No One Is Going To Steal Your Idea.

It's unoriginal and it will never work. But neither of those things matter.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

In 20 years of coaching wannabe founders, I’ve learned that the single biggest reason for failure is never starting. And I’ve heard every excuse there is for this failure to launch:

“I need to quit my day job.”

“I need to learn to code first.”

“I need to find a co-founder.”

“I need to raise money.”

The worst excuse of all – and one of the most frequent – is that they are scared. Not scared of failing (which is understandable) but scared they are going to have their idea stolen.

It’s tragic. “I’m going to have my idea stolen” is a fallacy, and a dangerous one at that.

To start, ideas don’t count. Not only is your idea almost certainly not original but it’s probably a bad idea too. But both of those things are fine – all ideas are bad ideas.  That precious little idea that you are so fond of is just a starting point, and it’s almost always a starting point that doesn’t work.

It’s what happens after you try your idea that’s important. What did you learn about the product? What did you discover about your customer? Sure, your idea didn’t work, but why?  It’s these failed attempts that inform your efforts to find an idea that eventually does work.

This process of idea validation is everything. It’s the process that every successful entrepreneur goes through. And it’s a process that can go on for months, with hundreds of failed tests, each resulting in some small bit of learning. With apologies to Thomas Edison, I believe that genius is 1% inspiration and 99% iteration.   

And that’s the second reason why it’s so tragic when someone lets the fear of a stolen idea be the reason for not starting.  

By so zealously protecting their idea, they are guarding the least important component of success while preventing themselves from starting the process of iteration which is the most important one.

This is not startup lore.  Every successful company I can think of started out doing something that bares only a passing resemblance to what they eventually became successful with.

Netflix, for example, started out as a video-rental-by-mail (with due dates and late fees) before eventually morphing to a subscription service, and then (9 years after launch) to a streaming company.

Slack started out as a gaming company. It was the tools that they built to manage their internal development process that eventually evolved – 4 years later – into what Slack is today

Twitter began life as Odeo, a podcasting platform. AirBnB was originally conceived as a solution for conference attendees. PayPal started as a way to beam money between handheld personal organizers.

I could give you hundreds of more examples.

But none of these companies could have gotten to where they are – which they did by twisting and turning their way to eventual success – if they had never taken that first step because they were scared someone might steal their idea.

But starting the process of iteration is just… well, the start. By sharing your idea, you don’t just learn from your own actions, you learn from everyone you share your idea with. You learn what has been tried before. What has worked and what hasn’t. And by spreading the word, sharing helps solve two of the other big reasons for not starting (“I need a co-founder” and “I need to raise money.”)

Listen, I get it. There is plenty to be scared about in doing a startup. The hours. The loneliness.  The setbacks. Sure, fear that. But someone stealing your idea? Don’t fear that. It’s not real. Push right past it. And like most scary things you overcome, you’ll never fear it again.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
8 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Jean Yves Martineau
2 months ago

This one of the things that really got me to pay attention to what you were saying in the podcast, Marc. I love it.

Marc Randolph
Editor
Marc Randolph
2 months ago

Great JYM. Glad you liked it.

Philip Rossen
2 months ago

Great point. It is much better to share your idea with anyone and get valuable feedback. I got so much feedback by sharing my idea about Justlearn with other people. The company was private tutoring for high school students in Denmark, but we got very few customers. Justlearn turned into online language tutoring for children and adults in any country, and it became much better than the first idea.

Marc Randolph
Editor
Marc Randolph
2 months ago
Reply to  Philip Rossen

I’ve never heard someone complain that they shared too much. Every story is just like yours: how much they learned, how much faster they moved, and how much it increased their chances of success.

Ira Leino
2 months ago

I completely agree. Another thing I have heard is that people are afraid to do a crowdfunding campaign in the early stages in fear of other people stealing their ideas on Kickstarter. I’m running a social networking called JOYN, and in my experience, talking about the idea will help to get it validated and to get feedback e.g. regarding future functionalities of the app. Also, with that logic, won’t it hard to get the first customers, as they might steal the idea…

Marc Randolph
Editor
Marc Randolph
2 months ago
Reply to  Ira Leino

Glad that you are seeing how effective it is in practice to share ideas early.

Consuelo Solano
Consuelo Solano
2 months ago

From Google; “Many entrepreneurs are surprised to learn that stealing someone else’s business idea is often perfectly legal. In most cases, unless the idea is protected by a trademark, patent or copyright, other businesses can take the idea and run with it“. It’s actually very naive to say with such confidence the contrary. I know first hand a stolen idea, patented by the way, that was taken to court where the big corporation ruined the small entrepreneur that was not able to afford the long process.

Marc Randolph
Editor
Marc Randolph
2 months ago

People are taking my “no one is going to steal your idea” a little too literally. Certainly, if you are a biochemist and have spent three years evolving a propietary compound or molecule, I’m not suggesting that you publish the formula publicly before you’ve protected your IP. I’m talking about “ideas” for companies, for products, for services. Sure people “steal” those ideas, but my point is that it doesn’t make a difference. The idea is not the important thing. The execution is all of it. The idea changes so dramatically from when the entrepreneur starts to when the product/service/company actually gets traction that whether or not someone else runs with the same idea does not materiall effect the outcome of your execution. But the real tragedy I’m trying to illustrate with this post, is when in an effort to protect something (the idea) which has almost no impact on success or failure, they fail to start on the the thing (the execution) which is the most important thing.