You’ve got a massive business idea…worried about someone stealing it?
Farouk Meralli was bouncing new startup ideas off of me at rapid pace. Tantalizingly big ideas. I am bound to secrecy, but it got me thinking how often I meet entrepreneurs who feel nervous about sharing their ideas.
As a consultant it seems there are an increasing number of requests for non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) – just for initial conversations! Sure, NDAs have their place, you shouldn’t share patent worthy info without one, but you can’t build solid business ideas in isolation either. So how do you figure out what to share?
The key is understanding your competitive advantage and uncertainty.
Put another way:
– what do you need to learn
– what do you need to share, to learn this
– does sharing affect your advantage?
Start with assessing your potential advantage: Where will it come from? What part of your business model can’t be copied? Is it your brand, your channel, network/customers, time to market, material, design, or is it technical IP? Knowing this, how can you either avoid talking about this or speak in abstract terms to people so you can learn what you need to?
Is there a market for this? This is usually the first question. Most often you don’t need to explain to anyone how you will deliver your service or product, but just test if the proposition has appeal. Rarely will this spoil your advantage. For example, Zappos needed to test if people would buy shoes online, but they didn’t reveal how they would realize free shipping within 2 days.
Ideas need critical feedback from as many (multi-discipline) sources as possible…only the strong survive. As an entrepreneur it is your duty to seek out enough feedback to validate your idea. In 90% of cases you can find a way to talk around anything sensitive and get really valuable input to improve your concept. Don’t hold yourself back. The point is that so much time is wasted on ideas in isolation that could benefit from a little insight, and with a few guidelines you can share with confidence.
– Define your competitive advantage as best you can
– Define your uncertainties (what you need to test / learn to move your business idea forward)
– List ways you can resolve these and what you need to divulge
– Pinpoint knowledge owners — are they in a position to threaten your competitive advantage? Can they give you unbiased feedback?
– Draw clear lines for yourself, what to tell, what not to tell without an NDA.
– Get out there and talk to people, everyone!
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‘Most ideas are born and lost in isolation.’