The Common Fear
Something I encounter often is that a client reaching out to me, is unwilling to talk about the project they have in mind before I have signed an NDA. While I understand the urge to keep secrecy, this approach is actually damaging the project as a whole on several different levels.
With this post I hope to ease some worries and argue for why idea theft is unlikely, and something that should not be a primary concern early on.
Why Not to Worry
Stealing ideas is highly immoral, and a practice that no ethical person, would ever engage in. But it is true that business is not always conducted ethically, so what follows are some cold calculative reasons for why idea theft is unlikely.
It would require complete re-prioritizing
Bringing a product to market takes a huge investment of time, energy and money. This means that if a person wanted to capitalize on your idea, they would need to stop current endeavors and refocus their life on this new task.
It is highly unlikely that the person you are sharing your idea with would want to do that. Also the type of person that would completely change their life course on a whim, probably lacks the focus necessary for executing the idea in the first place.
The exemption to this logic would be if the person you share the idea with has enough capital to outsource the execution of the idea, but even in this case you have nothing to fear. As the originator of the idea you would be the go-to person for any efforts of bringing the idea to market. In effect you would then have the opportunity to execute your idea, with financial backing.
It would seriously damage reputation
In an age of unprecedented connectivity and data gathering the likelihood of being able to prove someone using an idea you shared with them is fairly high (assuming your idea is specific enough). If it came out that a company/person was doing this without offering any compensation, financial damage by loss of clients and partners would follow.
They would need to be a better fit
There is probably a reason for why you had this brilliant idea and not someone else. Maybe you have an unusually strong passion for the subject, or perhaps you have some unique insights which allow you to solve a problem that others didn’t even know existed.
Whatever the case may be hopefully your idea has an element that makes it a good fit for you. If the idea lacks that it won’t really matter if the first person you share it with takes it and runs. If it is easily replicable and can be executed by anyone it is still doomed as soon as it hits the market. Competitors will replicate it, and probably do a better job by learning from your mistakes.
Benefits of Talking About Ideas
Not only is it unlikely that someone will steal your idea, but you are also giving up some critical prerequisites for success by not talking about it openly.
Without talking with people about your idea you can never know if it is something they would actually want. You can have a hunch that you are onto something, but you should never spend a lot of time, money and effort without having maximum possible certainty.
By talking to people you will gather valuable insights and find ways for how you can improve on the original concept. You will also learn more about exactly who your target audience is and how your idea fits into their lives.
Finding people to help you
By talking about your idea with as many as possible you increase the chances of connecting with people who have skills/assets that could benefit you. Maybe the one you are speaking won’t be able to help you, but he might know someone who will.
Have a Good Reason For Your NDA
In general I am hesitant to signing NDAs as it is a serious legal document. If I have too many NDAs to keep track of, or sign one that is too broadly written I run the risk of stumbling into legal issues.
In my experience most ideas can be discussed in general terms to see if the project is a good fit. If there is a “secret sauce” to your idea you can simply leave it out of early discussions. Once we have come to an agreement on if we are a good fit for the project in question, I will be more willing to sign an NDA as it is often reasonable at that point.
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