Should entrepreneurs protect a stealth startup idea? Or, is shopping your idea around to anyone who will listen the smarter approach? I wrote a sub-set of these thoughts in the comments section of the blog Making the Bag.
The idea is nothing by itself
Reminiscent of the “The Social Network.” Zuckerberg said “if you guys were the inventors of Facebook, you’d have invented Facebook.” The point being that the idea is not the hard part, building the business is. In the case of Facebook, the hard part is building something addictive and useful, not just thinking of a high level idea like “MySpace + exclusivity.”
The idea sounds crazy
To an outsider, a new idea usually sounds impossible or worse, not interesting. The most common feedback you’ll get from less creative outsiders is “but doesn’t that already exist?” Did coffee shops already exist when Starbuck’s started? Did search engines already exist when Google started? Did file sharing exist before Dropbox? The idea can be a new spin, a new time, a new market. Don’t worry about entering “a saturated market” as long as you have a big, innovative plan.
The best reason to seek out diverse advisors is the rich set of perspectives you will hear back. You need to talk to dozens if not hundreds of respected players in the industry to get the full story on what’s going on out there. You will learn something in every meeting.
That said, I often leave advisor meetings unimpressed with their feedback, especially if they fall into the “incumbents” category. These incumbents don’t know disruptive technology until it’s too late, according to the Innovator’s Dilemma, as described by Mark Suster. Starting a new business is about throwing meteors at dinosaurs. Sometimes you’re hearing the opinions from the dinosaurs themselves.
The idea needs the right owner
I heard a fantastic idea for a business recently from a would-be entrepreneur that is absolutely the wrong guy to make it happen. He’s not a risk taker, he’s not multi-skilled, he’s not aggressive, he’s not creative, he’s not confident, and he’s not resourceful. I knew right away that he would do nothing with this idea. (Maybe the reason I didn’t steal it is that I know it’s the wrong fit for what I’m passionate about, too). The idea is important, but the pitch is valuable when it comes from the right pitchman. People will like your idea because they like your passion, and your ability to make it happen.
I’ve met a few entrepreneurs who guard their idea like it’s a golden ticket. They think of it as a gold mine, and often congratulate themselves on the ingenuity of it all before they even so much as build a prototype. My friends and I call this the “whiteboard effect,” as in hey, I wrote this great idea on a whiteboard, shouldn’t someone start writing me large checks? Why is my mailbox not full of cash?
I saw a great post on Twitter after Steve Jobs passed away: “If you want to honor Steve, make something. Do something. Ship something. Now. Today. Everyday. “