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Why are people so fearful about their ideas being stolen?

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People are coming up with new ideas everyday and yet, many are so scared of someone from somewhere stealing their business idea. There are hardly any evidence that supports this fear, so the question leaves us thinking, why does the fear still exist?

34 Replies

Tom Maiaroto
3
0
Tom Maiaroto Entrepreneur • Advisor
Full Stack Consultant
I'd say limited understanding of technology and the industry. Not to say people aren't intelligent and not to say their ideas aren't good. It's just that there's so much noise on the internet right now. It's a very crowded space.

I truly believe when people think of ideas that they think they are unique. A little bit of research goes a long way.

I also think that people believe their idea has some sort of edge for being slightly different...Or that there's no way someone else could do the same thing(s). Sometimes people don't need to do the same exact thing (technologically or from a product feature standpoint) and yet they can end up with mind share in your space.

So truly I believe this comes from misunderstanding and fear. Anxiety. People get very worked up over startups.
Tom Frank
2
0
Tom Frank Entrepreneur
Executive Director and Adjunct Professor at University of Michigan
Ideas are like falling in love. You know other people have done it...but you believe your "idea" is special and rare and unique in a way no one else could possibly understand. Fear of having your "love" stolen is really a fear of having it exposed and judged by others; and perhaps less special. Ideas are intimate and make us vulnerable.
Lee Poskanzer
3
1
Lee Poskanzer Advisor
President and Founder at Directive Communication Systems
Some of the most frequent questions I get asked from investors is, "what is your secret sauce"" or similarly "what is to stop someone else from doing this?" There's a reason these questions get asked is because ideas are stolen and exploited.

I would differ with you Katie, as there is plenty of evidence to support good ideas are stolen...leaving inventors/innovators in the dust. One example, several years ago, there was an NPR story about an inventor(with an issued patent) who went to a very large mass merchant with an idea and prototype. They showed the product and left. Several months later, the product was copied and mass produced by the retailer, making a very nice profit with nothing going to the inventor. Only because the person obtained patent insurance, were they able to seek legal action and won. It may be more common than you think....only just not publicized or they're settled with confidential Agreements.

Inventors/innovators need to protect their ideas in order to benefit from the hard work and effort for achieving success.
Jonathan Barronville
3
0
Jonathan Barronville Entrepreneur
Software Engineer at npm, Inc.
Actually, it does happen. I mean I don't know a study I could link you to, but I know folks whose ideas have been stolen and folks who have stolen ideas. The thing is, though, [IMHO] an idea is simply an idea and does not belong to anyone--what belongs to you is the execution of your idea. I think where the fear comes from is when you're confident you're on your way to executing on your idea and someone "steals" it. For example, many VCs will tell you that they don't sign NDAs (very understandable) and that they won't "steal" your ideas when that isn't necessarily true. I'm aware of cases where a VC heard an idea and saw the potential but didn't quite like the founders, so they turned them down, grabbed some ex-Googlers, ex-PayPals, et cetera, and went to work. Of course when you hear about things like this, you'll be worried about that happening to you. The way I see it is that every founder should at least have a high-level pitch for their ideas if they're afraid of getting their ideas stolen--don't tell anyone your "secret sauce". And make sure you only approach potential advisors and investors who have reputations to protect, keeping them from doing sketchy things (side note: this is why I don't like the idea of putting key differentiators and "secret sauce" info on AngelList--all accredited investors can see them).

