Should I Share my Startup Idea with People?

  1. When should an entrepreneur share her startup idea? 
  2. how much of it? 
  3. with whom?
The short answers to these questions are:
  1. You should share your startup idea as soon as possible
  2. You should PROBABLY share ALL of it (Read more to find why I only said PROBABLY)
  3. You should share it with as many people as possible. 

When Should you Share your Idea?

The main reason for sharing it as soon as possible is that success mostly depends on execution, not on the quality of the idea. High tech investors are very aware of this fact. That's why they give so much importance to the founder team, since it's the best predictor that they have to tell whether the team will be able to execute the idea well or not. 

So, basically on one hand you have nothing to loose by telling the idea to other people. On the other hand, you have a lot to win, since your idea will evolve and get richer as you share it with people and listen to their feedback. 

How Much of your Idea Should you Share with Other People?

In most cases, the more you share the better. However, in some cases it's not a good idea to share all of it, since by doing so you would be losing crucial competitive advantage. 

The way to know if there is some part of your idea that you should keep to yourself depends on the Market Type you're in.

If you are in an Existing Market (e.g., selling smartphones, or music on demand like Spotify) you should be much more careful than if you are in a New Market (e.g., like Twitter was). 

Existing Market

In an existing market competition is your biggest problem. And companies compete in things such as price, quality, features (e.g., memory capacity in smartphones) and performance (e.g., number of cores in smartphones). If your idea (or part of it) will enable you to improve in any of these variables compared to your competitors, you should definitely either patent it or keep it as a secret.

In order for an idea to be eligible for a patent it has to meet three requirements:
  1. It must be new. That means, it hasn't been published anywhere, including the web. If the patent examiner finds your idea presented or explained somewhere (e.g., in a slideshow, in a webpage, in a Q&A forum) most likely you won't be able to patent it.
  2. It must be non-obvious. This requirement is to eliminate trivial patents. Your idea (e.g., a new computer architecture) should not be obvious to the experts in the corresponding domain (computer architects).
  3. It must have a clear industrial application. This requirement is to rule out abstract inventions that have no clear practical application.  
The fact that an idea can be patented does not mean that it should be patented. This is a very important distinction. When you patent an idea it is because you want to prevent others from using it, or to get money each time they use it (through royalties). But this cannot be done if it's hard for you to determine if someone is using your idea or not. 

For instance, assume that your idea is an algorithm that will be executed in the front-end of an Internet application, for instance, in javascript. Then it will be possible for you to prove in court that a competitor is using your algorithm and demand the payment of royalties because you can see the competitor's javascript code. 

However, if your idea is an algorithm that will be executed in the back-end of an Internet application, say behind an API, it will be very difficult for you to prove that a competitor is using your algorithm because you cannot see his back-end code. 

In this second case you may want to treat your algorithm as a trade secret, that is, as something you know and chose not to reveal to your competitors. For instance, many aspects of Google's Page Rank algorithm are kept as trade secrets.

Even if you don't share the most critical parts of your idea, you can still obtain valuable feedback from sharing the rest of it with other people. For instance, imagine that you've found a way to double the speed of a hard drive. You can share your whole business model (your plans on how to enter the market, who to target, distribution channels, pricing strategy, potential partners, etc.) with people in order to get valuable feedback without telling them how you managed to double the hard drive speed. 

New Market 

If you are in a New Market competition is the least of your problems. Your main challenge is to find a market with people that have the problem that you want to solve and who consider this problem to be very important. In this situation, the more you talk about your idea the better, because it will help you validate the existence of this hypothetical market.

As much as you love your idea, ideas are cheap, and every entrepreneur (i.e., a potential competitor) has many more promising ideas in her head than time to actually implement them. They will see your idea as your thing, not theirs. If they are nice, they will try to help you with feedback. So, relax and share your idea; it's all about the execution.

With Whom Should I Share my Idea?

With as many people as possible. More specifically:
  1. Share it with your family (e.g., your mother) to find insight about usability and to simplify how you explain your business model 
  2. Share it with potential customers to look for early signs that point out that you're solving a problem that they have, and a problem that they consider to be very important
  3. Share it with developers to get an idea about how much time it will take to implement the idea, and to know if it's feasible or not
  4. Share it with business people to identify weak spots in your business model and to learn from mistakes they've made that may be relevant to your business
  5. Share it with other entrepreneurs to get their opinion on what they think your MVP (minimum viable product) should look like


Share your whole startup idea as soon as possible, with as many people as possible, unless you are entering an existing market. In that case share only those parts of the idea that are not critical. 

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