Back when I was working on my very first startup, I was terrified about sharing my ideas online.
We did the whole stealth mode thing. We tried to shroud our idea in secrecy.
In business, stealth mode is a company's temporary state of secretiveness, usually undertaken to avoid alerting competitors to a pending product launch or other business initiative.
We shut down that startup a few months later.
Why? Because we struggled to get traction, traffic, and ultimately customers. All because we refused to talk about our idea.
How new startup founders build companies
It’s a common problem among new startup founders. There’s always a fear that other people are going to swoop in and steal your idea. Even worse, what if they make it more successful than you?
So you spend months building your startup in stealth mode, do a private alpha, two betas, a limited release, a public preview.
Soon you’re six months in to the thing, and still only a handful of people know about your startup.
You’re close to running out of funds. It’s still not clear if people really need what you’re building.
You delude yourself by saying it’s OK, because it’s only been six months. There’s hundreds of startups that take longer than that to make money, right?
Eventually, after the months keep ticking by, you realize something that’s all too familiar to seasoned entrepreneurs.
Nobody cares about your idea.
What happens when you share an idea online
If you do decide to share your idea online, there’s only a couple possible outcomes.
Someone steals your idea
So, someone steals your idea. So what? Maybe it was a terrible idea to start with. In that case you should stop. Truly terrible ideas rarely make great startups.
That’s pretty darn unlikely though. People don’t tend to steal terrible things. More likely, your idea is good. Someone stealing it is validation. It’s a good thing. It proves you’re not crazy.
Remember that first startup I told you about? We had no competition. We thought that was awesome. We were excited to be the first.
Turned out that actually, no competition meant no market. We were trying to carve one out for a while, but it wasn’t happening. In fact, to this day there’s still no market there.
We’d built an awesome feature and called it a company. It wasn’t going anywhere, and we could have saved ourselves a whole lotta bother by telling people sooner.
Nobody notices, or even listens
It’s far more likely that nobody will even notice your idea. They’ll likely not even notice you’re working on a new idea at all.
They’ll see a startup idea. Probably their tenth of the day. And they’ll just move on with their lives.
After all, startup ideas just aren’t that hard to come by.
People don’t care that you’re making the next Facebook, or Uber, or AirBnb.
They don’t care that you’re making the next best thing™.
They only care about how a product can help them. Why should they listen to you? Why should they take time out of their day to give you feedback?
The most likely scenario of all is that you’ll need to hammer your idea into your prospects’ brains until they so much as listen to you.
It’ll be a pain. A constant struggle. But eventually, by trying incredibly hard, you’ll get people to take a look at your tech. Try even harder for even longer and you might even build enough trust for them to give you money.
What’s in an idea anyway?
Logistics aside, you should really consider how much ideas matter.
You don’t own an idea. Anything you’re able to think of, someone else has probably thought of before. Then discarded it.
Maybe they even have it written down somewhere in a book.
I personally have hundreds of startup ideas sitting in my notebook, right next to me on my desk. Whenever I think of a new idea it goes in there.
Your idea might be in there.
Hundreds of ideas that I’ll never get round to building. One startup at a time’s plenty enough for me.
It really doesn’t matter. If there’s someone out there building exactly what you’re building, even to the letter, it’s rarely a problem.
There’s a whole lotta customers out there, and a ton of huge markets. It’s unusual to see total monopolies. Even if it seems that way, there’s usually room for others. Maybe not to thrive, but to do OK. Just take a look at Bing.
Focus on execution
So if you can’t own an idea, what can you own?
Focus on executing as well—and as aggressively—as you can.
Even now, with HelpDocs, there’s dozens of direct and indirect competitors out there. We’re building knowledge base software to compete with huge incumbents that’ve been around for years. But we’ve seen a gap in the market, and we’re going for it.
We’re carving out a market for our knowledge management tech. We’re all continuing to execute at our best, and our competitors better watch out.
Ideas are maybe 1%. Execution’s the rest.
Build the best startup you can, whatever your idea. The rest’ll work itself out.