How do I share my vision with potential investors, partners and employees without risking someone stealing my idea?

QUESTION:

To attract talent, investors, partners and good feedback, I need to share my vision, but there is always a risk that someone will steal my idea.  How open should I be prior to launch?

ANSWER:

This is a problem countless founders face.  They have a great idea, but they need to share it with lots of people, some of them potential competitors, in order to get it off the ground.  I’ve been in the situation many times myself, and here’s my question to you.  What’s the biggest risk you actually face?  Is the chance of someone stealing your idea a major risk?   From what I’ve seen, the biggest risk most founders face is running out of money, time and motivation before their product even launches.

In most cases, the chance of someone you talk to stealing your idea is very small.   The fact is that most people are so wrapped up in what they’re doing at the moment that they can’t move quickly enough to capitalize on even the best new idea.  You’re lucky to get them to join your team or invest in you if they really believe in your idea.

Of course, this isn’t always the case, but it’s a matter of weighing the risks involved.  Startups are fraught with risk.  It’s just the nature of the beast.   The fact is that the majority of founders tend to give up on an idea before anyone has time to steal it.  And if you really want to worry about something, there probably is someone in Stockholm right now with exactly the same idea and that’s your real competitor — you just don’t know about that person yet.

Instead of worrying about someone copying your idea, which will happen inevitably (if it’s any good), you should focus on building your business as quickly as possible.  That’s  your best defense.  Without a business it doesn’t matter if someone pilfers your idea because you won’t be around to compete with them.  Also, execution is the hardest part.  The idea is only 10% of what it takes to make your company succeed.  The other 90% is how you execute.  So again, if you factor in all the risks, someone stealing your idea is probably less than 1% of the total risk your startup faces.

As a precaution, you can ask potential employees, investors and strategic partners to sign an NDA.  Many investors will refuse to sign NDAs, but you can ask politely if you’re really worried.   I hope this helps!

Comments & Advice:
  1. lawrencekrubner says:

    My sense is that most of the time, when an entrepreneur discusses an idea, what they run into is skepticism. It is very, very rare that anyone has an idea that is so obviously good that as soon as you tell it to someone else they go “YES! I will steal your idea and do this myself!” Rather, 99.99% of the time the response is “I do not think your idea will work. I do not think consumers will pay for that. I do not think business want what you are trying to offer. Anyway, I think this will be much more expensive to get started than what you seem to think.”

    Most of the time, the entrepreneur is alone in believing their idea can work. Therefore, the risk of someone stealing your idea is over rated.

    The situation is somewhat different if you already have developed an original technology. Once in awhile, some new technology is so dazzling that everyone immediately sees its value. But if you already have some working, original technology, then you've already got copyright working to protect you, and you can file to get patent protection.

    However, it is worth noting, even when you have dazzling technology, 99% of the time people will greet your new business with skepticism. I recall in 1998 when Google was first starting, the business press was universally critical of the idea of anyone starting a new search engine company. I must have seen at least 2 dozen articles that all hit on this theme: “There are too many search engines, this is a saturated market, it is foolish to be starting yet another search engine company.”

  2. Tom Caruso says:

    I like your answer. It is quite accurate. Every idea is developed by a champion, and the champion is, at least in the early critical stages of the company, the entrepreneur who came up with the idea.

    Venture capitalists are likely to be the biggest appropriators of ideas…but they change the ideas so much (adding their own intellectual capital to the concept) that they are barely recognizable. Besides, if a venture capitalist already has a business that is developing something close to what an entrepreneur is proposing, it is really not hard for them to take advantage of the information the entrepreneur discloses, though it is very unlikely they will “steal” the specific idea. Furthermore, most VCs worth visiting do not sign non-disclosure agreements.

    Thus, when talking to VCs the entrepreneur must have what VCs have called “an unfair advantage” which the VC can not adapt for their business. This can be patent applications that will insure that the patent that issues will be protected. More commonly it is a combination of “trade secrets” and key management personnel who provide the company with market and technology intelligence that is unmatched. Having a team motivated to succeed at building a business that markets a novel idea protected by trade secrets and patents will lock that team into a successful path. If such a team presents to a VC, the VC is not making the right decision to proceed with a similar idea, because the best team will always win.

