After working with startup companies for 9+ years I have learned a thing or two about ideas. I have written about ideas over time encouraging new founders to focus on building great businesses instead of being obsessed with their ideas. If you have never run a startup or at least a business from the ground up you will struggle to understand having a great idea is just the first good step in building a successful business.
The best way to protect your idea is to implement it.
It is common for new founders to think they have the ability to protect their ideas from being stolen. If such a thing exists. What makes ideas difficult to protect is the fact that anyone can wake up with an idea at any time. You can’t limit people to think and you can’t control your thoughts to align with theirs. How many times out of nowhere you see someone launching something you have thought of doing a few years back. That is how it works, the only way to protect an idea is to implement it. Great ideas are meant to be implemented not to be protected. If not you then somebody else will implement it.
The first version of your product or service doesn’t have to be perfect.
The concept of a lean startup is built around fixing the plane on the air. If you waste too much time working on your idea you will always feel people are stilling your ideas because they will always implement them before you. Always start with a product or service that offers Minimum Viable Value to test how consumers (users)respond to your idea. It is easy to look smart when the idea is still on paper until you produce the first look of your product or try to serve that first client. Great founders know how to move an idea to a great product or service you need a series of tests and iterations (build, learn, measure) to perfect the process. This should be done as fast as possible so that you gain the fast-movers advantage as well a chance to improve things fast. Hence the Facebook concept, move fast, and break things.
If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product you have launched too late. — Reid Hoffman
You can bootstrap, start with minimum resources possible.
We all want to start big that is our problem. We create an obstacle to start before even we start. We want all the resources we need at the right amount before starting. It doesn’t work like that. You get more resources and support as you grow. The amount of resources and support you get is directly proportional to the pace and relevance of your business. Learn to bootstrap, use minimal resources to try out your new idea or concept. It will help you to do quick iterations and if doesn’t work then at least you have used your resources wisely enough to allocate them to another idea or concept. Learn to fail fast and cheap.
Great ideas have barriers to entry if everyone can copy it. What’s a point?
Work hard to come up with novel ideas. Ideas that are desirable, feasible, and viable. Great ideas are based on real needs or adding real value. They are not easy to copy because of underlying layers of complexity behind the ideas. Most of the time they come to solve complex problems that require systematic interventions. Problems that look easy outside but nobody has dared to try to solve them. Timing, luckiness, experience, networks, etc all these can be factors influencing the chances of someone coming up and implementing a great idea. Before thinking someone can still my idea and implement it? Key issues to ask yourself; do they have the team, do they have time, do they have the experience, do they have a passion to do it, and finally can they execute exactly what I’m thinking in my head. Most of the time the answer is no. What you confuse to someone stilling your idea is simply them solving the problem you have identified and them adopting the approach closer to yours to solve the problem before you. Can you blame them for that? You spent more time protecting the idea, let them implement it.