Ideas are expensive: the 6th reason why no one will steal your business ideas



I read this blog post by Grega Stritar on “Five reasons why I will not steal your business ideas”, which explains in some detail why other founders won’t steal your idea.

Among the five reasons are the classics like ‘Your idea is probably no good anyway’ :

“I’ve seen Seedcamp companies change their core concepts and business models completely, and these startups are already the best, selected from hundreds, if not thousands. (…) Your idea isn’t amazing, but it may be good enough to achieve something with proper execution. That’s why you need feedback and partners.”

As well as: ‘I have too many of my own business ideas anyway’, and ‘I have too much work as it is’:

“I have so many ideas I don’t know what to do with them. They are probably not really great (see reason 1), but they are mine, and I try hard to make a few of them come alive every now and then, when I have the time.”

The author’s goal is to convince startup founders wantrepreneurs that they should talk to as many other founders as possible, to get feedback and validation for their ideas.

Business ideas are expensive

One reason that’s not explicit in his blog is that business ideas are not only less valuable and precious than you think, they are in fact expensive and you should approach them with caution. Here’s what Mikko Jarvenpaa writes in his book ’Speed up your Startup’ about  ideas:

“Ideas have a very real costthe opportunity cost of processing them, evaluating them and wondering what is it that you should be doing for that Next Big Thing startup of yours.”

The cost is that you can only execute one idea, at the expense of all others. And any idea will take at least a year – a year of hard, uphill battles. “You pick one idea, execute the hell out it, and refuse the others, since they are costly in the resources they demand of you.”

And if you fail after that year or after a few years of these uphill battles, it’s probably less easy to chalk it up to experience than you might think. The current culture of ‘fail fast’ might lead wantrepreneurs to think that failure is cheap or easy, when that’s not the core of the ‘fail fast’ idea in ‘The Lean Startup’. Failing fast is not about failing with your company, it’s about quickly validating or invalidating ideas that can make your company succeed.

That’s where talking to more experienced entrepreneurs and mentors comes in: if they can destroy your idea in one conversation, you can start thinking about other approaches that might actually work.

In fact, not failing with their business is foremost on entrepreneurs’ minds, and I think many wantrepreneurs underestimate the crushing sense of responsibility that entrepreneurs feel towards their idea, their business (and yes: their ego).

A journalist I know recently interviewed some startups. He told me with some surprise that they were all so calvinistic. He was talking about the guilt these founders felt whenever they weren’t working. The sense of responsibility is huge, especially if you have people working for you or you raised money, and you shouldn’t underestimate that.

While it’s not certain that the suicide of Ecomom founder Jody Sherman was caused by business trouble, the reactions of entrepreneurs after his death do offer a glimpse into the huge pressures that starting entrepreneurs face when they feel that their business is not going the way it should go.

When I asked my friend the journalist if he’d never considered starting his own company, he said: “When you’re over 50 like me, you tend to think that life has other things to offer than slavery”.

Have any insight into the price of ideas? Let’s discuss it in the comments.

[Photo: Flickr, shannonkringen]

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About the author

Raf Weverbergh

Editor of whiteboard. Raf Weverbergh was a magazine journalist at Humo whose work appeared in magazines like Rolling Stone, Playboy, Mail on Sunday, Publico and South China Morning post before starting Whiteboard in 2012. He profiles entrepreneurs and businesses and loves to chat on Twitter, Linkedin or Skype (rafweverbergh).

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