I'm in the process of planning out an application I've been thinking out for a while. I've planned out the logistics of it and am looking for a developer to actually do the development of it, or at least in a prototype phase. My question is about trust. I have an NDA, but in Malaysia, where I'm based, that's effectively useless because it's not really followed by the developers, meaning the idea isn't actually protected. I wanted to ask and find out how this pieces together. How do I actually protect an idea going forward? Or am I overthinking this?
I'm a freelance developer and have been working with all kinds of start-ups for over 10 years. Most of the time when I chat with new clients I sign an NDA. However, even in the US I've been told that these are very hard to uphold in court. First, thinking about the logistics.... how would you find out whether any part of your business idea was used by any of the developers that you've spoken with? How would you know whether they were the ones working on a particular business unless it becomes an extremely huge and popularly-known business?
Second, the execution of the idea is much more important than the "idea seed". You can give the idea seed to 100 people and you will have 100 different business and tech implementations. If you consider that, you'll see that the success doesn't depend on the idea seed itself but on the most successful execution of the business, user experience and tech side.
Third, chances are you are way more passionate about the core of the idea than anyone else you speak with. There are so many ideas out there and so many people passionate in their own path that it is really hard to change anyone's direction so much so that they would fully devote themselves to taking over your idea. I mean, think about how hard it is to find a tech co-founder even if you are giving up 50% of your company. It would be really hard to convince them of the imminent success of your company.
Fourth, even if they really love your idea and would want to steal it for their own, they definitely need a co-founder in the business realm. The idea that one developer can build a strong, viable business on their own is just not a reality. And, as you most likely know, building a good solid team is really though. They would need to have that ready before they begin anything viable.
So, there are many obstacles for any developer to take over your idea and hit it out of the park with the execution. Nevertheless, I still sign an NDA with every one of my potential clients and encourage them to do so. The reason being is not due to any legal repercussions. Signing the NDA is a way to communicate trust between the two parties and instill an understanding of confidentiality.
My thoughts are two parts:
If NDA is meaningless, it's not because no one follows them, at least not directly. It's because the State doesn't enforce them. If there were consequence, they would be followed. This isn't really helpful in your case; there's little you can do, other than placing the appropriate bribes, assuming you have that kind of capital.
If your idea were simple enough to execute that a few discussions with a developer would result in them stealing it, then you don't have a defensible idea anyway. Let's say you launch. People using your product or service can reverse engineer the design. People aren't stupid. At that point, the State (Malaysia) wouldn't protect your trade secret or patent or whatever anyway, and copycats would arise. The real question is: do you have faith that you can execute faster and better than anyone else in the world? I assert that if you don't have that kind of irrational faith in yourself, you have no business going into business.
Whenever it comes to protecting an idea, I would say not to think about it. Because an idea has no value –Zero. Ideas are not unique anymore nowadays.
Many have ideas in E-Commerce, social networking, etc. People can't claim that something is his/her idea. It's all about how you execute one from the concept to launch stages and then what efforts you put to make it a big fish after the launch. E.g., Google, Yahoo, and Bing - all of these are search engines. Why is Google outperforming others? Because of its execution and quality of search results. You will find so many similar examples around you.
We can't get trademarks or patent our ideas, and so it can't be protected. If you have something original in a sense, you must have planned a lot of things on how to launch and grow it. Even if someone copies it, the execution and mindset are going to make a difference. Since you've been thinking and planning a lot around it, you can outperform others working on the same thing.
So I insist, don't worry about securing your idea – focus on its execution. Just make sure you do a necessary validation of your idea, market research, and test your idea using a Design Sprint before starting the development of it. That would reduce risks and help you to decide what to build and what not.
Don't hesitate to ask for any other assistant or help. I would be happy doing that.
Learn to code so you can do it yourself? I have a sound experience in financial and business modelling, all kinds of CLV calculations, clustering methodologies and many other “numeric” things, am strong with spreadsheets and can use Python for data analysis at a sophisticated level, but for heaven´s sake I have been working with computer scientists and coders who command programming languages that I can´t even pronounce.
