I remember a few years ago at a customer’s house I was asked if I knew how to design web sites. I said I could do some myself or could arrange to hire developers for more complicated sites. I asked my customer what she had in mind and she replied that she had a business idea for a web site but didn’t want to say any more for fear of someone else using the idea. I found this rather amusing and told her that was fine.
On another occasion I was having lunch with an associate I had worked with in the past at one of my previous jobs. We were talking about projects we were currently working on.
He told me he and two of his friends were working on a web business in which tech contractors could register on the site and project managers could log onto the site in order to find and hire free lance tech contractors (I can write about his idea now without any guilt because I know the idea has long since been dropped, plus there are tons of sites that do this exact thing already). After he told me of his idea he added “and don’t steal my idea”. He was half joking when he said it, but he was also half serious. Again I was somewhat amused at this and I told him not to worry, that I was not at all interested in tackling such a project.
It’s funny how people can get paranoid that someone is going to steal their lucrative business idea, going so far as to make people sign confidentiality agreements to hear them. While there are a few business ideas that are so good another person might actually try to steal it away, these are extremely rare in my opinion.
I think the Portable MBA in Entrepreneurship put it well:
Too many would be entrepreneurs are almost obsessed with finding a unique idea. Then, when they believe they have it, they are haunted by the thought that someone is just waiting to steal it from them. So they become super secretive. Generally speaking, these super secret, unique ideas are big letdowns when the entrepreneur reveals them to you. I tell would be entrepreneurs that almost any idea they have will also have occurred to others. So the idea per se is not what is important. In entrepreneurship, ideas really are a dime a dozen. Developing the idea, implementing it, and building a successful business are the important things.
After having tried to start several businesses I can agree with that statement, especially the last sentence. Coming up with a good idea is easy; almost anyone can do that. Building a successful business on the idea is a completely different story entirely. Unless the business idea is something that can implemented extremely quickly and with little effort, for example a very good domain name, don’t sweat over people possibly stealing it. If you have a chemical formula or some computer code that could become profitable, obviously you don’t want to go around giving out the details. But the idea itself is not as valuable as many think.