No, I Can’t Sign an NDA


Recently, I signed up for because I’m looking to join a startup. It has been about 4 weeks, and although I haven’t found a startup yet, I have had a lot of people reach out from all over the country.

It surprises me, although it shouldn’t, how many people ask me to sign an NDA before they’ll share their idea. It has been happening so much lately that it inspired me to think more deeply about this subject.

The misconception that ideas should be kept secret is usually (but not always) more prevalent with beginner entrepreneurs. I hear this misconception all the time from students. I think this is because the road ahead with their idea is paved with uncertainty. They love their idea, they may even think they are the first person to think of it (which is rarely true), and they have very little idea of how to make it a reality. They they don’t want someone more experienced to steal the idea or execute it better of faster.

This fear may actually be a red flag that the person is not the right one for the job. If they are not passionate enough about it, to the point where they will become the best in the world at it, then they may want to look for other opportunities.

The truth is, ideas are worthless. Someone once told me that if they were valuable, there would be a market for them. Think about it, when was the last time you were willing to pay for an idea only to invest in it years of your life and wads of your cash with the risk of having nothing in the end? You wouldn’t because the real value is in the execution (your life and cash), not the idea. McDonald’s didn’t invent the hamburger, Apple didn’t invent the MP3 player, and Facebook didn’t invent the social network, they all just executed the idea the best.

The question of whether you should share your idea comes down to whether you want your first startup to be a success or failure. Reality is that entrepreneurs are likely to fail. Here are some ways that sharing your idea my help you beat the odds:

  • Feedback from customers
    • Most ideas are illusions. Your first priority with a shiny new idea is to make sure it isn’t a mirage for which customers won’t pay (see Lean Startup). When you ask them for money, which is hopefully sooner than later, it may not be the best time to ask for an NDA as well.
  • Feedback from investors
    • Investors can be an awesome source of advice, especially if they are experts in your market or industry. Unfortunately, investors don’t sign NDAs. They hear thousands of ideas a year and NDAs would eventually paint them into a legal box that prevents them from doing their job.
  • Build a stronger team
    • Most likely if someone likes your idea enough, they’ll join you rather than steal the idea. The exception is if they don’t like you, so be a good person and you’ll probably avoid that problem.
    • Also, finding team members is hard enough without asking people to leave a legal paper trail that could open them up to future lawsuits.
  • Solutions are more likely to happen
    • You probably love your idea because it solves a problem in your life. If you don’t want to share because you’re unsure if you’ll be able to make the idea happen, it may be a good thing that someone else solves your problem.
Other reasons to share your idea:
  • A good product pitch takes practice and the more you get, the better your pitch will be. The longer you take to start sharing, the longer it will take you to perfect your pitch.
  • Very few ideas survive the path to create them. Flickr started as a multiplayer game and YouTube started as a dating site. The idea you’re trying to keep secret may shortly be discarded anyways.
  • You’re going to have to start sharing your idea eventually.

The only risk of sharing your idea is that someone might steal it. This is a possibility, but again, if you aren’t passionate enough about the idea to make it happen, then you shouldn’t do it anyways.

Some caveats that makes sense are below. Please comment on the post if I missed something.

  • Processes or Research
    • After writing this post, one of my physics friends shared that they require an NDA to protect their internal processes or research. This makes sense being that his company is predominantly grant funded, is well into the revenue generating stage, and is highly specialized. So, if your company is already creating value (i.e. revenue) based on executing an idea that someone may steal, then an NDA may be appropriate.

Please share your thoughts or additional pros or cons of ideas in the comments below.

About The Author

Ben currently works as a senior developer and technical business consultant outside of Boulder, Colorado.

Read more about Ben

About Buink

Buink Web Development is a development shop founded in 2009 by Ben Buie. For years, Ben built and modified web assets for clients in Utah. In 2011, he moved the company to Colorado and in 2015 he started taking on new clients full-time.

Buink’s Core Values:

  • Cost effective technology (with business strategy in mind)
  • Eloquent, maintainable code
  • Responsive and transparent communication

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Dave G.
Dave G.
14:05 13 Aug 23
Buink is a great place to work, as well as a great place to have quality software written. I originally contracted Buink for some web development, and it worked out so well we began working together on many different projects. Definitely an honest transparent company that needs to be considered for... your software more
Dru M.
Dru M.
15:41 25 Mar 21
Ben’s a super responsive, thoughtful, sharp and all around great guy to work with. Excellent with his trade. I’d recommend him to anyone. Thanks Ben!
Seth L.
Seth L.
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Ben and team are incredible to work with. They are reliable and proficient. I'd highly recommend hiring them for web development work. SethVOLTAGE
Craig A.
Craig A.
20:50 18 Jun 19
It was a pleasure to work with Ben and his team. It is rare to find such attention to high standards of coding and devops.
Lexi S.
Lexi S.
15:36 18 Jun 19
Grateful to have Ben and his team as such a capable, reliable partner for completing client work!
Tom S.
Tom S.
13:18 14 Jun 19
I reached out to Buink after finding Ben’s name in a local developer/consultant listing in 2017, and I have to say, it has been an absolute pleasure to work with Buink. Ben consistently understands not just the development task laid in front of him but the business application behind the task. I’ve... never felt more comfortable with a development team than I do with Buink. I truly feel Ben and his team are integral partners in the success of my more
Marilyn F.
Marilyn F.
22:47 13 May 19
I could not recommend Buink Web Development more highly. Ben and his team have recently developed a budgeting app for me (both web and IOS). I have had the opportunity of working with them for over a year and I am extremely happy with the results.I would say that the biggest plus for me is that I... trust Ben completely. From the very first, Ben has helped me make decisions that were in the best interest of my company. I have never felt like he is taking advantage of me. Ben does his best to keep the whole process very open and upfront. I have really appreciated that.I tell people all the time that I love my developers. And I do. I'm very happy that I chose to use Buink to develop my apps. It was the best business decision I could have made.If you are looking for someone to develop a website or app, I strongly suggest choosing Buink Web Development. They are fantastic!Marilyn Ference, President, Defend Your Money, LLCread more
James Landon B.
James Landon B.
01:33 28 Aug 18
Great company to help with all your web design needs!
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