Why You Should Tell People Your Startup Idea and How to Do It

Building in stealth takes away your chance to get valuable feedback, but how do you stop people from stealing your idea?

Grace Yao
Grace Yao
Jul 5, 2019 · 6 min read
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Photo by Christina Morillo from Pexels

hat is the number one fear that’s stopping people from sharing their idea? The answer that I’ve heard over and over again goes something like this:

“If I tell people my idea then someone might steal it.”

And guess what, they’re absolutely right.

In fact, I have experienced something like this myself.

About a year ago, I was attending multiple networking events every week trying to make more contacts in the startup community. It was the very first startup idea that I had developed all by myself. I was so excited and couldn’t wait to tell anyone who would listen about how my amazing idea is going to change the world.

One October evening, I was standing in a group of three people and telling them about the scientific tool that I planned to use to power my platform. A few months later, I saw one of those three people pitch that same tool as the technology that they were using to power the algorithm behind their startup. Although their business model was not exactly the same, the concept behind it was similar. I cast my mind back to that evening when we first met and remembered clearly that their startup idea was something different. That was when it dawned on me that they must have used my idea after our conversation.

Waves of embarrassment and frustration swept through me as I sat through the rest of their pitch. I couldn’t believe how naive I was. How could I have been so stupid to broadcast my idea everywhere with no filter? Surely I deserved this for being so reckless. I spent the rest of that evening wallowing in a cycle of self-pity and self-blame.

It wasn’t until I went home and spoke to my partner that I was finally able to snap out of it. Rather than focus on what went wrong, he reminded me of all the good things that happened as a result of sharing my idea. If I had been too afraid to tell anyone, I would not have conducted so many user interviews before building my prototype. If I didn’t conduct those interviews, I would not have pivoted my idea into what it is now — The Weekend Club. I probably would have spent thousands of dollars that I didn’t have to build a prototype in order to chase the so-called ‘first-mover advantage’ (which really only existed in my head), and everything would have been different.

There will always be a risk that by telling people your idea, someone will use it for themselves.

The truth is, most things in life carries a certain degree of risk. In fact, being an entrepreneur is one of the riskiest and most ambiguous jobs in the entire world. You will have to make decisions that might make or break your startup on a daily basis. Not to mention that there’s also a risk that the idea that you love so much is actually crap. Does that mean that you should never take the steps to find out and live in ignorance forever?

The correct answer to that is NO and here’s why:

  1. Early feedback is extremely valuable— By seeking feedback early, you are using it as a free mechanism to filter out the bad ideas before you waste a ton of money building them. This can potentially save you a lot of time and money spent chasing ideas that aren’t going to work.
  2. People will bring different perspectives — People will often bring a fresh perspective and spot issues that you had previously missed. Even if you don’t necessarily agree with everything they say, it will almost always help you to gain a more complete view of your idea or at least be able to explain it more clearly to others next time.
  3. Most people won’t care enough to copy you — Ideas are worth nothing without execution. I can have an idea to build a flying car but it’s worth nothing until I actually make it happen. The reality is, building a startup from scratch is hard work and most people won’t have the time, energy or commitment to copy you.
  4. If you don’t already believe that you’re the best person to carry out your vision, what’s the point? —This is one that I personally feel very strongly about. As a founder, you have to believe that you are the best person to carry out your vision and that only you have the passion and grit needed to build this business. If you don’t even believe in yourself, then how do you expect anyone else to? You need to realise that if it was so easy for someone else to copy you just from hearing about your idea then maybe this isn’t the right idea for you in the first place. If your idea was so easy to copy, what’s to stop competitors from doing so as soon as you launch?

Still worried? Let me share some tips so that you can reduce your risks and share your idea in the safest way possible:

  1. Don’t tell people everything — Share your hypothesis of what the problem is and how you plan to solve it but don’t give away your entire business plan. Pick what’s essential for people to know in order to understand how your idea works and give you feedback.
  2. Pick people who can give relevant feedback — When selecting who to share your idea with, pick someone who fall into one of these categories. The first category is made up of entrepreneurs, investors or business experts who can offer you feedback on your business model. The second category is made up of your target customers who can give you insights on their problems and needs. The third category is made up of industry experts who can offer you insights into their field of expertise. Although you are free to share your idea with anyone, these are the people who you should target as their opinions are the most relevant.
  3. Consider using a Non-Disclosure Agreement ‘NDA’ — NDAs help you protect your intellectual property by prohibiting others from disclosing your idea within a certain time period. In most cases, I wouldn’t bother using an NDA at such an early stage. If you do decide to use an NDA, make sure that you give the other person notice and ask them if they are okay with you drafting one. DO NOT just send them an email with an NDA attached. No one likes to be surprised with a legal contract and this could negatively affect the relationship and the discussion to follow.
  4. Consider joining a mastermind group — A mastermind group is a group of peers who are committed to helping each other to achieve success. As a member, you will challenge each other to brainstorm new ideas, solve problems and consistently work towards your goals. A well-bonded mastermind group will support each other with total honesty, respect, and empathy. In addition, members usually come from different industries and so the group meetings provide a safe place for you to discuss your ideas without having to worry about competition.

There will always be a risk that things will go wrong but the benefits of sharing your idea far outweighs the cost. Don’t make the mistake of building in stealth and miss out on your chance to get valuable feedback.

If this article resonated with you or if you would like some more of my personal tips on how to share your ideas with others, feel free to send me a message at hello@itsgraceyao.com.

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