Talk is cheap, and this is good news for your ideas

Published on December 15, 2017Startups1,255 words

This story that inspired this article began on a sunny Sunday morning. I had just waken up and was heading downstairs to get breakfast. Thiago, one of my flatmates, was already in the living room sipping his coffee. I joined him at the table and we started discussing. After a few minutes, he paused for a moment and, with a serious look on his face, went like this:

Thiago: Dude, you know how to build websites right?

Me (with an intrigued tone): I do

Thiago: Listen, I’ve got this killer idea, I’ve been thinking about it for months. It will work for sure, I would need a website.

Me (even more intrigued): Oh really? What’s your idea about?

Thiago: Well, I haven’t told anyone about it so I can’t go too much into details but…

Me: (choking on my coffee): Wait… what are you waiting for to talk about it?

Thiago: Mate, I don’t want someone to steal my idea!

Me (staring at him): 🙀

This conversation went on for another hour. I unsuccessfully tried to make a point and show him how unhelpful this mindset is. I knew I was right because I, too, used to come up with new “killer” business ideas on a regular basis. And I would, too, not dare talk about these lest someone would steal them.

As you assume, none one of these ideas ended up as a concrete project. None of them got even close. They are still comfortably seating in my “business idea” spreadsheet and will probably remain there for a long time.

I’m pretty sure my flatmate’s brilliant idea hasn’t progressed by one iota since our last talk. Thiago, if you read this, these are the reasons why remaining quiet will kill your idea. Sorry I couldn’t pull off such a structured answer on that Sunday morning. It was Sunday morning after all.

Facebook: the biggest idea heist

The counterexample my flatmate would (rightfully) throw at me was Facebook. According to the movie The Social Network, Mark Zuckerberg stole the Winklevoss brothers’ idea to build a Harvard Connection social network, which he used to start The Facebook. And we all know the rest.

I don’t know whether the story in the movie is accurate, but let’s pretend it is for a moment. Had the twins talked to anyone else about this ideas, it probably wouldn’t have been “stolen”. But they talked about it to Zuck, who had:

  1. Interest: he understood the problem the idea solved and recognised its potential.
  2. Skills: he had enough programming skills to build the first version of the product.
  3. Time: he wasn’t a party monster, had no 9–5 job, no girlfriend and no children.
  4. The right team: he partnered up with a bunch of Harvard students and got Napster’s cofounder as a first director.
  5. The right environment: Harvard and the USA, respectively the most prestigious university in the world and the strongest entrepreneurial culture in the world.
  6. Nothing to lose: he wasn’t risking anything when he started. He “only” dropped out of Harvard when Facebook gained enough traction.

Zuck was in a perfect position to potentially steal any idea at that time. Yet, we rarely meet such profiles in our daily lives. Finding people who only have the slightest interest in our ideas is difficult enough.

The harsh truth is, most of us don’t care about what’s going on around our routines. We are busy enough with our own ideas, schedules, hobbies, children, partners, problems… lives.

Assuming that someone likes our idea and wants to “steal” it, there are still a mountain of resources needed to implement it. To launch a new business is full-on, it requires most of our time, attention and efforts. It’s a huge commitment, and the vast majority of people is not ready to commit on that level.

You and I could have overheard that Facebook discussion back in 2003 and still do absolutely nothing with it by lack of skills, time, money, team or interest. Our ideas are safer than we like to think.

Validating the idea

The first step on the long journey bringing your business idea to to life is to make sure it solves someone’s problem. And this is done by exposing the idea to the world and getting feedback from the potential users. Or even better, getting a prototype in their hands and see if/how they use it.

Asking our parents and friends is not enough. First because they may not be our target audience, and second because they are probably biased. We want honest and blunt feedback from strangers.

I used to be so excited by new ideas that I would skip this essential validation step. I would start building without making sure the foundations (the market) were robust. I think I was scared by the potential critics I would receive. I was scared that someone would call my idea, or me, stupid and destroy my excitement.

As scary as they can be, those early critics are usually golden for the project. They allow you to reshape the idea to focus on the core problem. They may also totally discard the idea and allow us to save time and money on something no one cares about.

In any project where the plan is to charge customers for a product or a service, it would be silly not to ask them if what we are building is worth their time and money.

Building momentum

Once you your idea is validated, once there’s some kind of problem / solution fit, comes the moment of truth, the execution. This might be the most difficult part. We need to set the whole project in motion and build momentum.

The goal is to find the first customers, team members, commercial partners, mentors, investors… people who have interest in joining the movement. At the beginning, this is done by talking to your target audience and creating a connection with them.

As the project moves forward, talking remains important. The constant feedback we receive is a precious indication, it tells us if the road ahead is worth taking or shows us a better one. The more we get people engaged in the process, the more we hold ourselves accountable, the more we build momentum.

Stealing is caring

If your new idea is really a killer idea, chances are someone has already built a similar thing. And this doesn’t matter. When people want to steal from you, it means what you have built is valuable to someone. It’s a sign of success, we only steal great ideas. Or at least ideas that generate money.

Twitter launched after Facebook and Google was created after Yahoo. A successful idea provides a point of reference as to what’s working. It’s up to the underdog to make the “stolen” idea its own, to tackle the problem with a different angle.

I don’t think someone will want to steal my flatmate’s idea, because it’s probably not as brilliant as he thinks (no offence Thiago). But he still needs to realise it, this is part of the learning experience. We are terrible at assessing our ideas’ potential, there’s too much passion and ego involved.

Speak now or hold your peace forever

Talking is the cheapest investment we can, and should, make in any new business ideas. Avoiding it is best way to waste time and money.

It’s more dangerous to keep quiet about a new idea than to shout about it from the rooftops. Let’s pitch it extensively, expose the little guy to the wild world. It’s the only way for it to become mature.

Everyday, whether we buy, like, share, upvote or attend something, we decide what idea has the right to live or die. Let’s talk and give our ideas the same chance to be assessed.

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