how do you protect your idea when going to a venture capital company?


I have an online idea that requires a lot of IT. I am the marketer and can implement on that front but do not have the IT experience or know-how. I would like to find a venture capital company that may want to be involved. It is also an idea that would work well with some other companies if I collaborated. However, if I pitch the idea to another company what will keep them from doing it themselves? Is there any way to protect my idea? Would an investor invest in the idea if it was good enough or should I just find an IT partner and then go to the investor?


asked Sep 2 '11 at 10:43
26 points

5 Answers


Don't worry about it. Get them to sign a non-disclosure, and that's it. Your idea is not the valuable part of your venture. It's the execution of your idea that matters. Ideas are cheap. People who can take a good idea and make it a successful venture are what matter. Convince the venture capitalist you're one of these.

answered Sep 2 '11 at 14:23
652 points
  • VCs won't sign NDAs and other companies probably won't either unless you give them a very good reason to do so. – Susan Jones 12 years ago
  • And when you ask for an NDA, they will laugh at you. Sometimes literally. If they aren't total assholes, they might explain to you that no one has time to steal your idea before its sold and you're wasting your short window to impress them with your oh-so-stealable idea. – Sold Out Activist 12 years ago
  • Ideas themselves might be cheap, but in a typical pitch you're going to be revealing your business plan, technical implementation details, marketing plan, etc. When taken together it can all be pretty valuable. – J Sstartup 12 years ago
  • It's not in a VC's best interest to steal ideas: 1) it will harm their reputation which is very important to them, 2) it is easy to prove how the VC stole your work if you did your due diligence, 3) VCs don't have the time, they are generally busy giving out money and sitting in board meetings of other startups who didn't have this personal problem, 4) you're marketing plan will never be unique, ever; your business plan will never be unique, ever; your technical implementation will never be unique, ever. VCs aren't in the business of theft by proxy, they are in the business of making money. – Sold Out Activist 12 years ago


Jodi, protecting your idea while pitching is a tricky one, but basically it comes down to reputation ... many won't sign NDA (confidentiatlity agreements) because they hear 10 pitches that all come "close" every month. It would be a legal nightmare to try and work out what you could and couldn't say, what advice you could and couldn't give.

The key saving grace you have is, they hear 10 pitches which are "close enough" to your pitch every month ... if it stands out to them, they are likely to invest in it. If it doesn't it will be merged in with the others who are competing in the same arena.

Have a listen to the very early "This week in startups" and "This week in venture captial" these topics get discussed on both programs and you get both sides of the picture. What I took away from them in summary is

  • Ripping you off would destory their reputation long term, this is what they really trade on.
  • There are lots of "versions upon a theme" and they will hear many of them, if they are in the space they will back one or two of them, the rest they forget.
  • The idea is the first 5% of the game, the rest is a good team, right market, right approach, lots of hard work and some luck all mixed in. VCs know this and they look for all the elements.
  • They have a lot of irons in a lot of fires, unless you have the perfect plan to replace both google and Apple in one go ... and they think they can do it better without you ... then they may consider getting a team together to take it on, otherwise they are more likely to back you to do it.

That said, yes there are always risks, yes it probably has happened in the past but it would have required more than just hearing the idea for it to have mattered.

answered Sep 2 '11 at 21:02
Robin Vessey
8,394 points


There isn't a whole lot you can do. Very few VCs will sign NDAs and I've heard of several instances of VCs sitting down for a pitch and then funding a similar/competing startup, which means that startup's investment team now has full details on a competitor's business plan, technical implementation, etc.

answered Sep 2 '11 at 21:53
J Sstartup
106 points


VCs are not in the business of stealing ideas and most of them will not sign NDAs in the first place. Everyone needs to remembers that these people are sent dozens of ideas every week (if not every day). For the vast majority of them, these business plans are not well thought out or researched. If they signed NDAs before reading all of these "game changing" ideas, they would be dragged into court every other month by a jaded business owner with a bad idea.

As xpda said, ideas are easy, execution is hard. VCs invest in people and patents, not ideas.

answered Sep 2 '11 at 21:01
Jon Di Pietro
1,697 points


Mail a copy of your idea to yourself stating that you going to discuss this idea with XYZ. Sign an NDA, if they are fine. In case, they try to hack your idea later, just go to the court and file a case of intellectual property theft. BTW mail the copy using a gmail, hotmail etc. Don't use your own mail service provider.

answered Sep 2 '11 at 15:02
Pankaj Upadhyay
156 points
  • Without a signed NDA, you can't sue on the basis of "intellectual property theft". Even then, the NDA cannot necessarily preclude a variation on the idea. Prior use has weight in trademark law when it comes to commercial transactions, but certainly not in the general realm of "ideas". Mailing yourself a statement of the idea is practically useless. – Henry The Hengineer 12 years ago
  • I don't know the exact technicalities, but from my reading on the internet regarding the facebook intellectual theft case, i suggested the answer. There was never an NDA signed between the facebook owner and opposing party(may be the internet records are incorrect). Still the hearings went on, just on the exchange of mails between both parties. – Pankaj Upadhyay 12 years ago
  • The basis of the ConnectU lawsuit wasn't that the "idea" was stolen. Rather, it was based on the breach of an oral contract (supposedly that Zuck's work would belong to ConnectU) and alleged theft of code. Without either of these elements, a "stolen idea" has no chance of standing up in litigation. – Henry The Hengineer 12 years ago
  • No, you can totally sue people for taking your idea, look! Thomas 12 years ago
  • @Sharply, whats an oral contract ??? , it doesn't mean anything. The case held water only because of the mail exchange. And that's what i am saying – Pankaj Upadhyay 12 years ago
  • The email exchange also contributed to the basis of an implied contract - that Zuckerberg's work would belong to ConnectU. It wasn't just any old email - they were emails in which Mark implied/promised he would build their website. – Henry The Hengineer 12 years ago
  • @Giles yep you can sue, but you won't get a settlement like the Winklevi did – Henry The Hengineer 12 years ago

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