Why people won’t steal your ideas, even if you tell them.

I was recently asked by a new founder a question I’m asked quite a lot these days.

How do I tell someone about my idea without them stealing it and doing it themselves? Well, I’m here to let you know, you don’t but they won’t, most of the time!

I’m writing this article mainly for the people who’ve had the next big idea but are worried about telling people about it.

Notebook on desk

Photo by Aaron Burden

I can understand the paranoia. You’ve come up with the next killer idea. This could be massive. this is going to be bigger than Facebook, Google, SpaceX. It’s so big you’re not prepared to tell anyone about it.

Not only are you afraid that they might steal your idea, but they might tell someone else, who tells someone, who steals your idea.

Congratulations you’ve entered what I like to call the “you won’t steal my idea will you?!” paradox.

You’re stuck with the realisation you need help and your idea won’t go anywhere without getting people involved. But if you tell anyone, they’ll steal it and be the next Elon.

Turns out your idea isn’t that great, here’s why!

Your ideas aren’t often as valuable as you think they are. Sure, you’ve got some great ones and if you’re anything like me, you came up with Airbnb or Instagram before they thought of it. The problem is, you didn’t execute!

It’s your ability to execute on your idea which is where the value is.

Telling people is never usually a problem because even if they think it’s great, it’s unlikely they’ll have the time, money, and insight to develop it. It’s your idea, so at the time you tell people about it, you should have the most insight, understanding, and research.

I’m not saying an idea has never been stolen, but the likelihood of it happening and the person being able to execute on it more quickly than you are is extremely slim.

“I’ll just get them to sign an NDA.”

Well, I’m here to tell you it’s unlikely to make a difference.

By dictionary definition, non-disclosure means: “a contract by which one or more parties agree not to disclose confidential information that they have shared with each other as a necessary part of doing business together.”

Non-disclosure agreements are pretty useless at protecting ideas, particularly ones that are just in your head. They’re great when your idea is tangible and it can be proved that your idea is something. But when your idea is just in your head, it is impossible to prove it is a tangible asset that can be protected, and therefore a non-disclosure agreement won’t work.

If your idea is already developed and you’re telling someone about it to grow it and to explore new opportunities, get an NDA, it’s still important.

Top Tip

When signing a non-disclosure agreement, make sure it’s mutual. This means that any information disclosed by either party should remain confidential between both parties. A one-way non-disclosure agreement only protects one of the parties who discloses their information. If that party is not you then this could be a problem. It might mean you promise not to say anything but the other party can share what they learned from you. This is particularly prevalent when a party engages with you to talk about their idea, seeking advice, guidance, or your experience, which may be confidential information in itself.

Be relaxed about sharing your ideas

With all of this in mind my advice is to:

  1. Share your ideas with people you trust or people who care.
  2. Don’t give everything away at once. Make sure you talk at a high level about ideas whilst you get to know them and understand their intentions.
  3. Share with people who you know can help, rather than just the next person you meet.
  4. Don’t bother with an NDA if your idea is just that, an idea. If you’ve got something more tangible, get an agreement in place.
  5. When you talk to people about your idea, make sure you’re ready to execute.

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