One of the most rookie mistakes young entrepreneurs make is keeping their ideas secret. It goes something like this:
You: “So what are you working on?”
Rookie: “Oh, sorry. I can’t really talk about it.”
Really! Your idea is so grand that you can’t share it with even your close friend? Wow, I want to invest in you right now!!!
The thinking behind this is as simple as it is moronic: “My idea is so compelling that I can’t afford to let anyone hear it. They might steal it/tell others/make me not first-to-market/other dire predictions.”
For big companies, secrecy is expected. Google doesn’t want Microsoft to know their plans because, if MS found out, it could present a very real threat to the success of a new product. Personal entrepreneurship is different. You’re small and scrappy and you need to relentlessly market yourself. Don’t worry about your idea being stolen–worry about it succeeding.
Let me break down a few things here. First of all, without execution, your idea is meaningless. Check this out: I want to cure the world of poverty. Wow!! What a great idea! But without the right team and the right execution, that idea is nothing more than a wish.
Second, it’s almost always better to bounce your ideas off of people, get their feedback, and iterate on your initial idea. Remember The Wisdom of Crowds? Enlist the wisdom of your friends. In my own experience, I’ve gotten absolutely awesome feedback from people around me.
A few months ago, I told them a few ideas I had for new designs on my t-shirt site. I could have been afraid that they were going to take the ideas and sell them themselves, but that would have been stupid. Instead, 8 people got into it and we hatched even more funny t-shirt designs.
Third, most people are lazy. So when you keep your idea secret from someone, you’re actually betting that they would…
- Listen to your idea
- Think it was actually interesting
- Remember it
- Go home and implement it
- Launch it successfully
- Take all the success
As you can see, every single step is more unlikely than my winning a heavyweight boxing championship. Most people don’t give a damn about your idea, and even if they did, they are lazy and won’t do anything.
Have you ever been to a conference where everyone is exchanging business cards? I have–in some cases, I was the speaker–and people will come up to the speaker, express great interest, and ask for a card. Great–that’s part of the conference experience. But out of 100 cards handed out, experienced speakers know to expect very few follow-up emails. Like, less than 10. This is from people who actively sought you out, had a conversation, and took the initiative to ask for a card. PEOPLE RARELY FOLLOW UP!!!
Back to worrying about people stealing your idea. Even if they DID, most people lack the resources and experiences to launch it. And even if they did THAT, you’ve been thinking about it longer and harder! So stop being insecure about little Betty over there. Ask her for her input and learn how to improve your own idea. And then, if she is really hot, ask her awkwardly if she is looking for further business collaborations and, when she has no idea what you’re talking about, walk away, muttering bitterly. All in all, a great day!
Seriously, though, the truth is that the initial idea isn’t really that important. What is important is honing it, user-testing it, and executing it properly. And the people around you are invaluable to helping you do that.
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