Should budding entrepreneurs share their ideas?


There’s a general school of thought among a number of new entrepreneurs that one should not share their business idea with anyone else. The reasoning behind this is that you need to protect your ideas and what you regard as your intellectual property.

On the face of it all it sounds like logically sound argument. A business is after all quintessentially an idea that has been executed into a product which hopefully has a large enough market to sustain its expenses.

New entrepreneurs network with the mentality that they will not share their ideas and try as extract as much value from their networking endeavour. This is where the logic behind the argument begins to fall away.

Criticism breeds critical thought. By not sharing your idea you cannot expect to get any real feedback on your idea. This doesn’t necessarily mean that every startup can afford to plaster their secret algorithm on GitHub, but you can nevertheless learn a lot about transparency from the likes of Buffer.

As much everyone is told that you have to believe in your idea when no one else does, you cannot logically believe in an idea you have not tested in the social context.

The last thing on your mind should be worrying about whether or not people will steal your idea. If you are truly entrepreneurial you will know that ideas are as abundant as the hydrogen molecule. As the founder of the Javelin customer validation board, Trevor Owens, once said, “There’s no marketplace for ideas.”

You have to come to the realisation that the more you put your idea out there, the more people question your idea, the merits of your idea and even the reasoning behind it.

Adding value to your networking

The very purpose of networking in the entrepreneurial context is to connect with other entrepreneurs, Venture Capitalists and Angel Investors who could invest the necessary finances and expertise to turn their ideas into reality.

Aside from carrying an IP assignment agreement around, if you do not share your idea with anyone you cannot expect to fully exploit the networking process to your advantage. As a budding entrepreneur it is your job to turn that valueless idea of yours into a business. The defining characteristic of every successful entrepreneur is the ability to build something from nothing.

As an entrepreneur you are in the business of growing your network in a manner that is advantageous to your business idea. This includes establishing key partnerships, learning as much as possible about your market (through other entrepreneurs in some cases) and ultimately turning your idea into a business. Not sharing your idea only inhibits your ability to meet these objectives.

You are not Steve Jobs or Tim Cook hiding details of the new iPhone or Macbook prior to its keynote launch, the circumstances are entirely different.

The true value of a business

From a cold and realistic perspective no-one really cares about your idea enough to steal it. As Howard Aiken once wrote, “Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas, if your ideas are good you will have to ram them down people’s throats.” The real value of your idea comes in its execution and the team behind the idea.

Assuming the unlikely did happen and your great idea was stolen and implemented by someone else you would be incredibly lucky because that highly unlikely occurrence would give you an opportunity to learn how to implement the idea better. Assuming your idea a pioneering idea one could argue that you are at an advantage if someone else steals your idea and implements it first.

You do not necessarily have to be first on the market to dominate or to have a successful business. If that was the case Altavista, ICQ and Friendster would be dominating the search engine, instant messaging and social networking market respectively.

The downside of being a pioneer is you have to convince a market that your product is something they need. This could mean spending large amounts of money marketing to teach and acquire customers. As the adage goes: “Pioneers get slaughtered, but settlers prosper.”

Image by Julian Santacruz via Flickr

Emmanuel Sibanda


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