Posted by: Mobile Kugel on May 04, 2011
I am part of a small online business in Grahamstown. My partner and I found a problem and created a solution. Lucky for us the site took off and has been a success.
We decided to start a second site, one which was more general and catered for a bigger audience. After hard work and perseverance, this site failed.
During the development of company A, we kept things on the down low. But soon before our big launch date, we learnt that another group of students had created a site similar to ours, with a similar name and a similar aim.
At the end of the day, our site was better and we won, and we deserved to because we offered a better service and sexier product.
During the development of company B, we made the mistake of meeting with a person whom we felt could give us positive feedback on our brand. A year later we found out they had adopted the exact model we had. We died, they are still going.
I then watched The Social Network. Far from being inspired by the story, I became utterly paranoid about everything.
I vowed never to speak about any of our companies ideas to anyone. When my partner and I met at coffee shops I kept looking over my shoulder for any suspicious looking characters and insisted on whispering even though I knew that the only people at the restaurant were a group of pubescent teenagers only interested in the opposite sex and eradicating their acne.
I thought to myself that the only way anyone can be successful at anything is to keep it a secret.
During the holidays I met with a friend. He is the kind of friend who wrote the higher grade matric maths paper twice in 3 hours just to double check that he answered all the questions properly, which he did. He now owns a successful online billing company and is in the US at the moment participating in some competition that will make him very famous one day.
We ordered a cappuccino and chatted about the past years events. I told him about business A, B and the potentials of C but not before threatening him that I will destroy him if he copies the idea.
He looked at me with a raised eyebrow and then said, “Nobody cares about your ideas, don’t be so arrogant that you think your ideas are original. There are probably hundreds of people who are trying to do the same thing as you anyway. But you must share your ideas because you will find that people are not looking to copy them but rather to give you feedback and that is how you learn to make an excellent product.”
“O emmmm geeee, how rude! Have you ev?” I thought to myself. But all that came out of my mouth was the sound of an ego burst disguised as a hideous hissing noise.
If he managed to get almost 100 percent in matric for maths, he must be right about this too.
A few months later I had a similar experience with the real maccoy. Representative from Google. Brett St Claire, the Head of Google Mobile South Africa as well as Richard Cheary and Dirk le Roux of Afrozaar, a startup company working with Google were doing an industry visit to Rhodes University’s computer science and information systems department.
What I thought would be a one hour seminar turned into a five hour, inspirational brain frying, I-should-just-drop-out-of-university experience. After the presentation, my partner and I approached Brett.
“We have a really cool idea that we think has a lot of potential,” I began.
“That sounds great, what’s it all about?” Brett replied.
“Well, I am a little skeptical to tell you all the detail bu-”, he interrupted me.
“You know there are probably lots of people who have the same idea, you need to stop talking about it and do it before they do.”
He was right. They were both right.
Intellectual property is something that is almost impossible to copyright. It is a free market out there and people borrow and copy ideas from others all the time. The only way to win is to be the best, work the hardest, learn as much as you can, understand your customers and make them king.
As exciting as this venture is into the entrepreneurial online market I think that my fear is deeply rooted in inexperience. I am ignorant about so much of what is “out there” and vulnerable in and around general business practice. My so called “arrogance” and secrecy is a defense mechanism. I know that our ideas are not unique but by keeping them secret, at least I know that nobody I know is scheming about the same thing.
Despite this lesson I am still uneasy about sharing my ideas with people in the industry. I have been stung twice and am weary to open the honey jar and tempt the other bees.
At the end of the day, do you share your ideas or don’t you? Have you had any bad or good experiences with either telling people about ideas or not?