Friday, December 18, 2009

Should you discuss your business idea with other people?

As we mentioned in a recent post, if you have an entrepreneurial idea, it's highly likely that whatever influenced you to have the idea has influenced 1000 other people to have the same idea at the same time. So this begs the question, should you keep your idea under wraps, hidden from others? Or should you talk to people about it and seek their advice?

If you're a regular reader of this blog you probably have a good idea of our thoughts on this. We've gained so much from talking to people about our business, particularly via this blog, both before our launch and since. Whether it was the 72 incredibly generous comments helping us to brainstorm a new name when it looked like we couldn't use Shoes of Prey, or the discussions we've had with people about the shoe sizing conundrum, being open about our business has been hugely valuable. Over the last few years we've had literally hundreds of ideas that, after talking to people about them, we've realised won't work. No doubt that's saved us a lot of effort and contributed to us starting Shoes of Prey rather than another business.

The obvious risk of discussing our idea is that potential competitors read our blog, learn from us and use our ideas. And particularly prior to our launch, the risk was that someone would take our idea and beat us to it. Obviously we don't discuss everything on this blog, but there's actually very little we don't discuss. We think our success will come down to how well we execute on the idea. If other people read this blog and enter the market, that's ok, it's up to us to offer a better product to our customers.

What are your thoughts? If you have a business you're thinking of starting do you discuss it with others or keep it quiet?

Photo Credit.


  1. Well, I am someone who likes to share my ideas with everyone, but I notice something nowadays...Some people instead of using your ideas to brainstorm their own, will outright steal your ideas.

    About 10 years ago, I had a friend who was writing a book, I used to be the proofreader and he was always talking and telling me about his ideas and telling other people too and even giving them little snippets of his book, which was largely a book full of jokes and so on. One day, while surfing the Internet we came across a website and forum with almost the entire contents of his book. This was due to the fact that he had been sharing all his ideas with people and giving out "samples" of his unfinished work.

    He contacted me about two years ago to let me know that the book had been published and thanked me for all the proofreading I had done.

    So, I guess if you are setting up a business, its important to protect your ideas through the patents and intellectual property office, just in case someone plagiarises your work and ideas.

    Also, I think the fact that your business, Shoes of prey, is more of a specialised type of business, it was/is harder for people to steal your ideas so easily.

    If you are writing a book or in the information business, it could be a disadvantage to share your ideas with certain people unless they can be trusted.

    I find that a lot of people tend to just think they can steal/take stuff online, in my experience eg if you are a photographer/artist, that kind of thing. Also, proving ownership can be difficult too.

  2. These words are invaluable. I am personally finding the more people I talk to the more ideas, feedback , advice and support you get. Fantastic post.


  3. I used to work a lot in the entrepreneurial space. Many upstarts are extremely protective of their ideas. The whole IP thing has gone overboard. Basically if your business idea is going to fall to pieces because someone else finds out your 'secret'and copies you then it was a bad idea in the first place. The idea does not make the business succeed by itself. It is the hard work, networks, business acumen, finance backing, whether or not the founders have experience in that industry and all other aspects of the business that are what will make a business succeed. Execution is key, as you say.

    Cool read Michael. Never realised you were into this sort of thing.

  4. A company I worked for had gone through a lengthy discussion and planning phase for a technical project to do with card payment terminals in the UK. The project would implement terminal software and functionality in a way not really done before. Once we had received a final proposal from the manufacturer whose developers would be working in conjunction with our own, our management brought up new issues that should have been raised at the start. As a result, discussions went on further and the project eventually lost steam (to my frustration). About 7 months later I was at a trade show and saw one of the manufacturers sales rep's at a competitors stand. The rep had successfully taken the idea to our main competitor who had implemented the idea excellently.

    I guess an NDA (Non Disclosure Agreement) could have been used to avoid this, but the agreement could have easily been argued on the basis that the idea was thought of organically by the manufacturer or the competitor.

    Always judge what the people you are dealing with (suppliers, manufacturers, resellers, etc) have to gain by ripping you off. Get to know the people you are dealing with as well as you can - who else they work with in the market, how long they have been with the company, who they have worked for before, etc. Never rely entirely on an NDA.

  5. Discussions with trusted people that you seek advice from are very important as you pointed out. The blog is beneficial but obviously trickier. Have you filed patents yet? Here in the US provisional ones are quite affordable and easy to submit. They are good for 12 months and then you have to file a "real one".

  6. Hi guys, some awesome thoughts here, thanks!

    Beauty and Health Editor - that's a shame that the content of your friends book was stolen like that. It's a good point that text, photography and art can all much more easily be stolen online than ideas like Shoes of Prey. Copyright laws in theory should protect against things happening like you describe, but in practice it's usually too expensive to go down the legal path. The issues in the music and movie industries with online piracy are very closely related to the scenario you describe and that's a difficult problem to solve. Regarding books, Seth Godin ( an interesting view on all this. He offers most of his books for free as an eBook which he finds is great for sharing the ideas in them and getting word out about his books. He finds people still want to buy the physical book as a souvenir and for the convenience of being able to read it in a book format and he thinks he makes more from this approach than just offering the book for sale.

    Chris - great to hear you've had a similarly positive experience talking about PostGlow with others. :)

    Jackson - I couldn't agree more on the fact that if your business is going to fail because someone steals your secrets then it's not a great business in the first place. Even for a company like Coca Cola and their secret recipe - that's pretty much been copied by other cola companies, and Pepsi have even shown customers like the taste of Pepsi better than Coke in blind tests, yet Coca Cola is still extremely successful for reasons other than their 'secret recipe'. What did you used to do in the entrepreneurial space?

    Christian - Wow, that's in interesting story with the card payment processor! Although the employee took the idea to a competitor, I guess this still goes to the point that it comes down to how the idea is implemented - if the company you worked for had implemented the idea as you'd hoped rather than letting it lose steam the sales rep may not have left and taken the idea to a competitor, and it could well have been your company that implemented it excellently, and been first to market with it, rather than the competitor. Your point about judging who it is you're dealing with before working with them / sharing ideas with them is a good one. That said, our blog is available to anyone and so far the pros from doing that have far outweighed the cons, though given it's available to everyone we don't share absolutely everything on it.

    Dirk - We haven't filed any patents. We haven't look into it heavily but we don't think there's that much in our concept that can actually be protected. Perhaps parts of the shoe designer can, but then there's lots of similar things available on the web so we thought it unlikely and haven't really explored it in detail.

  7. I love your blog and the whole journey of start-up( recently discovered it from searching through the sneaking duck site=D). I just mentioned this awesome blog on mine, hope you wont mind =D, come say hi sometimes