Similar things are true for the linguists, mathematicians, or all the guys with specific knowledge in a local market, target group, etc. If I tried to learn everything what they are capable of and “do it myself” I would certainly never start a business at all.
Others already have said that there is no such thing like a “simple business”. The simplicity is on the surface, that´s what customers see, but the model itself is complex. Business founders need to take away this complexity, this is part of creating a business, and it needs a lot of people of diverse backgrounds to accomplish that task. It is that very combination of skills and how people work together (some call it “processes” or “operations”) that makes the character of a company in the long run, and probably the leadership team that takes the lead to implement the idea (which could be called “strategy”). Yet the idea itself is almost useless. Of course you will carefully choose people to whom you forward sensitive information, but if you keep your idea yourself you won´t get ahead.
Do people steal your idea? I could write a book on that question and how to handle it, but in short: Yes, they do. And they do it often. If your idea is good, they do it always (this is called “competition”). But that´s part of the game. We need to accept that as part of the game and go ahead with those we trust.
Dear Alexsandra, Alyssa, Gautam, Alexandre and Marian - thank you so much for the absolutely invaluable information here. Seriously, all presented points were so strong and the implementation and passion is the key thing here. I really believe that and especially with a follower of Simon Sinek's "Why".. even if someone steals my idea, it's not likely to be implemented in the way I dream about, have passion about and the connections I have are the ones who would make this a reality.
I really thank you all for easing my worry on this point!
Hi Amit, I do understand your concern and would like to mention that you need to focus on the execution of your idea and how you will nourish that instead of being focusing on getting your idea stolen.
For a developer it might be interesting idea or the project but if you are focused about your passion, idea and know how you want the system to grow, what will be the process and the most important why are you doing that, that will be very much enough you to keep growing no matter if developer is stealing or not.
Wishing you good luck for your idea and would love to see your idea converting into reality.
Just Be focused and Passionate. Ideas can be stolen as that is the reason we have competitors and we should know how to survive, be competitive & win the market :)
@Aleksandra and @Alysse presented great points!
Of course, there is a risk. However, based on their points this risk is still much smaller than keeping the idea for yourself.
I don't know what is your product about, but in addition, I would suggest you to think if a developer is really needed to start some of the first validations. For example, a landing page about your product or a brochure to present to prospects could provide some powerful insights about changes needed to your business model hypothesis.
I am having this issue right now. Last year I teamed up with a developer (I was the business part) who eventually decided to implement the project alone. He went away with my idea (and a lot of spreadsheets + some initial work that I have already done).
Now I can see from some research on the web and my network what this gentleman is trying to do now. He is definitely going in the wrong direction if I may say so. Vision is certainly a point, but there are also much more "hard facts" to know about that kind of business I am planning than what I (or someone else) could ever write into a spreadsheet ... What Aleksandra says is true, especially points 2 to 4. It´s all about implementation, the idea is the least important part of all.
With regard to NDAs: I never sign one too early, and never before/after the first meeting or so. Whether it is legally enforceable or not, when I sign something I take this seriously and so an NDA could be an obstacle of what I am allowed to do in the future. I am talking to a lot of businesses that are similar in some way, and as long as we don´t have an agreement, I must be allowed to work for someone else in the same realm.
Furthermore, when I signed an NDA before the first meeting I would not even know what kind of idea that is. So why would I sign it?
There is always a way to hide the "secret sauce" long enough before you reach an assignment (or at least a letter of intent) with prospective partners.
I disagree with Aleksandra in only one point: a signature does not build trust. Trust is built before the signature after some negotiations/meetings/discussions about the project. The human touch comes first, then comes the paperwork.
But I understand that a developer may be in a different position when asked to collaborate, and it certainly depends on the specific situation. As always, there is no generic rule.
@Anonymous That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard. In a world of over 7 billion people there's no such thing as a simple idea no one else with ability to execute has not thought of. Flappy Bird was probably considered by many, and then dismissed because execution, as it turns out, infringed majorly on internationally protected copyright. It's great that dotGears was willing to break the law and make a bunch of money before legal issues caught up to him.
an idea is worthless without a good implementation (in the broad sense)
don't worry about anyone stealing your idea
if your idea is so unique -- it's, probably, worthless