Nobody is going to steal your startup idea.
Why sharing with other people helps ideas grow.
I love it when people give me advice.
It feels like a mental hug, from one mind to another. The person giving the advice wants the best for me. They know things, and they want to share them. It’s a gift, and I receive it gratefully.
But as with gifts, each of them has a different role to play in your life. Some rare and excellent gifts become constant companions in your life — the things you keep around you, look at every day, and become part of who you are. And, as minimalist Marie Kondo wrote, sometimes the role of a gift in your life is simply to be a vessel for the good feelings the giver gets from giving it, and the good feelings you get from receiving it. Perhaps after that interaction, the role that particular gift played in your life has finished, and you can, with quite total good conscience, let it leave your life.
As with some advice I received recently. After I shared the next big project I’m working on with someone close to me, he told me:
“Don’t tell too many people about it, or someone will beat you to it.”
It’s the fear: if I tell too many people about this good idea, someone’s going to steal it and do it first.
I meet startup founders who have this fear sometimes. They start to tell me, with sparkling eyes and enthusiasm, about their startup idea. And I ask questions — I want to hear about it! I want to share their excitement! I want to engage with this concept! Maybe something I know that they don’t know will be helpful for them! And then at some point… they shut down. They look at me shiftily… start speaking in vague terms, hide behind a wall of vagueness and generalisations — and the conversation is over. They’re suspicious of my enthusiasm, and anyone else’s. They want to keep this to themselves, lest someone steal their idea.
Sadly, this is the moment I know it: their big idea will never come to life.
I wish I could tell them something I know, through experience: The more I talk about my crazy ideas, the closer to reality those ideas get.
To lock away an idea in your own brain, away from the light and sustenance of others' creativity, is to starve it of the water it needs to grow.
I’ve noticed this pattern over and over again. When I talk about my ideas or my projects, they move forwards. If I’m stagnating on something, all I need to do is talk to someone about it — and voila — it gets moving again.
To share is to grow. To hide is to wither.
There’s no one reason why. Humans, and therefore conversations with humans, are complex, multicoloured, unpredictable. Maybe my idea gets moving again after a conversation because the person gave me a new avenue to investigate. Maybe they mentioned a book, a podcast, or a documentary I should watch. Maybe they introduced me to someone. Often it’s simply because through talking about the idea, my enthusiasm was sparked anew.
So I share what I’m working on with other people as much as I can. Whether they’re strangers, friends, or colleagues. People who know a lot about the industry or people entirely outside the industry. People who I think could have useful knowledge, and people who had useful knowledge I would never have guessed in a million years. (Those are actually the most important ones, and you have no way of guessing who they are. Uber drivers are great for this.)
Of course, I understand why people hesitate to share their ideas. They’re afraid that someone will steal the idea, and get to it first. They’re afraid they’ll open up Facebook one day and see an ad or an announcement from a “friend”, and there it is: their idea, their precious idea, played out by someone else’s hand. It’s any entrepreneur’s worst nightmare, right?
Nope… it’s the worst nightmare of anyone who’s never actually made a big idea come to life.
There is a phrase: ideas are cheap.
I’ll add the unspoken second half to that: execution is expensive.
To execute on a big idea is an enormous investment. It takes time, dedication, investment, money, passion, people, knowledge, and a hundred other things. Who would devote themselves to that extent, to execute on someone else’s idea?
There’s another side to it too. Ask yourself: what is there about you that makes this idea something only you can make happen?
I’ll tell you about my idea, the thing I’ve been raving to people about lately.
I’m working on a book, to be released in 2018. It’s about validating big ideas, for people who have them. An easy workbook for people who don’t quite know where to start on using practical user research.
Now I’ll tell you why I don’t feel worried sharing this idea.
Who’s going to write a book because someone else said it was a good idea?
And who has the set of knowledge, skills, context, situation and network that I do that makes me know this idea will work? For sure, some people do. It’s a big world, and I’m not unique. But do they have the time, the writing skills, the people around them, the knowledge, and the desire, right now? And if they do, would they throw caution to the wind and devote themselves to someone else’s idea? Unlikely.
It’s the same with startup ideas. Absolutely there are a few, rare people out there who are in a position to do the thing you want to do. But would they go ahead and devote themselves to your idea? Making a startup happen isn’t an easy thing.
Here’s the real risk: they might steal your idea. Meaning this: as stolen as it is, it will stay an idea.
But nobody’s going to steal your execution.