When you have a great idea for a new business, product or startup are you reluctant to share it with the world?
Most entrepreneurs seem reluctant to talk about ideas for fear of someone stealing and implementing them. When they do share them, they ask potential partners to sign non-disclosure agreements and jump through hoop after hoop after hoop.
They protect their ideas so much that more of their time is spent guarding an idea than actually developing it.
I think this is a mistake. Whether your idea is revolutionary and incredible or just a simple idea for an effective business, it’s much better to talk about it than keep it to yourself.
Your idea isn’t as valuable as you think… yet
One of the biggest clichés in entrepreneurship is that ideas aren’t worth as much as people think, and that execution is worth much more.
It’s a cliché because it’s true. Short of insider stock tips, most ideas are worth almost nothing. No one pitches an idea to an investor – they pitch a demonstration of what they’ve already created, even if it’s just a basic prototype of the idea.
Until you develop your idea into something, it isn’t worth anything. So why be afraid of talking about it? If you discuss your idea with the right people, you can gain much more value than you put at risk by bringing your idea into the open.
Why people probably won’t steal your ideas
Here’s why people won’t steal your idea: it just isn’t worth that much without great execution.
Friendster, Myspace and Facebook are three different websites built around similar, if not identical, ideas: a place to interact with your friends.
Facebook is worth $266 billion. Myspace sold for $35 million in 2011. Friendster is, as of 2015, completely shut down.
What separated Facebook from its two competitors – sites that launched long before it did and had a significant first-mover advantage? It wasn’t an idea, but much better execution.
There are lots of reasons people won’t steal your idea, even if you make its value as obvious as possible:
- Most people won’t see the potential in your ideas the same way you will.
- Taking action is difficult. Even if an idea is good, most people will leave it alone instead of putting time and effort into developing it.
- Ideas don’t have a track record. People love to copy successful businesses, but few people will take a gamble on something that’s unproven.
Here’s the ultimate proof that your idea probably won’t get stolen: even the world’s most successful venture capitalists, with billions of dollars available, don’t sign non-disclosure agreements.
The reason is simple: ideas aren’t worth that much. What’s truly valuable is a great team that can turn the idea into something interesting.
You gain a lot more by talking about your ideas
Instead of keeping your idea to yourself and never talking about it, I recommend the opposite approach: talk about it as much you can, but only with the right people.
There are lots of benefits to sharing your ideas. The biggest is that you gain feedback on your idea before you get to work developing it.
Early stage feedback is valuable because it comes at the right time. Since your idea is undeveloped – or just partially developed, depending on the amount of time you’ve put into it so far – it’s easy to make changes that increase its value.
It’s easy to become so close to your ideas that you lose sight of their flaws. Talking about your idea with other people gives you a new perspective – a perspective that is often much better at spotting faults than your own.
By sharing your ideas with the right people, you can spot and solve problems with your idea before you invest in development. You can discover problems with your business model, usability issues and extra features you could easily add.
NDAs make getting early feedback impossible
After thinking of a great idea, some people rush to draft a non-disclosure agreement to make sure no one can steal it. They then search for designers and developers that are willing to jump through hoop after hoop, all for a chance to work on the project.
There are many downsides to NDAs, from your perspective and the perspective of the person you’re hiring:
- They expensive to prepare, especially if you hire a lawyer to write a custom NDA for your business.
- They make working with you a pain. Most designers, developers, business partners and contractors don’t want to sign a NDA unless they absolutely need to.
- They aren’t as iron-clad as you think. NDAs are notoriously hard to enforce, meaning you’ll spend a lot of time and money in court to protect your idea.
- NDAs repel talented, creative people. No one wants their professional life to be restricted because of a contract. With an NDA, talented people might look elsewhere instead of working with you.
It’s impossible to stop people from copying you
Some people spend a lot of time and energy protecting their ideas before they put them into action. It’s mostly wasted, since few undeveloped ideas get stolen in the first place.
Once you build and launch your idea, it’s a different story. If your idea is unique and interesting, lots of people will try to copy it. After ShipYourEnemiesGlitter started to get press earlier this year, dozens of copycat sites popped up within days.
Copying ideas is big business. Rocket Internet, a technology company from Berlin, has built a billion-dollar empire with more than 25,000 employees out of copying popular start-ups.
The difference between most people’s perception and reality is that the copying all starts after people can see your idea is a success. No one is interested in your idea – at least not in copying it – before it launches, but they might be afterwards.
Start working on your idea instead of protecting it
If your idea is good, get to work on it. Discuss it with people that can provide useful feedback and ideas, and don’t worry too much about NDAs. The feedback you’ll get is very valuable, especially when you’re preparing to put your idea into action.
Then, start protecting your idea after it launches. That’s when the copycats come out of the woodwork, and that’s when you’ll need to show your target audience that you have a better product than your competitors.