Nahid Blog

Top Mistake: Keeping Your Idea a Secret

Dear Nahid,
I had an idea for a business, and I took an entrepreneurship class to learn how to put it into action. I made the mistake of sharing my idea when the instructor asked and was later disappointed to learn that another student had a friend who was working on the same type of business. I’m not sure what she told her friend and I feel betrayed. What do I do now? Do I scrap my idea? In the future should I have people sign a non-disclosure agreement before talking about my business, to protect my idea from being stolen?

Dear Furious,
It’s not easy to grow a business and even if your classmate passed on some of your ideas to her friend, she may not implement them. A business owner can usually only focus on about one initiative at a time. Great ideas are usually a dime a dozen, while getting the business to operate smoothly so you can breathe easy at night is priceless.

Most new entrepreneurs make the mistake of thinking that a unique idea is the key to success, and because of their protectiveness, they have a hard time moving forward and putting their idea into action. They only talk to people who are willing to sign non-disclosure statements, and even then are somewhat vague about what they plan on doing.

The fear is, “What if someone steals my idea?” But what you may not realize is that at least two thousand other people in the world probably have the exact same idea you do. It’s not the idea itself that makes a business, it’s the execution of that idea, and as the business grows, things will normally change.

Innovation is definitely important in business, but it usually doesn’t show up as “one great idea” in isolation. The most cutting-edge companies have a consistent process of innovation as part of their culture; one that enables them to constantly come up with new ideas in response to new situations that arise on a daily basis. By the time tomorrow hits, yesterday’s idea becomes old news.

In my experience, the best entrepreneurs do a lot of talking about their ideas before they start a business. They use these conversations to “test” an idea by seeing how potential customers respond to it, learning what other people have done, and discovering in advance what they will be up against.

When you don’t talk to people about your idea, potential customers don’t find out about what you are doing, and they are unable to give you feedback. Thus, by the time you are ready to “launch”, you may not have enough resources left to bring your product to market and adapt your product or services to what you learn from that feedback.

When you don’t talk to people about your idea, you miss the opportunity to hear the stories of the other people they know who also had similar ideas, and learn from someone else’s mistakes, or get a true handle on what your competition is.

When you don’t talk about your idea, you miss opportunities to learn, collaborate and partner with others, leveraging your personal resources and increasing the chances of building a viable entity.

Remember your idea is only the initial seed of your business. To give it a chance of coming to life, it will need to grow and change in participation with its environment. What that means is having conversations with people, asking questions, collaborating, experimenting, and using the success of your competitors as inspiration to keep building on your idea to make it better. Established businesses rarely fear their competitors copying or stealing their ideas. In fact, they often use the competition to fuel even better ideas.

If you are afraid someone will steal your idea, it might be a good time to do some research. See how many people you can find who are doing something similar to what you are thinking of doing. Ask a bunch of questions about their ideas. And then ask yourself, “am I stealing their ideas if I already was thinking about this?” Knowing what others are doing, or are considering doing, can I still build a business in this market and be unique enough to have an edge? This type of questioning will fuel the innovation in your mind AND give you the information you need to move forward.

It’s great that you have a great idea. That’s a big step for you. Now put your business concept into action and see what happens!


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