I want to tell you a secret

Here it is: your spiffy new business idea, no matter how cool or interesting, is not so super-special that you need to keep it secret. Unless you’ve already signed some military contract that requires you to keep your mouth shut or you’ll be shot, the odds that you don’t sound completely silly when you say “we’re in stealth mode” or “I’m not allowed to disclose our business model” are pretty much zilch.

Why? It’s like the writers (especially screenwriters) who won’t give anyone a plot synopsis until the work has already been sold (and people who talk like this never seem to sell anything, in my experience). The chance that your idea is so amazingly unique that your whole project can be stolen away by a competitor who hears about it is very low. Look at Antz vs. A Bug’s Life, or Armageddon and Deep Impact. Two sets of competing projects by different movie studios, and I have no idea which one in each set was started first, because they’re all good or bad for different reasons. It’s the implementation that matters, not just the concept.

I’m bringing this up because I keep running into this sort of thinking in the course of talking to people about tech companies and when browsing job listings.

A sample:
For consideration, contact me and I’ll send you a non-disclosure agreement for you to sign and bring with you to discuss the project in detail.
CTO at Stealth Mode Travel Start up–To apply tell us about things you have seen and could hypothetically reverse engineer. Conf agreement required before details are given.

This is really silly. Most people who express interest in your project are not going to have the time or money to copy it, no matter how cool it is, and even if they did, their version will probably look completely different. A good idea is the smallest part of a good project or company. Look at Google, the last search engine to enter the market. How many stories or movies do you know of with essentially the same plot? How many songs about heartbreak? Travel booking companies? The details are more important.

There’s a difference between not giving away technical details (the “secret sauce”) and not being willing to share what kind of business you’re starting and how it plans to make money. Especially once you’re ready to hire on employees or get funding. Once you reach a certain point, obscurity is the bigger enemy.

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