  3. Ethan Stone Ethan Stone says:

    A quick legal note. Under U.S. patent law, an invention becomes unpatentable if it is described in a printed publication or is in public use or on sale more than a year before you file your patent application. At first blush, you might think that telling someone about your invention orally wouldn't be a problem (not a printed publication), but what if that person tweets it or posts it to her blog because it's so cool? The clock will start running, and you might not realize that it has started. So if you think you're dealing with something patentable and you're not going to file right away (e.g. because you need to raise investment capital to pay the patent lawyer), you should not disclose it to anyone who doesn't have a legal obligation to keep it confidential. Generally speaking, that means someone who has signed an NDA. Some people owe a duty of confidentiality without a separate agreement, such as a lawyer for the inventor or an entity to which the inventor has assigned the invention.

    It's also worth noting that maintaining trade secret protection for information requires you to keep that information secret. This is another reason to be cautious about what you tell people who don't owe a duty of confidentiality.

    Of course, if you need financial backing to commercialize your ideas, you have to tell people, and most angel investors and VCs will not sign an NDA until they've heard enough to get interested. But if an angel or VC discovers, in the course of diligence, that you spilled the beans in a way that compromises the protection of your intellectual property, it could be a deal breaker.

    The upshot is that you should think carefully about what to include in your elevator pitch, your executive summary and any presentation meant for public audiences. Preferably, you should do this in consultation with a qualified lawyer who may be able to spot problems you wouldn't, alleviate unnecessary concerns and suggest good ways to thread the needle.

  4. suraj chandra says:

    “NEW TREND IN INTERNET TECHNOLOGY”

     

     

     

    Hello,

           I had an “IDEA”, but not knowing how to implement it. So, I guess in this way my idea can be implemented.

           In this message, my “IDEA” concept will be there…….

    Kindly I request you all to forward this message to all your friends so that my idea can spread to some extent. I am not a cheater. I had completed my post-graduation…

           In Internet Technology, Now-a-days FB, Twitter, YouTube etc…  Trends are following I guess…. THEN AFTER THIS…. WHAT NEXT???

           Is there is no other technology other than these technologies??????

           I want to develop a new website in internet. As my studies were not related to this, I can’t able to develop such kind of services newly…… But, I am trying to develop it.

           I guess surely there will be new technology was developing by me or by any other person…. I hope after reading this there will be at least one or more (those who not expecting any loss or gain in money) who like to encourage me……

           In this way my “IDEA” is going to express to all over the world I think, please delete it if you don’t like this or you like give suggestions to me…

    Especially I want to take suggestions from…….

    1)    University Students

    2)    Software Organizations
    Contact me.. amwthyou@gmail.com                                                        

                                                             THANKING YOU

     

     

     

  5. Parikh says:

    Hi,

    I have an 84 Acres agricultural land parcel in the city of Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India. The current price of this agricultural land is United States dollars 9.2 Million.

    If I develop the same land and sell it to various small investors by cutting out small plots of 500 sq. yards, 750 sq. yards, 1000 sq. yards etc. then I am able to sell the same at 33.3 Million USD.

    Question . How do I propose to sell the plots?

    Answer. I intend to give 16 Acres of agricultural land FREE to 4 religious institutions for the creation of temples. Like the Sikh temple, Jain Temple, Vaishnav Temple and Lord Tirupati Temple. These are various Gods in India which are preached and attract foot falls.

    Preliminary study suggests that each temple attracts nearly 500 people as daily visitors on weekdays and more than 2,000 people on weekends. That takes the total number anywhere between 2,000 to 8,000 people daily.

    If I were to setup a multi cuisine restaurants offering various Indian foods so that visitors could eat and spend the day relaxing and praying. An average person could be spending 1 dollar each on food daily multiplied by 3,000 people daily would garner USD 3,000 daily.

    Besides, we could charge per visitor an entrance cum parking fees of USD 20 cents multiplied by 3,000 people daily which would give us 600 USD additional.

    The question now is ” will I be able to sell the balance land at a price which is slightly higher then the neighbouring properties, since I have created a landmark within my property?

    Secondly, if yes, then how much 10%, 20% or 50%.

    Third question, do you think this idea could sell, by creating temples and selling the balance land. As such, the neighbouring properties are facing a slow down for developed properties (plotting small areas of 500, 750, 1,000 sq. yards)

    Your comments and suggestion would be appreciated.

    Regards
    Parikh
    Rutvij.parikh72@gmail.com

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