Archive for September, 2010

Startups: Keep it secret, keep it safe..

September 21, 2010

I hear this from entrepeneurs all the time: “I’m keeping my startup idea secret”.   In my opinion and that of others, don’t! Talk about your idea to almost anyone who will listen.  Everyone! Investors, entrepreneurs, friends, ex-coworkers, etc. In fact, anyone! Why? Because the more people you talk too, the more you will learn.

In Eric Karjaluoto classic post Why your web startup will fail’, Eric says: ‘No one is looking at you. No one is listening to you. Even if you create a portable fountain-of-youth, your startup’s biggest challenge will be to get anyone to pay attention. Really–it’s that hard.’ You therefore have to talk to lots of people and there’s a ton of benefits when you listen to their responses:

  1. Evolution – Others will give the idea refinement and improvement suggestions.
  2. Make better – By taking to people you will discover flaws and hopefully correct them.
  3. Learn – You’ll understand a lot more about the sector and industry you’re aiming at.
  4. Competitors – You will learn about competitive products that exist or are being built.
  5. Find needs – You will gauge people’s excitement level for the product and for various features.
  6. Practice – You’ll refine your all important sales and investor pitch.
  7. Bad idea – You might even discover your idea is a bad idea and save yourself a world of pain.

Despite the clear benefits there’s always the counter argument: “but someone will steal my idea”. In reality there are, at most, a handful of people in the world who might actually drop everything and copy your idea. Unfortunately, most people will think your idea suck’s.  However his does not mean your idea is stupid. Entrepreneurship is about seeing needs that other don’t always understand immediately. So, who’s going to copy you..?

  1. The big company employee – They or their company will steal your idea. Not likely! Their employers normally have a product in the market and its hard to change direction, particularly for big companies. They are personally in a big company because its safe. Are they really going to leave their fat paycheck for the unknown.. I doubt it!
  2. Other entrepreneurs – Most founders, who are going to build something, are already working on their project and are highly unlikely to drop everything to copy you.  Even if they are in the idea generation phase, high integrity entrepreneurs are unlikely to copy your idea.
  3. VC’s –  They will either like your idea or not. If they like it and like you enough, you’ll get funded.  VC’s prefer to fund an existing teams than taking an idea and building a team.  The team owns it! The one risk is if they have entrepreneurs workingon a similar project.  But most VCs will disclose this first and let you decide.

The handful of people in the world who might copy your idea are entrepreneurs just starting up with a very similar idea.  Don’t worry competition is good and their will always be smart founders out there with similar ideas. Remember ideas are cheap and execution is everything. Also remember, an idea changes as it grows.

Finally, the conversation moves onto the NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) – I’ll tell you if you sign an NDA”. Unfortunately this blows everything:

  1. Shows inexperience – Few experienced entrepreneurs or VCs will sign them.  Asking them to is widely considered a sign of inexperience.
  2. Consequences – There value is not clear unless you are a big company. Are you really going to spend years suing someone who signed an NDA and broke it?
  3. Time – As a startup you don’t have much time. Don’t waste it writing unnecessary documents.

Ideas grow and branch off in unexpected ways when they’re given the light of day. Don’t keep them secret to protect them. Talk to everyone who will listen and you’ll probably learn a thing or two 😉

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Startup vs Home Life

September 9, 2010

I Love my home life (family, friends and adventure). I also love my startup. Like my children it embodies the future! With all this love to spread around, there’s not enough time for everything. I’m not alone in this startup vs home life situation. One of my good startup friends is in the extremely intense phase of finishing his app, Annot8, before launch. He’s working all hours!! His kids now think his office is ‘Daddy’s house’. From all I’ve read startup, home life, and physical/mental well-being needs to be carefully balanced to help make a successful startup.

The trouble starts, as it inevitably does, when a startups becomes an obsession. Driven from a desire to succeed and too much to do, a startup can take over your entire mind. Until you think and talk of little else.  You become so connected to your startup your emotions are driven by the highs and lows of the company. Obsession is not all bad. It pushes and creates. However there is a personal price to pay:

  1. Family life suffers –  My blogger friend Giff recently talked about entrepreneurship and parenthood saying ‘young kids take a huge amount of time, require flexibility, and put a lot of constraints on a founders schedule’. His excellent point is that the only answer is ‘compromise’. Like most things in life its a balancing act. You have make time for both life’s. In Steve Blanks great post, ‘Lies Entrepreneurs Tell Themselves’ he very honestly talks about the need to be realistic why you’re starting-up. It’s often for selfish reasons and not thinking of others!
  2. Your body suffers – In Mark Suster’s ‘The Yo-Yo life of tech entrepreneurs’ post Mark talks about how your body suffers with weight gain. You more often eat unhealthy food and may consume more alcohol. You have less time for exercise. This isn’t good. We all know exercise is great for stress relief. I’ve certainly found it challenging to keep training whilst growing our startup. Be strict and make time for your body.
  3. And you Mind suffers too – It seems to achieve great things one needs to leave the norm behind. ‘There is a fine line between entrepreneurship & insanity’ – Anita Roddick. To be great you have to concentrate on one thing. You can see this in any great sports person. However total concentration without any relief builds-up both physical and mental exhaustion. You ‘burn out’! The uncertainly of startups can also cause you to constantly worry. Here’s a interesting post on what a founders wife sees in her husbands start-up. Take a break from your startup and recharge your mental batteries.

When you become obsessed by your startup everything else suffers: your body, your personal relationships and ultimately your startup! The startup journey is a marathon. As founders we cannot do it on our own. We need a support mechanism. We must have help from family, friends and help ourselves. By isolating ourselves in our startup obsession we cut off the very support that can help us to succeed. Mike from crowdSPRING has some great tips on managing this difficult balancing act of life and startups.

I’ll leave you with one final thought from a great obsessive man: If A is a success in life, then A equals x plus y plus z. Work is x; y is play; and z is keeping your mouth shut”. – Albert Einstein