You’re Nobody Till Somebody Steals Your Startup Idea

By Startup Issues

Many entrepreneurs worry that someone, whether a potential partner, a VC, or a boogeyman will steal their startup idea. If you are worried about having your startup idea “jacked,” I recommend you take a deep breath and relax a bit–your startup idea isn’t worth that much.

Paul Graham, in an essay derived from a talk at Startup School 2005 had this to say about the value of your initial startup idea:

I think people believe that coming up with ideas for startups is very hard– that it must be very hard– and so they don’t try do to it. They assume ideas are like miracles: they either pop into your head or they don’t.

I also have a theory about why people think this. They overvalue ideas. They think creating a startup is just a matter of implementing some fabulous initial idea. And since a successful startup is worth millions of dollars, a good idea is therefore a million dollar idea.

If coming up with an idea for a startup equals coming up with a million dollar idea, then of course it’s going to seem hard. Too hard to bother trying. Our instincts tell us something so valuable would not be just lying around for anyone to discover.

Actually, startup ideas are not million dollar ideas, and here’s an experiment you can try to prove it: just try to sell one. Nothing evolves faster than markets. The fact that there’s no market for startup ideas suggests there’s no demand. Which means, in the narrow sense of the word, that startup ideas are worthless.

You should still take precautionary steps to protect your idea even though Paul Graham (and I) don’t assign a lot of value to your startup idea. The best way to protect your startup idea is to keep it secret. Help prevent your startup idea from being stolen by being selective with both the amount of information you reveal and to whom you reveal such information. A nondisclosure agreement will help, but any piece of paper drafted by a lawyer like myself is only a reactionary document–it only benefits you after your idea has been stolen.

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