This is a guest post by Kenji Crosland, a writer for TeachStreet. TeachStreet is a website dedicated to providing local and online classes, including fitness classes and entrepreneurship classes.
When I started out as an entrepreneur about a year ago my greatest fear was that my idea would be stolen and developed by someone else. My reasoning was that there were other people with more resources and greater technical skills who could develop my idea a lot faster than I could myself. Thus, the only people I told about my idea was my immediate family--no one else.
Later on, after releasing my web app and getting into the Seattle web startup scene, I came to the realization that all the secrecy was probably unnecessary, for the following reasons:
An idea is just a starting point
In May 2010 my web application goldhat.org was released, and had a much slower start than I had anticipated. Meanwhile, other similar websites like flattr.com and kachingle.com suddenly came out of the woodwork. All of these sites (mine included) were based on the concept of social donations for great web content. When first told of these sites, I had to admit that I was a little scared, but when I checked each of them out I realized that although the competing sites may have started out with the same idea, what they ended up with was very different.
People would rather work on their own ideas than steal yours
It doesn’t matter how good an idea is, the fact remains that making an idea happen takes a lot of work and dedication, not to mention dealing with a lot of failures and obstacles. Anyone who has the kind of motivation and drive to turn a business idea into a reality would rather work on their own ideas than steal your idea and try to make that happen. It’s really hard to motivate yourself by working on a brainchild that you’ve stolen from someone else.
People steal products, not ideas
You may have watched the movie “Flash of Genius,” where Ford Motor Company stole the “idea” of the intermittent windshield wiper from inventor Robert Kearns. The fact of the matter is, however, that Ford Motor Company didn’t steal Kearn’s idea, they stole a prototype of an invention that had proven to work. That’s a BIG difference.
If you go to a startup networking event you’ll hear five different ideas that sound like they could make a lot of money. The sad reality is, however, that you don’t hear about 80% of those ideas ever again. The ideas themselves could be very good, but it takes a lot of smarts, persistence and plain luck to turn them into workable products. In most cases, the real money makers are not the ideas themselves, but the “nuts and bolts” details that turn ideas into products.
Not telling anyone about your big idea might sound smart, but in reality there’s no reason why you shouldn’t share your idea with friends and mentors who could help you out. If you’re more open to others about what you’re working on, you can find a lot of support out there. Of course, don’t tell people every detail about how your business works, but you should feel free to share your big ideas with others.