is relying on your service for their operations. Yanking that out from under them on the basis of them being sued by a third party unrelated to you is an extreme move. Not only that, but they haven't even been found guilty!

    Another way to think about this is to imagine if you were in their role. If your business grows and becomes successful, you will inevitably be sued at some point. How would you feel if your host, your emailing service, or some other business that provided infrastructure you relied upon abruptly terminated your service and refunded your remaining balance?

    What would you do? Would you tell others what had happened?

    1. 1

      Thanks for your input @alchemist.

      This tricky situation that we're facing now is new to us, and to be honest, we don't know how to handle it and that's why we choose to share it with the IH community with transparency.

      The consideration of withdrawing service from this customer also stems from my moral turmoil. As a dog lover, it pains me to learn that CozyCal is being used to schedule adoptions of animals who might be ill-treated and stricken with sickness.

      After being made aware of such possibility, it's easy to let business be business, but difficult to fall asleep at night asking ourselves as indie hackers, should we have a moral compass for our business? What's the right thing to do?

      For now, we'll take the neutral stance and do nothing. But we will be following and see how the lawsuit will be unfolding.

      As other IH folks mentioned here, we're in no place to play judge in the legal sense. But we're in a place where we can ask ourselves some of these more abstract questions that might not have immediate answers after all. 🧐

      1. 2

        Even on a moral level it's difficult to say if the ability to schedule adoptions more easily is leading to a better or worse outcome for the dogs. Presumably, the issues they are alleged to have predate the use of your software and aren't largely impacted by it.

        If you were selling something like whips or cheap factory-farmed meat (for human or animal consumption), then you'd be complicit in animal suffering. Scheduling software, is very different.

  5. 4

    Kat, this is a tricky situation.

    On the one-hand. you do not want to tarnish the reputation of your business, on the other hand is it right to play judge in this situation?

    As I understand it, the case is still in litigation, with no resolution. Your customer has not been found guilty in a court of law, and it is not clear that there is definitive malpractice, there are only accusations made from a plaintiff in a law suit, who are a prejudiced party.

    Without having actually won a case, before a judge, in a court of law - the plaintiff is trying to pressure you into to taking action against a defendant, entitled to a presumption of innocence and their fair day in court.

    Local authorities, as bureaucracies with deep pockets, pursue lawsuits all the time; they often also loose. Sometimes, there are other agendas behind these actions: the extrajudicial attempt to try and influence you to essentially shut down a business indicates the depth of feeling.

    The pragmatic thing, is to cut this customer loose. Hey, it's just one person - so what? By definition, a low-touch SaaS relies on several hundred small customers, what's one less monthly payment?

    Yet I sense that the expedient thing troubles you, which is probably why you've posted. What if you got in a lawsuit with a troublesome neighbor. Having called the cops a few times, they call your boss demanding you be fired, or, in your case, contact your ISP and web host, showing police reports. You see where this goes...

    Police reports and newpaper clippings are not definitive proof of misconduct, and there are two sides to every story. What's an indiehacker to do?

    I would suggest speaking to the customer first, and trusting your gut. This isn't to reach a judgement, you're not a judge but to see how they respond. It could be they react in a way which suggests a precautionary pause of their account is required, or alternatively you might sense there is a complicated case here, were it is best to await a legal verdict. Local authorities are made of people, who often have their own axes to grind.

    1. 1

      Thanks for your insights @webapppro. Tricky situation indeed...

      Like you said, there are two sides to every story, our understanding of the situation is limited to one-side only now. Though we don't want to take on the investigator role by getting involved in this case.

      After reading all the advice, we decide not to take any action and wait to see how the lawsuit will unfold.

  6. 3

    Presumably your customer uses computers in their office. Should Microsoft/Apple revoke their OS licenses because some third party sent an email?

    It sounds like the relevant authorities have been notified. Your client will either have to start following regulations or they'll be shut down.

    As far as CSR goes, it doesn't sound like your customer's mission is to abuse animals. When it comes to adoption centers, there are vocal activists who assert that having a pet is itself animal abuse.

    If I were you, I'd stay neutral and let the authorities deal with the claims of abuse.

    1. 2

      Thanks for your advice @shawnh.

      After reading everyone's advice, we decide not to take any action and wait to see how the lawsuit will unfold.

  7. 2

    From a business point of view, you should continue offering the service unless you are directly requested or ordered by a government office with the relevant rights to stop offering your service to the client.

    Morally, if your values are relevant to the damage done by the client eg: abusing animals then it is entirely upto your team to take the call and maybe do a blog post/press release why you had to stop the service to the client.

    1. 1

      Thanks for your advice @Nakkeeran.

      After reading everyone's advice, we decide not to take any action and wait to see how the lawsuit will unfold.

      We might write a blog post later on detailing more about this story because situations involving legal entanglements are not discussed that much in public. I'd love to hear other people's experience in similar tricky circumstances such as this one.

  8. 2

    If it was clearly evident that my service was ACTIVELY and DIRECTLY aiding a specific individual or organization to do OBVIOUSLY terrible things, I would consider ending that relationship.

    If somebody has been accused of bad things and especially if they are not directly related to my service, then it's none of my business and up to the courts/justice system to deal with them in a fair manner.

    Judges and juries are for judging and handing out sentences, not me or my business.

    1. 1

      Thanks for your advice @ryanwinchester.

      After reading everyone's advice, we decide not to take any action and wait to see how the lawsuit will unfold.

  9. 2

    Depends on whether you can justify it ethically, doesn't it? Is CozyCal helping your customer do bad things? If yes, I personally would consider terminating his contract. Otherwise, I'd say he's innocent until proven guilty and it's not your place to judge.

    1. 1

      Thanks for your advice @mherrmann

      After reading everyone's advice, we decide not to take any action and wait to see how the lawsuit will unfold.

  10. 1

    Has the customer violated any of your Terms of Service ? If not, then why would you do that ? It happens that you found about this particular lawsuit. What makes you think other clients may not have their own personal or legal issues ?

    Bottomline is that as a business, you agreed to a Terms of Service with your customer. If your terms of service has a clause that says you can fire them anytime, sure do that if that makes you feel better but in terms of fairness, that particular lawsuit shouldn't necessarily be directly related to the scheduling software you provide. Keep it simple. Don't butt in their business which is not related to your business.

    1. 1

      Thanks for your advice @codegeek1001

      After reading everyone's advice, we decide not to take any action and wait to see how the lawsuit will unfold.