By: Hillel Fuld (@Hilzfuld)
Like so many of my blog posts, this one has been baking in my head for several years. The truth is, as the market evolved, my need to write this post only increased, so it was time.
If I had a dime for every entrepreneur who communicated to me the importance of secrecy when telling me about their startup, I’d be able to buy all of them out and have some change left over for a Bentley.
The Three Most Hated Letters in a Business Meeting
I will tell you right now, I think the idea of not talking about what you’re building before shipping it out of fear of someone stealing the idea, is super archaic and primitive. Outdated. And don’t even get me started on those three very annoying letters that no one likes to hear in a business meeting… N.D.A. What is this? 1991?! I’ll explain.
For all those copyright lawyers reading this, and I assume there will be a few, relax. There is still a place for you in this world but truth be told, that place is slowly becoming extinct. Slowly. You will have a job for the next few years, don’t worry.
As for entrepreneurs, here is why I think you should actually be sharing your idea with as many (trusted) people as possible…
Pros and Cons
My mother always told me growing up that whenever I am faced with a difficult dilemma/decision, the best way to attack it is to make a list of pros and cons. So let’s do that.
The cons of sharing your idea before you launch it are as follows:
- Someone will steal your idea, stop everything he or she is doing in life and focus all their energy on building the product faster and better than you while you sit around and let them do that.
- Invaluable feedback on your idea
- Competitors you may have missed
- Go-to-market ideas
- Potential intros to investors/partners/journalists
- Launch ideas and assistance
- “Letting people in on the idea” (more on this later.)
Honestly, that list goes on and on but I think you get the point. The chances of someone effectively stealing your idea and beating you to market are:
B: Outweighed by the advantages of sharing
Think This Through
But ok, fine, I’ll play. We meet after you reaching out to seek my advice. We meet and the first thing you do is take out an NDA for me to sign. Assuming I’m ok signing, which I am not, ever, but that I will address later, I sign. Ok. Done. Great. Everyone’s happy.
I go home and begin my plot to steal your idea. Great. Putting aside all the challenges in getting to market before you and with a product that’s worth something, now what? I stole your idea and launched before you. And I signed an NDA too.
So now what? You are going to drop everything and bring me to court? Pay expensive lawyer bills to prove that we had lunch and that is how I came up with the idea that 300 other people in the world are also doing? Really? That is the most effective use of your time and money, the whole $50k that you raised from friends and family? Really?! This seems like a good idea to you? Yea, I didn’t think so. You didn’t think this through, did you?
So coming to that meeting with an NDA accomplishes one thing and one thing only. It tells me “Hey Hillel; this dude is asking you for your advice and help, for free I might add, and on top of that, he doesn’t trust you not to steal his idea or give it to someone else who will.” I’d say our relationship got off on the wrong foot.
Additionally, like I said, I never sign NDAs. No exceptions. And I’m not alone. Most journalists and investors I know are with me on this. Read this. Or this.
You come into my office and ask for my help then make me sign a document promising I won’t stab you in the back? Yea, no. Should I show you the door?
But let’s focus on positive, why so much negativity?
Let’s Play Psychologist
Imagine you have an idea. Stick with me on this. Every person you meet and trust and whose opinion you value, you show them or tell them about the idea and ask their opinion and for their insights. Imagine how much value you would get. But forget all that.
Here’s a nice little piece of psychology for you. If you let people in early on what you’re building, when you do eventually launch, those people will feel like they were a part of the whole process and will push the launch forward as if it was their own product.
Forget all the other things I mentioned above, just the fact that when you finally do ship the product, you will have already built the beginning of what will be your loyal community and user-base is enough reason to talk about your product from day one.
Be Smart about it
Now before you call me all sorts of derogatory names, let me give a small disclaimer. I’m not saying to take a billboard on the highway saying “I am building x, it will be ready in 4 months and you can’t do anything about it!”
Don’t be a fool. Not saying to share the idea with every person you know. I am, however, saying that when you meet people throughout your routine, to think whether that person would have valuable insights for you on your product idea. If the answer is yes, tell them about it! Ask for their insights. You can explain that it’s secretive and not many know about it but you wanted their thoughts. But for the love of God, don’t ask them to sign an NDA.
I think we’re done here. Stop paralyzing your own potential growth but obsessing over secrecy. Focus on your future success and tap into your network to facilitate that success by leveraging the collective brain power of your network. You might be the smartest person you know but you’re not smarter than all of the people you know combined. Pick people’s brains, let them in, and watch how happy they are to help you overcome challenges and achieve your success.
Good luck. Also, while on the topic, Guy Kawasaki has some thoughts…