The other day I got this email:
Hi John,I just finished reading your post regarding not signing NDAs and I was wondering if you might be willing to share your insight as to how I might want to proceed in something similar (in other words, what is the appropriate way to develop an idea when one does not have the programming skills)? Everyone wants to protect their ideas, but how do we do so and see them through to fruition rather than be a simple pipe dream?
Just like in your post, I have an idea which I can not implement and it is rooted in a couple of ideas/websites. I do not necessarily consider it original, but I do see an opportunity for it as it has not been executed yet. I actually want to approach a specific website with this idea as I believe they would be the best fit for this project/expansion. I believe I fit into your A category; I know they would blow me out of the water if I were to develop my idea independently of them. My problem is that I am not really sure how to get my foot in the door and be taken seriously, while at the same time protect myself from them just saying “thanks for the idea, the door is over there.”
I did appreciate your point on the “90/10” split. I have always thought that I would love to get 10% for my idea, but my assumption has been even that would be extremely high considering the web site would be putting up the money and doing all the work (and “the door is over there”).
I would greatly appreciate it if you might be able to give me some feedback and pointers as to what I should actually do.
Thank you for your time,…
After meticulously detailing the ins and outs of NDAs for developers, it’s super interesting to consider things from the other side of the table. What is a good way for someone in that position to see their idea become something?
I mulled it over a while, and this was my reply:
Hi ______,Your situation is a tricky one to make work in the way that I think I’m hearing you want it to: getting 10% for putting up the idea and little else. To folks like me and people running already off-the-ground companies, there is virtually zero appeal to what you are describing, and as you surmise they are apt to indicate to you where the door is.
Why? It’s not that a good idea might not be a net win to execute fully for 90% of the market reward, that could happen. Though a long shot, it conceivably might make economic sense to do. The thing is that that premise is predicated upon “they’re all out of ideas, and would love to jump on the chance to do something new”. That is almost NEVER the case: most businesses, (especially in the web world with its ever evolving and innovating nature), have no shortage whatsoever of ideas and initiatives that they could be pursuing to further and better their business. Everything they do is a trade off against other conceivably great things they could do, which makes picking something that entails a dormant idea partner highly unattractive.
I think the thing is for you then that you’ve gotta bring something more to the table than the idea. Something about how you are the best person in the world to lead its execution and willing to come on board as part of the team to make you baby fly, or how much secret sauce and tangible development you’ve already done and our willing to share, or the resources or connections you can bring to the party. Any of these constitute a tremendous boost to the desirability of your offer.
If you’re not prepared to do so, there may be to confront the bitter truth that the idea, though great, might not fetch by itself what you think it should fetch in the market. At which point you can either offer it up gratis and see what happens (and perhaps see what credit and esteem as an innovator it fetches you), or keep it to yourself (either forever and let it die with you, or until the someone else thinks of it independently, or until things shift where you have an stronger opportunity to get it going either solo or in partnership).
Whew, I think I just wrote out a flow chart in that last paragraph! I hope this, while probably not an ideal assessment of your situation, is useful food for thought, and of course it’s just my opinion–certainly not the final say on how things will necessarily go in the real world.
Thanks for the shout out, and good luck!John
Like I said to her, this probably isn’t an ideal assessment: it’s kind of a downer, and I’m stumped to offer up a more constructive take1.
I’m also completely open to being wrong on this one: I’m just one dude, and come from a vantage point that is certainly sensitive to and biased against overvaluation of ideas.
Can anyone help me with this? What would you offer up as advice to this situation?
- There is though one facet of my reply that I goofed on: I wrote as though she was hoping for 10%, but to her credit I see now she already knew that was probably too high. My overall response would be the same for 2%. ↩