Ten years ago at our mobile apps studio, prospective clients were forever trying to get us to sign their NDAs. It was one of the most pointless exercises that got repeated, ad infinitum. So when founders ask me about it now, I always say:
No one is going to steal your idea. So don’t be afraid to share it.
It wasn’t until I interviewed Adam Cheyer, co-founder and creator of Siri, that I realised there are countless more positives in sharing your startup idea, than not.
“Starting in high school or college, I have lived my life according to what I call Verbally Stated Goals (VSG). At each major juncture, I focus on the most core emotion at that time; I crystallize it into words forming a mission statement; and then I tell everyone I meet that this is what I am doing. Telling people my Verbally Stated Goal does two things: first, by declaring it in front of many people, this commits me to achieving the goal; second, when people know what I’m trying to do, they find ways to help me.” Adam Cheyer
The idea that in sharing, we can attract people to help make it a reality is powerful.
But of course, if you have something worth patenting and you have the time and money to spend on it, you could do that. And many investors favour this but it only really works if you are truly innovating; if you have some totally unique innovation that you want to protect.
Companies like Google, GoPro, Square and SolarCity all have patents. Patents can be useful if you are doing the following: prototyping a product, manufacturing, building to sell (patents can add value), perhaps company protection should there be a founder fallout, or creating something completely new. But don’t put lots of time and money into creating NDAs and chasing patents unless it is absolutely critical to the survival of your business. Instead, talk about your idea in public because, in doing so, you put your stake in the ground. From that date forward, you have let the world know what it is you discovered, created and when. This is important.