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When to hand out the NDAs?

I'm still very much in the development phase and I'm at a point where I'm looking for all the help I can get. We have a solid very clear idea but we haven't built anything yet. Our idea really is completely new... no one is doing what we're trying to build so it's very important for me to protect it and not give it away in my pursuit of advice. When is it appropriate to start handing out the NDAs? Will I offend people I'm asking for advice and help if I send them an NDA before our conversation?

56 Replies

Andra Keay
11
1
Andra Keay Entrepreneur • Advisor
Director at Silicon Valley Robotics
Often you haven't seen something similar because the idea didn't work. Insisting on NDAs can slow down your pursuit of important information including finding out if there have been other similar product attempts. If you have no strong technical IP edge and lawyers to back it up, then no amount of NDAs or IP will protect you from a larger company with better dev and marketing. Use discretion but give your idea away freely to people who might help you but don't have the time/resources to try to build it themselves. Take care if dealing with a well resourced company or individual who is likely to be in competition with you. Most people are too busy with their own ideas to want to steal someone else's.
Carolyn Goodman
2
4
Carolyn Goodman Advisor
President/Creative Director at Goodman Marketing Partners
While Andra is correct when she noted that no amount of NDAs will protect you from a larger company with better dev and marketing, there is nothing wrong with asking people to sign one in order to make it clear that you're trying to protect yourself.
Steve Grigory
15
2
Steve Grigory Advisor
Self-starter specializing in new and disrupted markets
I'll be blunt. Requiring people to sign NDA's when you only have "an idea" or are very early in your business is a total rookie move and will be perceived as one (and thus you will be perceived this way) when you place one in front of someone.

If you talk to a large company, they will refuse to sign it as policy.

So, spend your time developing your idea and getting your business moving forward. Don't spend another ten seconds thinking about this.
Steve Simons
0
0
Steve Simons Advisor
President at Simons Design Innovation
In my world, if you have a good idea, and you're willing to patent it you should have everyone sign an NDA to preserve your patent rights and to memorialize the dates involved.

Three things about NDA's
1- They are nearly always violated in some way. Most of the time in ways that turn out to be harmless. But beware.
2- Most people expect to sign NDAs and you don't run much of a risk by asking for a reasonable NDA signed with the following caveat.
3-If you're product is new but likely to have been thought of by other folks and in the middle of their wheelhouse, they will probably not want to sign for fear of getting tangled up in litigation. It's a different story if you've applied for a patent, have perfectly working prototypes etc. and can convince them that they are missing out on an opportunity.


Georgia M. Reash
2
0
Growth and Improvement Consultant, Sustainable Community Developer, Artist and Minister
Caroline, I've been working with start up for 12 years and NDA usage runs the gambit. On one hand, it protects you legally but unless your information is truly deemed "intellectual property" - or is trademarked - it is hard to fully protect ideas. I've used them for my own product development and, all in all, I believe it has helped me appear more established and sound. On the other hand, I recently asked a successful business man if he wanted me to complete an NDA before looking at his materials and his response, "I've got a thousand NDA's stacked on my desk and I'm using them as kindling for fires". Basically, his implication was that they are overused and only as good as the intentions of the person who provides one. All in all - if your idea truly is original, an NDA gives the professional polish, but isn't really necessary if no one else can do what YOU do. Just don't give the recipe away in ANY of the your documents public or otherwise; just tell them you can cook a really mean apple pie unlike anyone else and what makes you qualified to do so.
Jason Evans
1
0
Jason Evans Entrepreneur
Director of Product & Managing Director, NYC at Fastly
Almost never, especially with just an idea - everyone's got their own stuff to worry about and idea is just that. Established companies talking to others about their roadmap plans is a different story, but until you get to that almost no one will be willing to sign an NDA.
Bogdan Cirlig
0
0
Bogdan Cirlig Advisor
Co-Founder and CTO at AlphaFlow YC W16 (I am hiring!)
I agree with Steve Grigory above. You're asking for a favor mostly, i.e. feedback on your idea and advice on how to develop that idea. The people you share that with, won't sign any NDAs as part of policy. Great advisors and investors talk to dozens of "ideas" every week, so don't expect them to have a lawyer review every NDA they're asked to sign, if any.

No offense to you, the chances your idea is so unique are remote, but if it's so unique then please patent it because investors will immediately ask if you patented it already (if it's so unique). Most successful ventures come out of a "tweak" in someone else's idea and rarely ever from a 100% new idea and truth to be told, when investors see a pitch with "a unique idea", they tend to cringe unless you can support that via a provisional patent at least.
Braydon Moreno
2
1
Braydon Moreno Entrepreneur
Co-Founder/CEO at ROBO 3D
I think Steve Grigory hit it on the head. At the idea stage, you will most certainly look like a rookie (trust me, I have been there before and someone shut down even talking with me because I asked for an NDA to be signed). Being blunt, ideas are not really worth anything. Executing is the name of the game.

I would figure out a way to explain it clearly without giving away the "secret sauce" if you will. Throw the hook out there, engage the interest, and then further develop that interest with a partner before you get into how it works and NDA's. Honestly, I share all of my best ideas with anyone and everyone because I know that at the end of the day, they are going to come to me if they want to pull it off. 1 in a billion chance your ideas get taken by someone you know and they go and turn it into the next facebook.

Go crush it! Work hard! Execute and people will come to you wanting to help- leverage will be in your hand rather than the other way around.

Brad Schy
4
0
Brad Schy Advisor
Ticket Maestro at Musical Chairs Ticket Service
Read Guy Kawasaki "Art of the Start" Ideas are a dime a dozen. The one who executes is the one that wins.
Nigel Kelly
0
0
Nigel Kelly Entrepreneur
President and Chief Technology Officer at Jotteq, Inc.
I suggest you share whatever non-confidential information you can first, to gain their interest. At the end of that conversation you can let them know you have more data to share, but its sensitive and propriaetary and requires an NDA in place to do so. This strategy gives you the protection you need while also weeding out folks who are just fishing. People are unlikely to invest time and effort in NDA's for frivolous or nefarious reasons.
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