Letting go of your ideas

Recently, we received an call from someone asking for our help to take their idea from idea to product (for equity, but that’s not for today). They gave me a top-level ‘understanding’ that didn’t really help me understand anything at all, and then made it clear that they’d ask me to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement and Restraint of Trade before sharing any more information.

That action prompted this blog post, because ideas are worth very little. Think of your most-clever idea. Fantastic, but dozens of other people have probably already had it. It’s not the idea that’s worth money in most cases — it’s the execution.

Sitting on ideas doesn’t make you money — doing something with them might do. The chances that I’m going to hear an idea, exclaim “I’m stealing that”, and then run off into the hills and be massively successful, is slim. While writing this on a train, I remembered that Stef Lewandowski wrote a couple of posts on this a while ago, and he brings up another fantastic point about closing yourself off to potentially-fantastic introductions:

When you’re speaking to someone, you’re not just connected to them, you’re connected to their network. By disabling their ability to make as-yet-unknown introductions, comments at networking events, to speak about your idea over dinner, you’re saying that the only value you place on that person is them, and not their network. That’s a mistake, because for any idea to work, you need a little luck.

Your idea is not as high-value as you think it is for as long as you’re not doing anything with it, and if you’re asking me for help and won’t even tell me what it is you want my help with, I’m going to be reluctant to sign your document.