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Ideas Are Worthless! Why Sharing Your Idea Isn’t A Problem.

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Marcus Holmes
// Your idea is not original. I guarantee that other people have thought of your idea before you, and right now there are at least five different startups trying to make your idea work.

Your idea is not original. I guarantee that other people have thought of your idea before you, and right now there are at least five different startups trying to make your idea work.

The same is true of every startup idea, but uniqueness is not actually a required feature of a startup so it’s OK. The way you implement your idea is important. The business model you follow; how you reach your customers, how you set your prices, how you keep your customers loyal to your brand, how you build your product so the customers can benefit from its features, all of this is important. The idea is not.

Ideas are common and cheap. Once you get used to the startup way of thinking then you start seeing business ideas in all your transactions. This blog post has sparked a few ideas:

  • My keyboard doesn’t light up, and it’s a bit dark in here to see the keys properly. Some cool high-contrast UV stickers that I could put over the keys would fix this
  • I’ve got twitter in the background, and there’s a ton of new tweets, but mostly spam from organisations that I only need info from occasionally. I could make a twitter client that gave incoming tweets a priority based on the sender, and can alert me when a high priority one comes in so I can ignore the rest. I could extend this to email, LinkedIn and FB posts too
  • Writing a blog post is a pain, because writing any essay in a linear way is a pain. I’d like to be able to sketch out my ideas and headings for the post, and then fill in the words. Even better; sketch out ideas as they occur to me on my phone, then add in the words later when I can sit down to write properly
  • The editor allows HTML tags, but doesn’t check for good HTML or autocomplete closing tags. I don’t need a WYSIWYG editor, but an editor with a basic understanding of HTML would be a useful Drupal plugin

Feel free to use these ideas. I’m not going to. And if I was, I’d love to see how you interpreted them as a business model that I can learn from.

If your idea doesn’t need you to make it happen, why are you doing it?

If someone else can come along, see your idea and steal it to make a company that will put you out of business, then you shouldn’t be in that business in the first place. If your idea doesn’t rely on your skills, experience, connections, or something about your personal vision for it, then it’s going to fail anyway. If you’re not at the centre of your business, then do something else.

Ideas are common and cheap. Find another idea that does need you to make it work, and give your first idea to someone who has the skills it needs.

You can’t do it on your own

You can’t do everything. At some point you’re going to have to trust someone to help you build your business. Either a techie, a marketer, a designer, or an investor. Because you can’t fill all those roles yourself, even if you have all the skills and money required. And even then you’ll need people as you scale up. You need to trust all of these people, and if you don’t trust them then they shouldn’t be anywhere near your business. Trusting someone with your customers is much more dangerous than trusting someone with your business plan.

You can’t hide

Sooner or later you have to engage with your market. And then your plan will be out in the open. You may have achieved being the first to market, but that’s not the huge advantage it’s commonly believed to be. Everyone who is also engaged with your market will now be watching you to see how your business model works and what they can learn from your progress. This is one of the many reasons why competition is good; it’s a free education in what works and what doesn’t. If you’ve got a business that has no competitors then you have to make every mistake yourself with your money. It’s cheaper if you can watch other people making some of the mistakes.

NDA’s don’t work

A Non Disclosure Agreement, or Confidentiality Agreement, basically states that person B will not tell anyone else about the things that person A will tell them. I’m not a lawyer so I don’t have a qualified opinion on this, and you should definitely ignore my advice, but my worthless opinion is:

  • An NDA doesn’t actually control someone’s behaviour, it just allows you to sue them if they do something they said they wouldn’t
  • Taking someone to court is expensive and not guaranteed to win
  • Taking someone to court after they’ve done what they said they wouldn’t doesn’t actually stop them from doing it. The damage is already done, all you’re doing now is taking revenge
  • There’s no point taking someone to court if they haven’t got any money. So you’re only ever going to enforce an NDA if the person is rich, presumably if they got rich by profiting from the thing they said they wouldn’t do when they signed the NDA
  • Court cases are hassle. If you can afford to ignore it, then you will. So you’ll only take them to court if they got rich and you didn’t.
  • You will get something if you win, but probably not as much as they made in the first place. So they still profit and you still lose even if you win the case.

So, basically, NDA’s are used by losers with poor character judgement to get revenge on successful liars. This is not what we’re about. If you can’t trust someone, don’t do business with them. An NDA will not make them trustworthy, but it will tell everyone else you do business with that you’re a loser with poor character judgement.

Again, obviously, I am not a lawyer and my opinion is worthless and should be ignored.

Update: Charlie Gunningham had this comment – “Yep, 100% agree Marcus. Ideas are two a penny, it’s all about execution. So much talk, not enough action in this world. As my lovely wife says, it’s NATO (no action, talk only). Tell other people your ideas; verbalise them, it helps develop the idea. Speaking them out loud solidifies them in your mind, and speaking with intelligent folks who can give you feedback will make your idea better. Very few people steal ideas anyway – because, it’s all about action. They don’t act. You will, because you have the passion in your idea.”

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Marcus Holmes

Gentleman Technologist and co-founder of Startup News. His vision has made //SN a sustainable media cheerleader for the startup community. Former CEO of Phnom Penh Post, he can be found somewhere in S.E. Asia coding away...
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