As a general rule, I never signed an NDA while I was at USV.
I was also recently talking to a startup about potential employment who wanted me to sign one, too. I balked.
I've been banging the transparency drum for quite a while--the idea that you should tell as many people as possible about what you're up to and not worry about keeping your idea a secret. The basis of that is as follows:
- Chances are that if your idea is a good one, in a big enough space, someone's already had it, so you won't really be tipping anyone off.
- It doesn't take long to build anything, so even if you kept it secret, at most you're going to have a three or four month headstart, which is pretty meaningless in the grand scheme of things.
- The idea isn't nearly as valuable as the execution. You could say you're going to build a LolCat maker, but if you can only use one kind of cat, its not going to get any traction whatsoever. The devil is in the details.
- Speaking of the details, you're likely to get them wrong the first time anyway...or learn more as you go along, so your first idea is never really a good one.
But the question is, will I eat my own dogfood? I had a conversation about this with an entrepreneur a little while ago and we both agreed that when its your own startup idea--the one you're really passionate about--there's a slight bit of hesitation. I certainly understand the fear... that you tell someone you're working on something and the one competitor that could ever possibly do what you're doing turns around and releases your idea and puts all of its weight behind it--all before you could even hire your first developer.
But that's paranoia. Reality tells us that startups, for the most part, move faster and can focus better on particular problems. That's why big companies buy startups--they know they can't really build things internally and get it right, let alone on time and under budget.
On top of that, by not being public about what you're up to, you lose the opportunity for feedback and collaboration. Perhaps someone out there has already tried what you are thinking of and has some tips. Or, they bring with them a completely complimentary skills set and could be a potential partner. You never know until you start talking it up.
Plus, I'm convinced that, to be successful, you really need to immerse yourself in the community you're trying to serve. If you want to do a healthcare services startup, you need to be in the healthcare community talking with doctors, patients, etc. Tell then what your ideas are. Get feedback. Get new ideas. Entrepreneurs who work in well protected bubbles (echo chambers) do not succeed... do not generate momentum... their ideas die on the vine.
Still, its scary just putting it out there.
With all that being said, I'm going to start a conversation here--a conversation about an area that I'm exploring. Yes, to do a startup. Its funny because I always said I'd never do one. I also used to say I'd never work at a VC, too, and also had no interest in working for a portfolio company. Thankfully, I've also said many times that I also have no interest in being really rich, too, so I should be set there.
So what is it? What's the space? Partners? Funding? Etc. Patience, grasshopper. There's a lot to do and a lot to talk about and there will be no shortage of coverage on this blog.