Protecting my idea


I have a unique money making idea in the Social Web space. I have discussed the idea with some trusted friends who's opinions I highly value and they agree it is something unique. I also have a customer ready to try my beta product when ready.

I also have a great opportunity to present this idea, get feedback and find collaborators from some of the smartest minds out there.
The opportunity is the MIT Linked Data Product Lab for which I have signed up for. I intend to incubate, prototype the product in this lab, I am however a little worried,intimidated that some of the MIT minds (who I have no doubt are smarter than me) will see value in the idea, copy it and come up with better implementations.

Should I just learn and network or take full advantage of the opportunity and discuss the idea.


asked Jan 8 '10 at 01:18
510 points

7 Answers


Don't make the beginner mistake of keeping your idea to yourself. First of all, most people will think your "genius idea" is completely stupid and couldn't care less about copying it. But that's important, because you need to understand why other people think it's stupid.

Why? Because most likely, you have a gem, but you haven't figured out everything yet. Other people will help you polish your gem by bringing the missing pieces. But since you are the one with the original vision and the passion to go the distance, you'll end up with a fully cooked idea by the time you are done asking for feedback.

So yes, ask for feedback, be open and listen to the objections.

answered Jan 8 '10 at 08:04
Alain Raynaud
10,927 points


I should quote Derek Sivers :

Be An Executioner

It's so funny when I hear people being
so protective of ideas. (People who
want me to sign an nda to tell me the
simplest idea.)

To me, ideas are worth nothing unless
executed. They are just a multiplier.
Execution is worth millions.


Awful idea = -1

Weak idea = 1

So-so idea = 5

Good idea = 10

Great idea = 15

Brilliant idea = 20

No execution => $1

Weak execution = $1000

So-so execution = $10,000

Good execution = $100,000

Great execution = $1,000,000

Brilliant execution = $10,000,000

To make a business, you need to multiply the two.

The most brilliant idea, with no
execution, is worth $20. The most
brilliant idea takes great execution
to be worth $20,000,000.

That's why I don't want to hear
people's ideas. I'm not interested
until I see their execution.

answered Jan 8 '10 at 22:40
108 points


It's not the idea, but your implementation details you want to be protective of. It's how you implement your idea that is the real value.

Case in point, here's an idea that "sold" for $120 million in September :

Generation I(nternet) hate the
old-fashioned idea of spending hours
maintaining a "electronic checkbook".
Instead, if we ask them nicely for
their banking login info, make it free
by getting corporations who want to
sell financial products to our users
and give it an attractive and
well-thought out interface, we will be
worth hundreds of millions.

The company is - sold to Intuit in september for $120 m. Even with the idea, even with the actual someone could copy, It would be very, very hard to copy and improve the implementation (both the web site and the business relationships) of
answered Jan 8 '10 at 07:17
Bob Walsh
2,620 points


You may ask people to sign an NDA before sharing your idea. But still this won't protect you 100%.
I would suggest just stop worrying about protecting the idea and put every effort to execute it fast and brilliant. Getting feedback from the smart people definitely would help you a lot.

answered Jan 8 '10 at 04:16
376 points


Thoughts from Steve Blank, Chris Dixon, John Greathouse, and Jason Lemkin on this topic.

· Steve Blank “Worries from the garage

One of the worries I hear from entrepreneurs (not just my students) is that Customer Development means getting out of the building and sharing what you are working on. What if, gasp, someone steals my idea? Then all my hard work will be for nothing.

This actually happened to me twice in my career. Steve Blank – Someone stole my startup idea Part 1 Steve Blank – Someone stole my startup idea Part 2 Steve Blank – Someone stole my startup idea Part 3

· Chris Dixon Chris Dixon - Why you shouldn’t keep your startup idea secret

“The handful of people in the world who might copy your idea are entrepreneurs just starting up with a very similar idea. You can probably just explicitly avoid these people, although by talking to lots of people your ideas will likely seep through to them.”

· Jason M. Lemkin CEO @ EchoSign esignature from Quora - How do entrepreneurs & startups deal with the risk of getting their ideas stolen when pitching to angels & venture capitalists pre-launch?

Lot's of good responses but see Jason Lemkin’s answer which ties back to Steve Blank’s comments in his “Someone stole my startup idea” blog series.

“However, what they can do and in fact often do – no matter what they say – is forward what you give them in PDF or other soft copy to a competitor” ……”This is actually much more troubling than stealing the idea for your company [meaning the VC’s would steal your idea and launch a company], as what you probably are in fact doing is a novel take on an old/known idea, and the most successful aspects of that novel take are likely non obvious (or they would have already been done). · John Greathouse VC Spilling the Beans - When is it safe to talk about your Entrepreneurial ideas?

“As noted in Your Personal Pitch [see blog post], entrepreneurs must take chances and judiciously discuss their ideas, plans and dreams in order to bring their adVentures to life. If an entrepreneur does not share her thoughts, it will be impossible to marshal the necessary resources, recruit investors and inspire employees to join her adVenture.

Simply talking about your idea is seldom risky. As long no propriety information is disclosed, such discussions will almost never result in adverse consequences. However, as noted in the discussion of Big Bad VC, below, you must consider the capability of your audience (and their surrogates) to take advantage of your idea when deciding with whom to speak and how much detail to include in each discussion.” · Chris Dixon Just a cool blog post on startup ideas… – Developing New Startup Ideas

Food for Thought.

answered Mar 23 '11 at 06:37
Steve D
318 points


What makes you so sure that you idea is completely unique. I would say it's very hard nowadays to come up with a completely unique idea.

answered Mar 22 '11 at 18:01
111 points


I agree. If it's truly a great idea, chances are you're not the only one who has thought of it... in which case speed and quality of execution matter more than protection. Get a prototype out there as quickly and cheaply as you can and start showing it to people.

answered Jan 8 '10 at 06:51
38 points

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