Stop Worrying About VCs Stealing Your Idea

raccoon stealing radio

A friend approached me last year about starting a software company that would be an add-on in the Salesforce AppExchange. He was in the beginning stages and needed some advice. He had heard that he should have everyone he talks with about the business sign an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) to protect his idea. My reply? “No — but not for the reasons you might think.”

Obviously, no one wants to deal with the legal headaches and paperwork. But less obvious? It’s unlikely that anyone is going to steal your idea. Really.

Stop wasting your time and hurting potential relationships by asking people to sign NDAs. I know that I am one of a growing group of people who does not sign them.

The fear that your idea will be stolen is a paper tiger — scary in your mind, but unlikely to ever happen.

And as a founder of multiple companies and a guy who has spent most of his career building products, I can let you in on a secret: It is not the idea that matters, it is the effort and execution.

Yes, potential customers, partners, investors, and even competitors may get excited when they hear the idea and ponder working on it themselves. That is an unfortunate possibility. But it is not the norm. Paranoia aside, these people are not plotting to sink your business. They are too busy running their own businesses and solving their own problems.

Your initial idea is probably not going to instantly change the world. And most people are skeptics by nature. But for argument’s sake, let’s say someone does take your idea. Can they execute on it better than you can? Do they have the passion for it like you do? Almost certainly not.

That is what makes the difference in the end — unflagging passion and gritty execution.

Here is another reality check: A lot of entrepreneurs and founders begin with a good idea. Sometimes those ideas even bubble up at the same time. So why do some take off while others tank? Well, it takes serious effort to turn an idea into something successful. You cannot think your way out of that hard work or just get a group of people together overnight to do it for you.

That is why you need to forget the fear — focus on refining your idea based on open conversations. Be vulnerable. Be passionate. Be real.

And if you do find that you cannot fight off the fears of intellectual theft, beware. Here it what all those “please sign my NDA” conversations are costing you:

Focus
Fear clouds your mind and dulls your focus. You become fixated on all the wrong details. What information can I share? Did I say too much? Your mental wheels are spinning on what to say (or not say), rather than what you need to do to move your product forward. Losing focus is a distraction you cannot afford. And guaranteed, it will cost you.

Feedback
That tight-lipped determination to keep your idea a secret will close the door to meaningful conversations. No one is interested in guessing at the ideas or having a one-way conversation with you. Even less so if you show that you do not trust them. If you are not willing to talk about your product, you are blocking yourself from having conversations with people who could offer valuable insights about building a successful company.

Relationships
Who wants to help someone who is acting shifty, unwilling to be open and share their story? Weak conversations end in weak relationships. The best relationships — in life and business — are built on trust and transparency. And if you want to execute on that idea, you will need plenty of both.

Energy
None of us have enough time in the day. So why waste so much of it worrying about the what-ifs? Pour your energy into getting busy and working your plan — not in “idea security.” You will be best served by staying passionate about achieving your goals and searching out meaningful lessons to improve.

You need focus, feedback, relationships, and energy to build something that truly matters. So stop worrying about protecting your idea.

Chances are, you are not the first to think of it anyway. But maybe you will be the first to execute on it brilliantly.

Do you know of a new product idea that was stolen and made successful?

About Brian and Aha!

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product roadmap software — and the author of Lovability. His two previous startups were acquired by well-known public companies. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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