Have a great idea? Worried someone will pinch it? How do you talk to potential investors, co-founders and customers without them taking your idea and doing it themselves?
Of course you should protect yourself with the traditional methods – copyright, trademark, NDA’s, Confidentiality Statements, Patents and more. But the one strategy that has helped me is to:
Talk about your idea as if they were a customer. Dropbox – your files anywhere. Gmail – a free email address. Asana – Project Management software. You don’t ask Dropbox how much they spend on hosting. You don’t ask Google how many servers are required for email and Asana won’t tell you much either. That’s because its irrelevant – focus on the benefits. Who do you help and how do you help them?
We can learn a lot from Dropbox’s application to Y-Combinator.
But first, some background…
Dropbox – the online tool that sync’s all your files across all of your devices. in 2007 they applied to the Y-Combinator start up program. It has been reported that Y-Cominbator bought 6% for roughly $350,000.
Their pitch was quite simple:
Dropbox synchronizes files across your/your team’s computers. It’s much better than uploading or email, because it’s automatic, integrated into Windows, and fits into the way you already work.
There’s also a web interface, and the files are securely backed up to Amazon S3.
Dropbox is kind of like taking the best elements of subversion, trac and rsync and making them “just work” for the average individual or team.Drew Houston – Founder of Dropbox
Here’s what I believe is the most important line:
Hackers have access to these tools, but normal people don’t.
There’s no secret sauce. No magical IP. There’s even options available to do this already.
What Dropbox did different is that it “just works”.
So, what have we learnt?
Talk to your investors like they are your customers. When you order KFC, they won’t tell you the secret herbs & spices
Are there any other hints or tips? Of course!
Document as you go. When speaking with someone new, who was in attendance? What did you talk about?
Write it down, take notes. Where was the meeting? How long did it go? A simple entry in your calendar is a great way to record what happened
Do VC firms steal ideas?
This is a bit tricky but highly unlikely. VC firms see hundreds of businesses and ideas a month. It just doesn’t make good business sense.
Can I get a patent for free?
This is always a red-flag for me. Free? Why wouldn’t you pay? If your idea is 1) good and 2) worth something / valuable, then it doesn’t make sense why you’re trying to go cheap.
In the United States, the USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office) maintain a searchable list of registered, active practitioners who might be able to assist.
Send you pitch deck as a PDF
This seems obvious at first and should be a no brainer. Never send a Google Slides link or a Keynote or Powerpoint file.
Timestamp your ideas or include other personal information
Because modify a PDF is more complicated, you could include something specific about the presentation. It could be their name, their office address, phone number or email address.
Have a think yourself, we’re much more protective of our own personal information. It also introduces another touch point (hey, its Jim, we really liked your presentation and would like to show it to XYZ. Would you mind removing…)
You don’t have to say yes, but at least its giving you options.
Finally – seek legal advice
Again, I find this really odd. If it is important to you, if this is something you’re worried about, then go find a professional. The won’t charge for an initial consoltation. They’ll quickly assertain if they can help. And if they can’t they’ll give you some suggestions on alternatives.