I’ve been writing columns and blogging about tech for the better part of a decade now. This is an experience I wouldn’t trade for all the world; I have the opportunity to meet and talk to people who have so much tangible passion and belief in what they do, that you can’t help getting caught in their excitement and following the journey with a true spark…
But I get at least 2–3 emails a week from a founder who has something akin to “The Next Facebook” and wants me to sign an NDA before they can tell me about it. You know, in case I steal it. Or flog it to a competitor.
As if I’m trawling through my emails for startup ideas that I can make off with.
They always promise that the idea will be a game-changer, and it will be worth my time. Unfortunately, with no data or information, all I can conclude is that a total stranger on the internet wants me to sign a legal document.
When you’ve heard the pitches that I have (This week — hypnosis, AI sexting, and an honest-to-God perpetual motion machine…) you learn to be a little cynical about bright ideas.
Some people believe that just coming up with an idea should be enough to validate them as future millionaires. They think an idea is an asset, a piece of high-value R&D. They post on Quora trying to find out how to sell their ideas to other entrepreneurs.
The responses are always on-point. Nobody wants their ideas. Nobody really cares.
If they were working in actual R&D for a major tech firm like Apple, Facebook or Google, that kind of security and confidentiality would be expected. But until they’re playing with billion dollar budgets in the big leagues, it just looks petty.
So what should you do? I think you should give your ideas away. I’m not talking about standing on the corner with a sign that says Free Ideas, I mean open up your process and let some other people get inside. They could change your world.
I’ve been working recently with a few folks who have a concept for a new social app. I’m excited about it, and when the idea has become a little more than a roughly hewn piece of rock, it’s something I want to invest in.
For now, I’m talking to every developer, designer, and marketer that I know, pitching the idea. I’m gauging their feedback and measuring the idea’s value. I want to get their input, their opinion and uncover those few embers that could turn into raging fires.
You know how I can do this? Because those founders haven’t asked anyone to sign a pointless NDA.
They’re not particularly concerned about keeping their idea as some kind of heavily protected national treasure. They don’t want to be paranoid, and protective, and avoid giving their idea the chance to sink or swim on its own.
I believe the idea is a good one. A solid one. An exciting one. But we are all acutely aware that in its current state, it is worth nothing. It’s a few pieces of paper and some slides, some mind maps, one or two post-it notes and a slice of everyone’s time.
There is nothing of tangible value there yet. Could one of my contacts steal the idea? Absolutely. Could they execute it? Who knows. But it wouldn’t matter. I think the value I gain from their incredible viewpoints and their creativity far outweighs the risk.
And I will tell you this much.
If you operate in quote-unquote stealth mode and you’re so paranoid and precious that you can’t communicate with the outside world lest it rob you of your genius, the only person missing out is you.
Joan Westenberg is an award winning Australian contemporary writer, designer and creative director. She is the founder of branding and advertising firm Studio Self. Her approach to messaging, communication and semiotics has built her reputation as a writer, and she has been named as one of the leading startup voices in Australia by SmartCompany.
Her writing has appeared in The SF Chronicle, Wired, The AFR, The Observer, ABC, Junkee, SBS, Crikey and over 40+ publications. Her regular work can be found on Pizza Party, a blog about creativity, culture and technology. Joan is the creator Transgenderinclusion.com, an open-source workplace inclusion hack, and the author of the book #DIY, a manifesto for indie creativity.