Help – someone stole my idea!

I have written about this before and probably will write more before the end of the year. Here is some background:

Being in Silicon Valley, it it not hard for me to meet with different types of people at entrepreneurship related conferences. Most of them fall under the four categories below:

a) successful entrepreneurs

b) entrepreneurs who think they are successful

c) people who want to be entrepreneurs

d) people who think they want to be entrepreneurs

The last category has everything. They are the most interesting, amusing and frustrating people that I encounter.They are smart people and probably are very successful in their current jobs. They have interesting ideas (sometimes) to build busiensses on but unfortunately, they don’t have the heart of an entrepreneur. Here are the kinds of comments they open their introduction with:

a) “Raj, you must have read Google’s recent announcement on <fill in the blank>. I had that idea three years ago”

b) “In some sense Yahoo! stole my idea”

c) “I had the very same idea last year. I even told this to some of my friends. Microsoft beat me to it”

Honestly, I don’t know how to respond to those kinds of comments. When I learn a bit more about them, it is clear to me that they were not going to do anything with those ideas anyways. In fact, my big worry is that they currently have some ideas cooking in their minds – won’t do a thing with them and three years later repeat the same story with someone else.

Here are my $.02 on this topic

1. You may not be the only person to get that idea

Something at work or outside triggered some thoughts that led to an “Aha moment” and that led to a business idea. Your assessment was that you “observed” something that others didn’t. It does not take a lot of time to realize that this is very unlikely that you are the ONLY person to have got that idea in the world. Unless it is some sort of a breakthrough idea, you actually be confident that many more people in the world have got the VERY same “million dollar idea” in their minds.

2. Majority of people who get an idea won’t do a thing with it

While the #1 item above is bit discouraging, the good part is that most people who get ideas won’t do a thing about it. There are many reasons for this. Here are some:

a) They don’t want to do anything with ideas. They just like to stretch their creativity

b) Most often, executing on an idea requires a “lot more work” than conceiving that idea

c) People move on to the next idea. That is more fun!

3. What you do with the idea is equally important as the idea itself

Unless you are cooking up ideas for academic purposes, an idea ALONE may not be worth much. You got to execute on it. Here are four combinations that I can think of

a) Bad Idea + Bad Execution (Clueless category)
b) Bad Idea + Good Execution (Over-confident category)
c) Good Idea + Bad Execution (Novice Category)
d) Good Idea + Good Execution (Winner category)

Of course, you want to be in the “Winner” quadrant but you may not always start there. More than anything, you should clearly know what category you are currently in.

4. Who you do it with is equally important as what you do with the idea.

People who pitch ideas are extremely interested in “pitching” ideas, of course.I am usually more interested in “who” is pitching more than the idea itself. In fact, in the first meeting, we may not even get to the idea.I want to know who is on the team, their backgrounds, how they came together, their attitudes, why they want to build this company together and even to the extent of getting to know what they want to get out of their life and how this company will play a part in it.

More often, I don’t need to get to that second meeting. It is very clear that some teams can’t execute on this or any other idea.

5. You need a healthy appetite for risk

Moving from being an employee to an entrepreneur requires you to take an enormous amount of risk. You may never have seen that kind of risk as an employee.

Statistics show that the chances of you succeeding as an entrepreneur are very slim. In fact, if you are very logical and want to be an entrepreneur, I suggest that you don’t look at the statistics at all. They don’t look pretty.

I see too many people trying to play safe. It’s almost like they are saying “I will start working full-time in my new business once I am VERY clear that I can take home a reasonable amount of money every month.” In reality, the scenario may be that you have to work full-time in your business in order to increase your chances of taking home a resonable amount of money every month. There is no guarantee there and that is where your appetite for risk comes in.

In closing, I want to wish all those wannabe entrerpeneurs the very best!