I Won’t Steal Your Idea

As a consultant to various small businesses, I’ll be approached by people to discuss their business, and ideas for how they might expand. Since I’m also in the business of application development, I’ll also hear about their ideas for new websites. Sooner or later (usually sooner) they’ll raise the question:

How do I know you won’t just take my idea and build it yourself (leaving me out of it)?

A valid concern, unless you’re actually in my business.

A typical day for me is as follows:

  • Get to work by 8:30 AM
  • Work for 8-12 hours for various clients – this is what I get paid for, so I have to work on projects that I’m being paid for or I won’t be able to pay my bills
  • Get home, eat dinner, spend some time with my wife and daughter – this time is strictly family time, so no working on projects
  • If I feel up to it, put in a couple hours on writing articles here and on my single pet project
  • Sleep

First, there isn’t really any time for me to work on your idea unless you’re a client. I won’t get paid for it, so the only slot left for it is during my project time. I already have a project that I would like to complete, so even if I decided your idea was better than mine (and many times this is true), I would still want to finish my current project before starting another.

Second, there are all the reasons to keep you involved. You thought of the idea, and probably have some vision of how the entire project will work. Building an application is only part of it – you still need to define your target market, and reach out to them. I could spend time figuring out an angle, but you are likely far ahead of me in that direction. You also have likely thought of how the business will grow, something you haven’t told me about. So I can only guess in that direction.

Third, it’s not my business model – at all. I’m in the business of helping clients build their ideas into realities, not running those businesses for them. A perfect client to me is one who has a good idea, needs some help getting it off the ground, and plans on running the project themselves once it is built. Running an online business can be more than a full-time job, and it’s not what I’m interested in doing. That’s what my clients like doing, and I help them get the technology they need to make it happen.

Fourth, it’s really bad for business. If I took even one client’s idea and executed it on my own, word would quickly get out that I stole the idea. I would lose the trust of all my current and potential clients for a potential momentary gain. It’s not even a guarantee – no matter how good the idea is, there’s never any guarantee that it will be profitable.

Am I saying that an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) is unnecessary? No. You should still have one signed. But it’s not so much as to enable you to protect your idea as it is to inform the other party that you intend to execute the idea, and whatever you tell them about it should be considered proprietary.

Is it enforceable? Probably not, in most cases. But it does make it clear that you consider the information given to be privileged.