- Jonathan
Tom Frank
4
0
Tom Frank Entrepreneur
Executive Director and Adjunct Professor at University of Michigan
No reputable VC will "steal" your idea because Silicon Valley is a small gossipy place and new founders will not go somewhere that gets a rap for appropriating a great idea from someone else. Everyone has a horror story of "I knew this guy who was the first one..." Just ask the founders of "Friendster" or "Myspace." It should be noted that a microscopic percentage of new entrepreneurs ever receive venture financing. Common sense dictates one should be judicious in who they share any information with; again...exposing your idea is a very personal process. But don't kid yourself that patents or other forms of "protection" are more important than putting yourself out there. An earlier comment talked about the importance of executing and I agree.
Brent Goldstein
6
0
Brent Goldstein Entrepreneur • Advisor
Bold, Multi-Disciplined Software Engineering Leader - I’ll transform your organization and deliver the products you need
Taking an idea all the way to a product is really quite hard, and the idea alone is rarely worth much. Until you've actually tried to get people to use it and gone through real customer development you'll have no idea what a market product would even look like.

I'm sure there are cases where an idea could get 'stolen', like Jonathan mentions, but this has to be pretty rare as it means the idea alone is worth taking with nothing else.

What you have to ask is whether you can take the idea to a real product in the first place. Are you a domain expert or able to get the domain experts to make it real? Otherwise it's more like armchair quarterbacking a startup.

-Brent
Jonathan Barronville
0
0
Jonathan Barronville Entrepreneur
Software Engineer at npm, Inc.
@ Tom Frank:

I agree with you, but the keyword here is "reputable". I also wouldn't assume Silicon Valley. And a lot of reputable VCs do this, too, but it's really hard to prove, so they get away with it just fine--I was just having this exact convo with a VC friend a couple weeks ago. For example, I'm a founder and I come to you (a VC) with an idea. You don't like me and my partner, but you love the idea and see potential if executed properly. You put together a great team and start working. A few months later, you launch the startup and I hear about it. I come back to you to complain that this was "my idea" and you deny telling anyone about it ("stealing" it), saying that you just heard it again from these new folks, you liked them, and they have a much different long-term vision. How do I prove this was my idea? I mean, they could've indeed had the same idea and it might just be true that they indeed have different long-term goals than I did. From what I understand (from credible sources), this is actually not as rare as you may think. Also, while VCs have reputations to protect, don't forget that, because VCs are so well-connected to each other, they have a certain amount of power that would make lots of founders afraid to call them out, even if they could "prove" their idea was "stolen"--out of the fear that they might be burning some bridges. I guess my main point here is that this issue is more real and complex than most think.

- Jonathan
Tom Frank
4
0
Tom Frank Entrepreneur
Executive Director and Adjunct Professor at University of Michigan
Jonathan Barronville I do not dispute a single thing you say. Undoubtedly all true and correct. I have worked in industry *and* start-ups for many years. I am an old guy, but one who does a pretty good job of staying current and relevant. I have listened to superiors present my ideas as their own since I worked as a dish-washer in high school. The experience of people "adopting" other people's good ideas won't change with technology. If you own a proprietary piece of anything; code, family Barbecue recipe, fail-safe way to alleviate global warming...and you have the passion, drive and wherewithal to bring that to the world you have a chance as good as any; but focusing on "protecting" what you know or think to be "yours" is rarely the important part of the story in my humble experience.

Jonathan Barronville
1
0
Jonathan Barronville Entrepreneur
Software Engineer at npm, Inc.
@ Tom Frank:

I agree 100%.

- Jonathan
Rob Gropper
0
1
Rob Gropper Entrepreneur
Director at PetHero, SPC - Member at Eastside Incubator - Principal at Tuxedo Technologies Group
Common sense goes a long way... or should. Look at large, successful companies like Apple or Microsoft. They have all the financial and legal resources in the world yet you wouldn't believe the secrecy, IP protection, NDA and confidentiality extremes these companies go through and put their employees, vendors and partners through to protect their ideas. There are some valid reasons. One obvious reason is to comply with patent laws regarding disclosure. Another is simple competitive advantage - no sense it giving the competition any leg up if you can help it. For startups it's a different story: limited legal and financial resources even if you do have IP protection, but that needs to be tempered with the need to validate product/market fit, attract customers and investors, etc. Give some thought to what you disclose to whom and when.
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