Sometimes that’s exactly how I feel when I am interrupted by a passionate entrepreneur when I’m trying to explain why ideas are dime a dozen! Ok, now that I got that out of my chest, let’s move on.
We all have idea and often a lot of them. And of course, we tend to think our ideas are generally better, smarter and more valuable than other people’s. But in reality ideas on their own are indeed worthless, or at least, have little value. What matters most is how you execute an idea.
One of the questions that I get asked often by first time entrepreneurs is: “how can I share my idea with a developer or potential technical partner without them stealing my idea?”
This is a legitimate concern of course. And the most common practice for protecting an idea is having your partner or developer sign a non-disclosure agreement aka NDA. Problem is: reputable development shops and freelancers will not sign your NDA and refuse to listen to your idea, no matter how good and unique you think your idea is.
Why Most Developers Refuse To Sign A Preliminary NDA
If you do a google search, you’ll find an abundance of blogs posts by developers explaining in details why they usually refuse to sign NDAs. So, I am not gonna get into any details. But here’s a quick recap:
By asking a technical person to sign an NDA before discussing your idea, you’re signaling him or her that:
You’re a newbie. Nothing’s wrong with being a newbie obviously, but specially when you’re after a equity partnership, this is a tell-tale sign that you’re bringing no real experience to the table.
You don’t trust them, which of course is a very bad way to start a partnership. (Why would you want to partner with someone you don’t trust in first place?!!!)
Your idea is potentially worthless. Think about it, if your idea is so basic that just by sharing it, people can steal and copy it, it can’t be a good idea.
You don’t care about their business. At the end of the day, ideas are all similar. If a developer signs an NDA with you and you don’t end up working together, he cannot accept any work that might (even remotely) share something with your idea.
How Can I Protect My Idea Then?
The easiest way to protect your idea is to discuss it at a high-level. Your developer or CTO doesn’t need all the nitty-gritty of what you’re planning to build in order to give you a quote or an answer. You can discuss your idea in length without necessarily revealing your secret sauce.
When Asking For an NDA Is Appropriate?
Of course, there are cases when asking for an NDA is perfectly fine and acceptable. And that’s when your idea is patentable. If you have a patent-pending idea that cannot be discussed without disclosing the patent-pending parts, most developers won’t mind signing an NDA. But even then, there’s a right way and a wrong way to ask them to sign it.
If you think you can download a generic NDA from some website and expect a developer to sign it, good luck with that! If you don’t mind putting a little extra effort into it, here’s how to get them to sing an NDA:
How To Get A Developer or Technical Partner to Sign an NDA
Make sure you explain clearly and respectfully that the reason you want them to sign an NDA is that your idea is patent-pending and it cannot be discussed without going over the patented parts.
Make sure the agreement is specific and explains in details what cannot be disclosed (only the patented material).
Make sure it’s a fixed-term agreement that expires at some reasonable date in the future.
If still your developer is reluctant to sign your NDA, you might be better off looking elsewhere and find a more reasonable person.